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Lectures on Dramatic Art by August Wilhelm Schlegel trans John Black

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commentators are much at variance with respect to their nature. In general
it may be assumed, that the theatres of the ancients were constructed on
excellent acoustic principles.

Even the lowest tier of the amphitheatre was raised considerably above the
orchestra, and opposite to it was the stage, at an equal degree of
elevation. The hollow semicircle of the orchestra was unoccupied by
spectators, and was designed for another purpose. However, it was
otherwise with the Romans, though indeed the arrangement of their theatres
does not at present concern us.

The stage consisted of a strip which stretched from one end of the
building to the other, and of which the depth bore little proportion to
this breadth. This was called the _logeum_, in Latin _pulpitum_, and the
middle of it was the usual place for the persons who spoke. Behind
this middle part, the scene went inwards in a quadrangular form, with less
depth, however, than breadth. The space thus enclosed was called the
_proscenium_. The front of the logeum towards the orchestra was ornamented
with pilasters and small statues between them. The stage, erected on a
foundation of stonework, was a wooden platform resting on rafters. The
surrounding appurtenances of the stage, together with the rooms required
for the machinery, were also of wood. The wall of the building, directly
opposite to the seats of the spectators, was raised to a level with the
uppermost tier.

The scenic decoration was contrived in such a manner, that the principal
and nearest object covered the background, and the prospects of distance
were given at the two sides; the very reverse of the mode adopted by us.
The latter arrangement had also its rules: on the left, was the town to
which the palace, temple, or whatever occupied the middle, belonged; on
the right, the open country, landscape, mountains, sea-coast, &c. The
side-scenes were composed of triangles which turned on a pivot beneath;
and in this manner the change of scene was effected. According to an
observation on Virgil, by Servius, the change of scene was partly produced
by revolving, and partly by withdrawing. The former applies to the lateral
decorations, and the latter to the middle of the background. The partition
in the middle opened, disappeared at both sides, and exhibited to view a
new picture. But all the parts of the scene were not always changed at the
same time. In the back or central scene, it is probable, that much which
with us is only painted was given bodily. If this represented a palace or
temple, there was usually in the proscenium an altar, which in the
performance answered a number of purposes.

The decoration was for the most part architectural, but occasionally also
a painted landscape, as of Caucasus in the _Prometheus_, or in the
_Philoctetes_, of the desert island of Lemnos, and the rocks with its
cavern. From a passage of Plato it is clear, that the Greeks carried the
illusions of theatrical perspective much farther than, judging from some
wretched landscapes discovered in Herculaneum, we should be disposed to

In the back wall of the stage there was one main entrance, and two side
doors. It has been maintained, that from them it might be discovered
whether an actor played a principal or under part, as in the first case he
came in by the main entrance, but in the second, entered from either of
the sides. But this should be understood with the proviso, that this must
have varied according to the nature of the piece. As the middle scene was
generally a palace, in which the principal characters generally of royal
descent resided, they naturally came on the stage through the great door,
while the servants dwelt in the wings. But besides these three entrances,
which were directly opposite to the spectators, and were real doors, with
appropriate architectural decorations, there were also four side
entrances, to which the name of doors cannot properly apply: two, namely,
on the stage on the right and the left, towards the inner angles of the
proscenium, and two farther off, in the orchestra, also right and left.
The latter were intended properly for the chorus, but were likewise not
unfrequently used by the actors, who in such cases ascended to the stage
by one or other of the double flight of steps which ran from the orchestra
to the middle of the logeum. The entering from the right or the left of
itself indicated the place from which the dramatic personages must be
supposed to come. The situation of these entrances serves to explain many
passages in the ancient dramas, where the persons standing in the middle
see some one advancing, long before he approaches them.

Somewhere beneath the seats of the spectators, a flight of stairs was
constructed, which was called the Charonic, and by which, unseen by the
audience, the shadows of the departed, ascended into the orchestra, and
thence to the stage. The furthermost brink of the logeum must sometimes
have represented the sea shore. Moreover the Greeks in general skilfully
availed themselves even of extra-scenic matters, and made them subservient
to the stage effect. Thus, I doubt not, but that in the _Eumenides_
the spectators were twice addressed as an assembled people; first, as the
Greeks invited by the Pythoness to consult the oracle; and a second time
as the Athenian multitude, when Pallas, by the herald, commands silence
during the trial about to commence. So too the frequent appeals to heaven
were undoubtedly addressed to the real heaven; and when Electra on her
first appearance exclaims: "O holy light, and thou air co-expansive with
earth!" she probably turned towards the actual sun ascending in the
heavens. The whole of this procedure is highly deserving of praise; and
though modern critics have censured the mixture of reality and imitation,
as destructive of theatrical illusion, this only proves that they have
misunderstood the essence of the illusion which a work of art aims at
producing. If we are to be truly deceived by a picture, that is, if we are
to believe in the reality of the object which we see, we must not perceive
its limits, but look at it through an opening; the frame at once declares
it for a picture. Now in stage-scenery we cannot avoid the use of
architectural contrivances, productive of the same effect on dramatic
representation as frames on pictures. It is consequently much better not
to attempt to disguise this fact, but leaving this kind of illusion for
those cases where it can be advantageously employed, to take it as a
permitted licence occasionally to step out of the limits of mere scenic
decoration. It was, generally speaking, a principle of the Greeks, with
respect to stage imitation, either to require a perfect representation,
and where this could not be accomplished, to be satisfied with merely
symbolical allusions.

The machinery for the descent of gods through the air, or the withdrawing
of men from the earth, was placed aloft behind the walls of the two sides
of the scene, and consequently removed from the sight of the spectators.
Even in the time of Aeschylus, great use was already made of it, as in the
_Prometheus_ he not only brings Oceanus through the air on a griffin,
but also in a winged chariot introduces the whole choir of ocean nymphs,
at least fifteen in number. There were also hollow places beneath the
stage into which, when necessary, the personages could disappear, and
contrivances for thunder and lightning, for the apparent fall or burning
of a house, &c.

To the hindmost wall of the scene an upper story could be added; whenever,
for instance, it was wished to represent a tower with a wide prospect, or
the like. Behind the great middle entrance there was a space for the
Exostra, a machine of a semicircular form, and covered above, which
represented the objects contained in it as in a house. This was used for
grand strokes of theatrical effect, as we may see from many pieces. On
such occasions the folding-doors of the entrance would naturally be open,
or the curtain which covered it withdrawn.

A stage curtain, which, we clearly see from a description of Ovid, was not
dropped, but drawn upwards, is mentioned both by Greek and Roman writers,
and the Latin appellation, _aulaeum_, is even borrowed from the Greeks. I
suspect, however, that the curtain was not much used at first on the Attic
stage. In the pieces of Aeschylus and Sophocles, the scene is evidently
empty at the opening as well as the conclusion, and seems therefore to
have required no preparation which needed to be shut out from the view of
the spectators. However, in many of the pieces of Euripides, and perhaps
also in the _Oedipus Tyrannus_, the stage is filled from the very first,
and presents a standing group which could not well have been assembled
under the very eyes of the spectators. It must, besides, be remembered,
that it was only the comparatively small proscenium, and not the logeum,
which was covered by the curtain which disappeared through a narrow
opening between two of the boards of the flooring, being wound up on a
roller beneath the stage.

The entrances of the chorus were beneath in the orchestra, in which it
generally remained, and in which also it performed its solemn dance,
moving backwards and forwards during the choral songs. In the front of the
orchestra, opposite to the middle of the scene, there was an elevation
with steps, resembling an altar, as high as the stage, which was called
the _Thymele_. This was the station of the chorus when it did not
sing, but merely looked on as an interested spectator of the action. At
such times the choragus, or leader of the chorus, took his station on the
top of the thymele, to see what was passing on the stage, and to converse
with the characters there present. For though the choral song was common
to the whole, yet when it took part in the dialogue, one usually spoke for
all the rest; and hence we may account for the shifting from _thou_
to _ye_ in addressing them. The thymele was situated in the very centre of
the building; all the measurements were made from it, and the semicircle
of the amphitheatre was described round it as the centre. It was,
therefore, an excellent contrivance to place the chorus, who were the
ideal representatives of the spectators, in the very spot where all the
radii converged.

The tragical imitation of the ancients was altogether ideal and
rhythmical; and in forming a judgment of it, we must always keep this in
view. It was ideal, in so far as it aimed at the highest grace and
dignity; and rhythmical, insomuch as the gestures and inflections of voice
were more solemnly measured than in real life. As the statuary of the
Greeks, setting out, with almost scientific strictness, with the most
general conception, sought to embody it again in various general
characters which were gradually invested with the charms of life, so that
the individual was the last thing to which they descended; in like manner
in the mimetic art, they began with the idea (the delineation of persons
with heroical grandeur, more than human dignity, and ideal beauty), then
passed to character, and made passion the last of all; which, in the
collision with the requisitions of either of the others, was forced to
give way. Fidelity of representation was less their object than beauty;
with us it is exactly the reverse. On this principle, the use of masks,
which appears astonishing to us, was not only justifiable, but absolutely
essential; far from considering them as a makeshift, the Greeks would
certainly, and with justice too, have looked upon it as a makeshift to be
obliged to allow a player with vulgar, ignoble, or strongly marked
features, to represent an Apollo or a Hercules; nay, rather they would
have deemed it downright profanation. How little is it in the power of the
most finished actor to change the character of his features! How
prejudicial must this be to the expression of passion, as all passion is
tinged more or less strongly by the character. Nor is there any need to
have recourse to the conjecture that they changed the masks in the
different scenes, for the purpose of exhibiting a greater degree of joy or
sorrow. I call it conjecture, though Barthélemy, in his _Anacharsis_,
considers it a settled point. He cites no authorities, and I do not
recollect any. For the expedient would by no means have been sufficient,
as the passions often change in the same scene, and this has reduced
modern critics to suppose, that the masks exhibited different appearances
on the two sides; and that now this, now that side was turned towards the
spectators, according to circumstances. Voltaire, in his Essay on the
Tragedy of the Ancients and Moderns, prefixed to _Semiramis_, has
actually gone this length. Amidst a multitude of supposed improprieties
which he heaps together to confound the admirers of ancient tragedy, he
urges the following: _Aucune nation_ (that is to say, excepting the
Greeks) _ne fait paraître ses acteurs sur des espèces d'échasses, le
visage couvert d'un masque, qui exprime la douleur d'un côté et la joie de
l'autre._ After a conscientious inquiry into the authorities for an
assertion so very improbable, and yet so boldly made, I can only find one
passage in Quinctilian, lib. xi. cap. 3, and an allusion of Platonius
still more vague. (Vide _Aristoph. ed. Küster, prolegom._ p. x.) Both
passages refer only to the new comedy, and only amount to this, that in
some characters the eyebrows were dissimilar. As to the intention of this,
I shall say a word or two hereafter, when I come to consider the new Greek
comedy. Voltaire, however, is without excuse, as the mention of the
cothurnus leaves no doubt that he alluded to tragic masks. But his error
had probably no such learned origin. In most cases, it would be a
fruitless task to trace the source of his mistakes. The whole description
of the Greek tragedy, as well as that of the cothurnus in particular, is
worthy of the man whose knowledge of antiquity was such, that in his Essay
on Tragedy, prefixed to _Brutus_, he boasts of having introduced the
Roman Senate on the stage in _red mantles_. No; the countenance remained
from beginning to end the very same, as we may see from the ancient masks
cut out in stone. For the expression of passion, the glances of the eye,
the motion of the arms and hands, the attitudes, and, lastly, the tones of
the voice, remained there. We complain of the loss of the play of the
features, without reflecting, that at such a great distance, its effect
would have been altogether lost.

We are not now inquiring whether, without the use of masks, it may not be
possible to attain a higher degree of separate excellence in the mimetic
art. This we would very willingly allow. Cicero, it is true, speaks of the
expression, the softness, and delicacy of the acting of Roscius, in the
same terms that a modern critic would apply to Garrick or Schröder. But I
will not lay any stress on the acting of this celebrated player, the
excellence of which has become proverbial, because it appears from a
passage in Cicero that he frequently played without a mask, and that this
was preferred: by his contemporaries. I doubt, however, whether this was
ever the case among the Greeks. But the same writer relates, that actors
in general, for the sake of acquiring the most perfect purity and
flexibility of voice (and not merely the musical voice, otherwise the
example would not have been applicable to the orator), submitted to such a
course of uninterrupted exercises, as our modern players, even the French,
who of all follow the strictest training, would consider a most
intolerable oppression. For the display of dexterity in the mimetic art,
without the accompaniment of words, was carried by the ancients in their
pantomimes, to a degree of perfection quite unknown to the moderns. In
tragedy, however, the great object in the art was the due subordination of
every element; the whole was to appear animated by one and the same
spirit, and hence, not merely the poetry, but the musical accompaniment,
the scenical decoration, and training of the actors, all issued from the
poet. The player was a mere instrument in his hands, and his merit
consisted in the accuracy with which he filled his part, and by no means
in arbitrary bravura, or ostentatious display of his own skill.

As from the nature of their writing materials, they had not a facility of
making many copies, the parts were learnt from the repeated recitation of
the poet, and the chorus was exercised in the same manner. This was called
_teaching a play_. As the poet was also a musician, and for the most
part a player likewise, this must have greatly contributed to the
perfection of the performance.

We may safely allow that the task of the modern player, who must change
his person without concealing it, is much more difficult; but this
difficulty affords no just criterion for deciding which of the two the
preference must be awarded, as a skilful representation of the noble and
the beautiful.

As the features of the player acquired a more decided expression from the
mask, as his voice was strengthened by a contrivance attached to the mask,
so the cothurnus, consisting of several soles of considerable thickness,
as may be seen in the ancient statues of Melpomene, raised his figure
considerably above the usual standard. The female parts were also played
by men, as the voice and general carriage of women would have been
inadequate to the energy of tragic heroines.

The forms of the masks, [Footnote: We have obtained a knowledge of them
from the imitations in stone which have come down to us. They display both
beauty and variety. That great variety must have taken place in the
tragical department (in the comic we can have no doubt about the matter)
is evident from the rich store of technical expressions in the Greek
language, for every gradation of the age, and character of masks. See the
_Onomasticon_ of Jul. Pollux. In the marble masks, however, we can
neither see the thinness of the mass from which the real masks were
executed, the more delicate colouring, nor the exquisite mechanism of the
fittings. The abundance of excellent workmen possessed by Athens, in
everything which had a reference to the plastic arts, will warrant the
conjecture that they were in this respect inimitable. Those who have seen
the masks of wax in the grand style, which in some degree contain the
whole head, lately contrived at the Roman carnival, may form to themselves
a pretty good idea of the theatrical masks of the ancients. They imitate
life, even to its movements, in a most masterly manner, and at such a
distance as that from which the ancient players were seen, the deception
is most perfect. They always contain the white of the eye, as we see it in
the ancient masks, and the person covered sees merely through the aperture
left for the iris. The ancients must sometimes have gone still farther,
and contrived also an iris for the masks, according to the anecdote of the
singer Thamyris, who, in a piece which was probably of Sophocles, made his
appearance with a black eye. Even accidental circumstances were imitated;
for instance, the cheeks of Tyro, streaming blood from the cruel conduct
of his stepmother. The head from the mask must no doubt have appeared
somewhat large for the rest of the figure; but this disproportion, in
tragedy at least, would not be perceived from the elevation of the
cothurnus.] and the whole appearance of the tragic figures, we may easily
suppose, were sufficiently beautiful and dignified. We should do well to
have the ancient sculpture always present to our minds; and the most
accurate conception, perhaps, that we can possibly have, is to imagine
them so many statues in the grand style endowed with life and motion. But,
as in sculpture, they were fond of dispensing as much as possible with
dress, for the sake of exhibiting the more essential beauty of the figure;
on the stage they would endeavour, from an opposite principle, to clothe
as much as they could well do, both from a regard to decency, and because
the actual forms of the body would not correspond sufficiently with the
beauty of the countenance. They would also exhibit their divinities, which
in sculpture we always observe either entirely naked, or only half
covered, in a complete dress. They had recourse to a number of means for
giving a suitable strength to the forms of the limbs, and thus restoring
proportion to the increased height of the player.

The great breadth of the theatre in proportion to its depth must have
given to the grouping of the figures the simple and distinct order of the
bas-relief. We moderns prefer on the stage, as elsewhere, groups of a
picturesque description, with figures more closely crowded together, and
partly concealing one another, and partly retiring into the distance; but
the ancients were so little fond of foreshortening, that even in their
painting they generally avoided it. Their movement kept time with the
rhythmus of the declamation, and in this accompaniment the utmost grace
and beauty were aimed at. The poetical conception required a certain
degree of repose in the action, and the keeping together certain masses,
so as to exhibit a succession of _statuesque_ situations, and it is
not improbable that the player remained for some time motionless in one
attitude. But we are not to suppose from this, that the Greeks were
contented with a cold and feeble representation of the passions. How could
we reconcile such a supposition with the fact, that whole lines of their
tragedies are frequently dedicated to inarticulate exclamations of pain,
with which we have nothing to correspond in any of our modern languages?

It has been often conjectured that the delivery of their dialogue
resembled the modern recitative. For such a conjecture there is no other
foundation than the fact that the Greek, like almost all southern
languages, was pronounced with a greater musical inflexion than ours of
the North. In other respects their tragic declamation must, I conceive,
have been altogether unlike recitative, being both much more measured, and
also far removed from its studied and artificial modulation.

So, again, the ancient tragedy, because it was accompanied with music and
dancing, [Footnote: Even Barthélemy falls into this error in a note to the
70th Chapter of _Anacharsis_.] has also been frequently compared with
the opera. But this comparison betrays an utter ignorance of the spirit of
classical antiquity. Their dancing and music had nothing but the name in
common with ours. In tragedy the primary object was the poetry, and
everything else was strictly and truly subordinate to it. But in the opera
the poetry is merely an accessory, the means of connecting the different
parts together; and it is almost lost amidst its many and more favoured
accompaniments. The best prescription for the composition of an opera is,
take a rapid poetical sketch and then fill up and colour the outlines by
the other arts. This anarchy of the arts, where music, dancing, and
decoration are seeking to outvie each other by the profuse display of
their most dazzling charms, constitutes the very essence of the opera.
What sort of opera-music would it be, which should set the words to a mere
rhythmical accompaniment of the simplest modulations? The fantastic magic
of the opera consists altogether in the revelry of emulation between the
different means, and in the medley of their profusion. This charm would at
once be destroyed by any approximation to the severity of the ancient
taste in any one point, even in that of the costume; for the contrast
would render the variety in all the other departments even the more
insupportable. Gay, tinselled, spangled draperies suit best to the opera;
and hence many things which have been censured as unnatural, such as
exhibiting heroes warbling and trilling in the excess of despondency, are
perfectly justifiable. This fairy world is not peopled by real men, but by
a singular kind of singing creatures. Neither is it any disadvantage that
the opera is brought before us in a language which we do not generally
understand; the words are altogether lost in the music, and the language
which is most harmonious and musical, and contains the greatest number of
open vowels for the airs, and distinct accents for recitative, is
therefore the best. It would be as incongruous to attempt to give to the
opera the simplicity of the Grecian Tragedy, as it is absurd to think of
comparing them together.

In the syllabic composition, which then at least prevailed universally in
Grecian music, the solemn choral song, of which we may form to ourselves
some idea from our artless national airs, and more especially from our
church-tunes, had no other instrumental accompaniment than a single flute,
which was such as not in the slightest degree to impair the distinctness
of the words. Otherwise it must hare increased the difficulty of the
choruses and lyrical songs, which, in general, are the part which
_we_ find it the hardest to understand of the ancient tragedy, and as
it must also have been for contemporary auditors. They abound in the most
involved constructions, the most unusual expressions, and the boldest
images and recondite allusions. Why then should the poets have lavished
such labour and art upon them, if it were all to be lost in the delivery?
Such a display of ornament without an object would have been very unlike
Grecian ways of thinking.

In the syllabic measures of their tragedies, there generally prevails a
highly finished regularity, but by no means a stiff symmetrical
uniformity. Besides the infinite variety of the lyrical strophes, which
the poet invented for each occasion, they have also a measure to suit the
transition in the tone of mind from the dialogue to the lyric, the
anapest; and two for the dialogue itself, one of which, by far the most
usual, the iambic trimeter, denoted the regular progress of the action,
and the other, the trochaic tetrameter, was expressive of the
impetuousness of passion. It would lead us too far into the depths of
metrical science, were we to venture at present on a more minute account
of the structure and significance of these measures. I merely wished to
make this remark, as so much has been said of the simplicity of the
ancient tragedy, which, no doubt, exists in the general plan, at least in
the two oldest poets; whereas in the execution and details the richest
variety of poetical ornament is employed. Of course it must be evident
that the utmost accuracy in the delivery of the different modes of
versification was expected from the player, as the delicacy of the Grecian
ear would not excuse, even in an orator, the false quantity of a single


Essence of the Greek Tragedies--Ideality of the Representation--Idea of
Fate--Source of the Pleasure derived from Tragical Representations--Import
of the Chorus--The materials of Greek Tragedy derived from Mythology--
Comparison with the Plastic Arts.

We come now to the essence of Greek tragedy. That in conception it was
ideal, is universally allowed; this, however, must not be understood as
implying that all its characters were depicted as morally perfect. In such
a case what room could there be for that contrast and collision which the
very plot of a drama requires?--They have their weaknesses, errors, and
even crimes, but the manners are always elevated above reality, and every
person is invested with as high a portion of dignity as was compatible
with his part in the action. But this is not all. The ideality of the
representation chiefly consisted in the elevation of every thing in it to
a higher sphere. Tragic poetry wished to separate the image of humanity
which it presented to us, from the level of nature to which man is in
reality chained down, like a slave of the soil. How was this to be
accomplished? By exhibiting to us an image hovering in the air? But this
would have been incompatible with the law of gravitation and with the
earthly materials of which our bodies are framed. Frequently, what is
praised in art as _ideal_ is really nothing more. But this would give
us nothing more than airy evanescent shadows incapable of making any
durable impression on the mind. The Greeks, however, in their artistic
creations, succeeded most perfectly, in combining the ideal with the real,
or, to drop school terms, an elevation more than human with all the truth
of life, and in investing the manifestation of an idea with energetic
corporeity. They did not allow their figures to flit about without
consistency in empty space, but they fixed the statue of humanity on the
eternal and immovable basis of moral liberty; and that it might stand
there unshaken, formed it of stone or brass, or some more massive
substance than the bodies of living men, making an impression by its very
weight, and from its very elevation and magnificence only the more
completely subject to the laws of gravity.

Inward liberty and external necessity are the two poles of the tragic
world. It is only by contrast with its opposite that each of these ideas
is brought into full manifestation. As the feeling of an internal power of
self-determination elevates the man above the unlimited dominion of
impulse and the instincts of nature; in a word, absolves him from nature's
guardianship, so the necessity, which alongside of her he must recognize,
is no mere natural necessity, but one lying beyond the world of sense in
the abyss of infinitude; consequently it exhibits itself as the
unfathomable power of Destiny. Hence this power extends also to the world
of gods: for the Grecian gods are mere powers of nature; and although
immeasurably higher than mortal man, yet, compared with infinitude, they
are on an equal footing with himself. In Homer and in the tragedians, the
gods are introduced in a manner altogether different. In the former their
appearance is arbitrary and accidental, and communicate to the epic poem
no higher interest than the charm of the wonderful. But in Tragedy the
gods either come forward as the servants of destiny, and mediate executors
of its decrees; or else approve themselves godlike only by asserting their
liberty of action, and entering upon the same struggles with fate which
man himself has to encounter.

This is the essence of the tragical in the sense of the ancients. We are
accustomed to give to all terrible or sorrowful events the appellation of
tragic, and it is certain that such events are selected in preference by
Tragedy, though a melancholy conclusion is by no means indispensably
necessary; and several ancient tragedies, viz., the _Eumenides_,
_Philoctetes_, and in some degree also the _Oedipus Coloneus_, without
mentioning many of the pieces of Euripides, have a happy and cheerful

But why does Tragedy select subjects so awfully repugnant to the wishes
and the wants of our sensuous nature? This question has often been asked,
and seldom satisfactorily answered. Some have said that the pleasure of
such representations arises from the comparison we make between the
calmness and tranquillity of our own situation, and the storms and
perplexities to which the victims of passion are exposed. But when we take
a warm interest in the persons of a tragedy, we cease to think of
ourselves; and when this is not the case, it is the best of all proofs
that we take but a feeble interest in the exhibited story, and that the
tragedy has failed in its effect. Others again have had recourse to a
supposed feeling for moral improvement, which is gratified by the view of
poetical justice in the reward of the good and the punishment of the
wicked. But he for whom the aspect of such dreadful examples could really
be wholesome, must be conscious of a base feeling of depression, very far
removed from genuine morality, and would experience humiliation rather
than elevation of mind. Besides, poetical justice is by no means
indispensable to a good tragedy; it may end with the suffering of the just
and the triumph of the wicked, if only the balance be preserved in the
spectator's own consciousness by the prospect of futurity. Little does it
mend the matter to say with Aristotle, that the object of tragedy is to
purify the passions by pity and terror. In the first place commentators
have never been able to agree as to the meaning of this proposition, and
have had recourse to the most forced explanations of it. Look, for
instance, into the _Dramaturgie_ of Lessing. Lessing gives a new
explanation of his own, and fancies he has found in Aristotle a poetical
Euclid. But mathematical demonstrations are liable to no misconception,
and geometrical evidence may well be supposed inapplicable to the theory
of the fine arts. Supposing, however, that tragedy does operate this moral
cure in us, still she does so by the painful feelings of terror and
compassion: and it remains to be proved how it is that we take a pleasure
in subjecting ourselves to such an operation.

Others have been pleased to say that we are attracted to theatrical
representations from the want of some violent agitation to rouse us out of
the torpor of our every-day life. Such a craving does exist; I have
already acknowledged the existence of this want, when speaking of the
attractions of the drama; but to it we must equally attribute the fights
of wild beasts among the Romans, nay, even the combats of the gladiators.
But must we, less indurated, and more inclined to tender feelings, require
demi-gods and heroes to descend, like so many desperate gladiators, into
the bloody arena of the tragic stage, in order to agitate our nerves by
the spectacle of their sufferings? No: it is not the sight of suffering
which constitutes the charm of a tragedy, or even of the games of the
circus, or of the fight of wild beasts. In the latter we see a display of
activity, strength, and courage; splendid qualities these, and related to
the mental and moral powers of man. The satisfaction, therefore, which we
derive from the representation, in a good tragedy, of powerful situations
and overwhelming sorrows, must be ascribed either to the feeling of the
dignity of human nature, excited in us by such grand instances of it as
are therein displayed, or to the trace of a higher order of things,
impressed on the apparently irregular course of events, and mysteriously
revealed in them; or perhaps to both these causes conjointly.

The true reason, therefore, why tragedy need not shun even the harshest
subject is, that a spiritual and invisible power can only be measured by
the opposition which it encounters from some external force capable of
being appreciated by the senses. The moral freedom of man, therefore, can
only be displayed in a conflict with his sensuous impulses: so long as no
higher call summons it to action, it is either actually dormant within
him, or appears to slumber, since otherwise it does but mechanically
fulfil its part as a mere power of nature. It is only amidst difficulties
and struggles that the moral part of man's nature avouches itself. If,
therefore, we must explain the distinctive aim of tragedy by way of
theory, we would give it thus: that to establish the claims of the mind to
a divine origin, its earthly existence must be disregarded as vain and
insignificant, all sorrows endured and all difficulties overcome. With
respect to everything connected with this point, I refer my hearers to the
Section on the Sublime in Kant's _Criticism of the Judgment_ (_Kritik der
Urtheilskraft_), to the complete perfection of which nothing is wanting
but a more definite idea of the tragedy of the ancients, with which he
does not seem to have been very well acquainted.

I come now to another peculiarity which distinguishes the tragedy of the
ancients from ours, I mean the Chorus. We must consider it as a
personified reflection on the action which is going on; the incorporation
into the representation itself of the sentiments of the poet, as the
spokesman of the whole human race. This is its general poetical character;
and that is all that here concerns us, and that character is by no means
affected by the circumstance that the Chorus had a local origin in the
feasts of Bacchus, and that, moreover, it always retained among the Greeks
a peculiar national signification; publicity being, as we have already
said, according to their republican notions, essential to the completeness
of every important transaction. If in their compositions they reverted to
the heroic ages, in which monarchical polity was yet in force, they
nevertheless gave a certain republican cast to the families of their
heroes, by carrying on the action in presence either of the elders of the
people, or of other persons who represented some correspondent rank or
position in the social body. This publicity does not, it is true, quite
correspond with Homer's picture of the manners of the heroic age; but both
costume and mythology were handled by dramatic poetry with the same spirit
of independence and conscious liberty.

These thoughts, then, and these modes of feeling led to the introduction
of the Chorus, which, in order not to interfere with the appearance of
reality which the whole ought to possess, must adjust itself to the ever-
varying requisitions of the exhibited stories. Whatever it might be and do
in each particular piece, it represented in general, first the common mind
of the nation, and then the general sympathy of all mankind. In a word,
the Chorus is the ideal spectator. It mitigates the impression of a heart-
rending or moving story, while it conveys to the actual spectator a
lyrical and musical expression of his own emotions, and elevates him to
the region of contemplation.

Modern critics have never known what to make of the Chorus; and this is
the less to be wondered at, as Aristotle affords no satisfactory solution
of the matter. Its office is better painted by Horace, who ascribes to it
a general expression of moral sympathy, exhortation, instruction, and
warning. But the critics in question have either believed that its chief
object was to prevent the stage from ever being altogether empty, whereas
in truth the stage was not at all the proper place for the Chorus; or else
they have censured it as a superfluous and cumbersome appendage,
expressing their astonishment at the alleged absurdity of carrying on
secret transactions in the presence of assembled multitudes. They have
also considered it as the principal reason with the Greek tragedians for
the strict observance of the unity of place, as it could not be changed
without the removal of the Chorus; an act, which could not have been done
without some available pretext. Or lastly, they have believed that the
Chorus owed its continuance from the first origin of Tragedy merely to
accident; and as it is plain that in Euripides, the last of the three
great tragic poets, the choral songs have frequently little or no
connexion with the fable, and are nothing better than a mere episodical
ornament, they therefore conclude that the Greeks had only to take one
more step in the progress of dramatic art, to explode the Chorus
altogether. To refute these superficial conjectures, it is only necessary
to observe that Sophocles wrote a Treatise on the Chorus, in prose, in
opposition to the principles of some other poets; and that, far from
following blindly the practice which he found established, like an
intelligent artist he was able to assign reasons for his own doings.

Modern poets of the first rank have often, since the revival of the study
of the ancients, attempted to introduce the Chorus in their own pieces,
for the most part without a correct, and always without a vivid idea of
its real import. They seem to have forgotten that we have neither suitable
singing or dancing, nor, as our theatres are constructed, any convenient
place for it. On these accounts it is hardly likely to become naturalized
with us.

The Greek tragedy, in its pure and unaltered state, will always for our
theatres remain an exotic plant, which we can hardly hope to cultivate
with any success, even in the hot-house of learned art and criticism. The
Grecian mythology, which furnishes the materials of ancient tragedy, is as
foreign to the minds and imaginations of most of the spectators, as its
form and manner of representation. But to endeavour to force into that
form materials of a wholly different nature, an historical one, for
example, to assume that form, must always be a most unprofitable and
hopeless attempt.

I have called mythology the chief materials of tragedy. We know, indeed,
of two historical tragedies by Grecian authors: the _Capture of Miletus_,
of Phrynichus, and the _Persians_, of Aeschylus, a piece which still
exists; but these singular exceptions both belong to an epoch when the art
had not attained its full maturity, and among so many hundred examples of
a different description, only serve to establish more strongly the truth
of the rule. The sentence passed by the Athenians on Phrynichus, in which
they condemned him to a pecuniary fine because he had painfully agitated
them by representing on the stage a contemporary calamity, which with due
caution they might, perhaps, have avoided; however hard and arbitrary it
may appear in a judicial point of view, displays, however, a correct
feeling of the proprieties and limits of art. Oppressed by the
consciousness of the proximity and reality of the represented story, the
mind cannot retain that repose and self-possession which are necessary for
the reception of pure tragical impressions. The heroic fables, on the
other hand, came to view at a certain remoteness; and surrounded with a
certain halo of the marvellous. The marvellous possesses the advantage
that it can, in some measure, be at once believed and disbelieved:
believed in so far as it is supported by its connexion with other
opinions; disbelieved while we never take such an immediate interest in it
as we do in what wears the hue of the every-day life of our own
experience. The Grecian mythology was a web of national and local
traditions, held in equal honour as a sequence of religion, and as an
introduction to history; everywhere preserved in full vitality among the
people by ceremonies and monuments, already elaborated for the
requirements of art and the higher species of poetry by the diversified
manner in which it has been handled, and by the numerous epic or merely
mythical poets. The tragedians had only, therefore, to engraft one species
of poetry on another. Certain postulates, and those invariably serviceable
to the air of dignity and grandeur, and the removing of all meanness of
idea, were conceded to them at the very outset. Everything, down to the
very errors and weaknesses of that departed race of heroes who claimed
their descent from the gods, was ennobled by the sanctity of legend. Those
heroes were painted as beings endowed with more than human strength; but,
so far from possessing unerring virtue and wisdom, they were even depicted
as under the dominion of furious and unbridled passions. It was an age of
wild effervescence; the hand of social order had not as yet brought the
soil of morality into cultivation, and it yielded at the same time the
most beneficent and poisonous productions, with the fresh luxuriant
fulness of prolific nature. Here the occurrence of the monstrous and
horrible did not necessarily indicate that degradation and corruption out
of which alone, under the development of law and order, they could arise,
and which, in such a state of things, make them fill us with sentiments of
horror and aversion. The guilty beings of the fable are, if we may be
allowed the expression, exempt from human jurisdiction, and amenable to a
higher tribunal alone. Some, indeed, have advanced the opinion, that the
Greeks, as zealous republicans, took a particular pleasure in witnessing
the representation of the outrages and consequent calamities of the
different royal families, and are almost disposed to consider the ancient
tragedy in general as a satire on monarchical government. Such a party-
view, however, would have deadened the sympathy of the audience, and
consequently destroyed the effect which it was the aim of the tragedy to

Besides, it must be remarked that the royal families, whose crimes and
consequent sufferings afforded the most abundant materials for affecting
tragical pictures, were the Pelopidae of Mycenae, and the Labdacidae of
Thebes, families who had nothing to do with the political history of the
Athenians, for whom the pieces were composed. We do not see that the Attic
poets ever endeavoured to exhibit the ancient kings of their country in an
odious light; on the contrary, they always hold up their national hero,
Theseus, for public admiration, as a model of justice and moderation, the
champion of the oppressed, the first lawgiver, and even as the founder of
liberty. It was also one of their favourite modes of flattering the
people, to show to them Athens, even in the heroic ages, as distinguished
above all the other states of Greece, for obedience to the laws, for
humanity, and acknowledgment of the national rights of the Hellenes. That
universal revolution, by which the independent kingdoms of ancient Greece
were converted into a community of small free states, had separated the
heroic age from the age of social cultivation, by a wide interval, beyond
which a few families only attempted to trace their genealogy. This was
extremely advantageous for the ideal elevation of the characters of Greek
tragedy, as few human things will admit of a very close inspection without
betraying some imperfections. To the very different relations of the age
in which those heroes lived, the standard of mere civil and domestic
morality is not applicable, and to judge of them the feeling must go back
to the primary ingredients of human nature. Before the existence of
constitutions,--when as yet the notions of law and right were
undeveloped,--the sovereigns were their own lawgivers, in a world which as
yet was dependent on them; and the fullest scope was thus given to the
energetic will, either for good or for evil. Moreover, an age of
hereditary kingdom naturally exhibited more striking instances of sudden
changes of fortune than the later times of political equality. It was in
this respect that the high rank of the principal characters was essential,
or at least favourable to tragic impressiveness; and not, as some moderns
have pretended, because the changing fortunes of such persons exercise a
material influence on the happiness or misery of numbers, and therefore
they alone are sufficiently important to interest us in their behalf; nor,
again, because internal elevation of sentiment must be clothed with
external dignity, to call forth our respect and admiration. The Greek
tragedians paint the downfall of kingly houses without any reference to
its effects on the condition of the people; they show us the man in the
king, and, far from veiling their heroes from our sight by their purple
mantles, they allow us to look, through their vain splendour, into a bosom
torn and harrowed with grief and passion. That the main essential was not
so much the regal dignity as the heroic costume, is evident from those
tragedies of the moderns which have been written under different
circumstances indeed, but still upon this supposed principle: such, I
mean, as under the existence of monarchy have taken their subject from
kings and courts. Prom the existing reality they dare not draw, for
nothing is less suitable for tragedy than a court and a court life.
Wherever, therefore, they do not paint an ideal kingdom, with the manners
of some remote age, they invariably fall into stiffness and formality,
which are much more fatal to boldness of character, and to depth of
pathos, than the monotonous and equable relations of private life.

A few mythological fables alone seem originally marked out for tragedy:
such, for example, as the long-continued alternation of crime, revenge,
and curses, which we witness in the house of Atreus. When we examine the
names of the pieces which are lost, we have great difficulty in conceiving
how the mythological fables (such, at least, as they are known to us,)
could have furnished sufficient materials for the compass of an entire
tragedy. It is true, the poets, in the various editions of the same story,
had a great latitude of selection; and this very fluctuation of tradition
justified them in going still farther, and making considerable alterations
in the circumstances of an event, so that the inventions employed for this
purpose in one piece sometimes contradict the story as given by the same
poet in another. We must, however, principally explain the prolific
capability of mythology, for the purposes of tragedy, by the principle
which we observe in operation throughout the history of Grecian mind and
art; that, namely, the tendency which predominated for the time,
assimilated everything else to itself. As the heroic legend with all its
manifold discrepancies was easily developed into the tranquil fulness and
light variety of epic poetry, so afterwards it readily responded to the
demands which the tragic writers made upon it for earnestness, energy, and
compression; and whatever in this sifting process of transformation fell
out as inapplicable to tragedy, afforded materials for a sort of half
sportive, though still ideal representation, in the subordinate species
called the _satirical drama_.

I hope I shall be forgiven, if I attempt to illustrate the above
reflections on the essence of Ancient Tragedy, by a comparison borrowed
from the plastic arts, which will, I trust, be found somewhat more than a
mere fanciful resemblance.

The Homeric epic is, in poetry, what bas-relief is in sculpture, and
tragedy the distinct isolated group.

The poetry of Homer, sprung from the soil of legend, is not yet wholly
detached from it, even as the figures of a bas-relief adhere to an
extraneous backing of the original block. These figures are but slightly
raised, and in the epic poem all is painted as past and remote. In bas-
relief the figures are usually in profile, and in the epos all are
characterized in the simplest manner in relief; they are not grouped
together, but follow one another; so Homer's heroes advance, one by one,
in succession before us. It has been remarked that the _Iliad_ is not
definitively closed, but that we are left to suppose something both to
precede and to follow it. The bas-relief is equally without limit, and may
be continued _ad infinitum_, either from before or behind, on which
account the ancients preferred for it such subjects as admitted of an
indefinite extension, sacrificial processions, dances, and lines of
combatants, &c. Hence they also exhibited bas-reliefs on curved surfaces,
such as vases, or the frieze of a rotunda, where, by the curvature, the
two ends are withdrawn from our sight, and where, while we advance, one
object appears as another disappears. Reading Homer is very much like such
a circuit; the present object alone arresting our attention, we lose sight
of that which precedes, and do not concern ourselves about what is to

But in the distinct outstanding group, and in Tragedy, sculpture and
poetry alike bring before our eyes an independent and definite whole. To
distinguish it from natural reality, the former places it on a base as on
an ideal ground, detaching from it as much as possible all foreign and
accidental accessories, that the eye may rest wholly on the essential
objects, the figures themselves. These figures the sculptor works out with
their whole body and contour, and as he rejects the illusion of colours,
announces by the solidity and uniformity of the mass in which they are
constructed, a creation of no perishable existence, but endowed, with a
higher power of endurance.

Beauty is the aim of sculpture, and repose is most advantageous for the
display of beauty. Repose alone, therefore, is suitable to the single
figure. But a number of figures can only be combined together into unity,
_i.e., grouped_ by an action. The group represents beauty in motion,
and its aim is to combine both in the highest degree of perfection. This
can be effected even while portraying the most violent bodily or mental
anguish, if only the artist finds means so to temper the expression by
some trait of manly resistance, calm grandeur, or inherent sweetness,
that, with all the most moving truth, the lineaments of beauty shall yet
be undefaced. The observation of Winkelmann on this subject is inimitable.
He says, that "beauty with the ancients was the tongue on the balance of
expression," and in this sense the groups of Niobe and Laocoön are master-
pieces; the one in the sublime and severe; the other in the studied and
ornamental style.

The comparison with ancient tragedy is the more apposite here, as we know
that both Aeschylus and Sophocles produced a Niobe, and that Sophocles was
also the author of a Laocoön. In the group of the Laocoön the efforts of
the body in enduring, and of the mind in resisting, are balanced in
admirable equipoise. The children calling for help, tender objects of
compassion, not of admiration, recal our eyes to the father, who seems to
be in vain uplifting his eyes to the gods. The wreathed serpents represent
to us that inevitable destiny which often involves all the parties of an
action in one common ruin. And yet the beauty of proportion, the agreeable
flow of the outline, are not lost in this violent struggle; and a
representation, the most appalling to the senses, is yet managed with
forbearance, while a mild breath of gracefulness is diffused over the

In the group of Niobe there is the same perfect mixture of terror and
pity. The upturned looks of the mother, and the mouth half open in
supplication, seem yet to accuse the invisible wrath of heaven. The
daughter, clinging in the agonies of death to the bosom of her mother, in
her childish innocence has no fear but for herself: the innate impulse of
self-preservation was never more tenderly and affectingly expressed. On
the other hand, can there be a more beautiful image of self-devoting,
heroic magnanimity than Niobe, as she bends forward to receive, if
possible, in her own body the deadly shaft? Pride and defiance dissolve in
the depths of maternal love. The more than earthly dignity of the features
are the less marred by the agony, as under the rapid accumulation of blow
upon blow she seems, as in the deeply significant fable, already
petrifying into the stony torpor. But before this figure, thus
_twice_ struck into stone, and yet so full of life and soul,--before
this stony terminus of the limits of human endurance, the spectator melts
into tears.

Amid all the agitating emotions which these groups give rise to, there is
still a something in their aspect which attracts the mind and gives rise
to manifold contemplation; so the ancient tragedy leads us forward to the
highest reflections involved in the very sphere of things it sets before
us--reflections on the nature and the inexplicable mystery of man's being.


Progress of the Tragic Art among the Greeks--Various styles of Tragic Art
--Aeschylus--Connexion in a Trilogy of Aeschylus--His remaining Works.

Of the inexhaustible stores possessed by the Greeks in the department of
tragedy, which the public competition at the Athenian festivals called
into being (as the rival poets always contended for a prize), very little
indeed has come down to us. We only possess works of three of their
numerous tragedians, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, and of these but
a few in proportion to the whole number of their compositions. The extant
dramas are such as were selected by the Alexandrian critics as the
foundation for the study of the older Grecian literature, not because they
alone were deserving of estimation, but because they afforded the best
illustration of the various styles of tragic art. Of each of the two older
poets, we have seven pieces remaining; in these, however, we have,
according to the testimony of the ancients, several of their most
distinguished productions. Of Euripides we have a much greater number, and
we might well exchange many of them for other works which are now lost;
for example, for the satirical dramas of Achaeus, Aeschylus, and
Sophocles, or, for the sake of comparison with Aeschylus, for some of
Phrynichus' pieces, or of Agathon's, whom Plato describes as effeminate,
but sweet and affecting, and who was a contemporary of Euripides, though
somewhat his junior.

Leaving to antiquarians to sift the stories about the waggon of the
strolling Thespis, the contests for the prize of a he-goat, from which the
name of tragedy is said to be derived, and the lees of wine with which the
first improvisatory actors smeared over their visages, from which rude
beginnings, it is pretended, Aeschylus, by one gigantic stride, gave to
tragedy that dignified form under which it appears in his works, we shall
proceed immediately to the consideration of the poets themselves.

The tragic style of Aeschylus (I use the word "style" in the sense it
receives in sculpture, and not in the exclusive signification of the
manner of writing,) is grand, severe, and not unfrequently hard: that of
Sophocles is marked by the most finished symmetry and harmonious
gracefulness: that of Euripides is soft and luxuriant; overflowing in his
easy copiousness, he often sacrifices the general effect to brilliant
passages. The analogies which the undisturbed development of the fine arts
among the Greeks everywhere furnishes, will enable us, throughout to
compare the epochs of tragic art with those of sculpture. Aeschylus is the
Phidias of Tragedy, Sophocles her Polycletus, and Euripides her Lysippus.
Phidias formed sublime images of the gods, but lent them an extrinsic
magnificence of material, and surrounded their majestic repose with images
of the most violent struggles in strong relief. Polycletus carried his art
to perfection of proportion, and hence one of his statues was called the
Standard of Beauty. Lysippus distinguished himself by the fire of his
works; but in his time Sculpture had deviated from its original
destination, and was much more desirous of expressing the charm of motion
and life than of adhering to ideality of form.

Aeschylus is to be considered as the creator of Tragedy: in full panoply
she sprung from his head, like Pallas from the head of Jupiter. He clad
her with dignity, and gave her an appropriate stage; he was the inventor
of scenic pomp, and not only instructed the chorus in singing and dancing,
but appeared himself as an actor. He was the first that expanded the
dialogue, and set limits to the lyrical part of tragedy, which, however,
still occupies too much space in his pieces. His characters are sketched
with a few bold and strong touches. His plots are simple in the extreme:
he did not understand the art of enriching and varying an action, and of
giving a measured march and progress to the complication and denouement.
Hence his action often stands still; a circumstance which becomes yet more
apparent, from the undue extension of his choral songs. But all his poetry
evinces a sublime and earnest mind. Terror is his element, and not the
softer affections, he holds up a head of Medusa before the petrified
spectators. In his handling Destiny appears austere in the extreme; she
hovers over the heads of mortals in all her gloomy majesty. The cothurnus
of Aeschylus has, as it were, the weight of iron: gigantic figures stalk
in upon it. It seems as if it required an effort for him to condescend to
paint mere men; he is ever bringing in gods, but especially the Titans,
those elder divinities who typify the gloomy powers of primaeval nature,
and who had been driven long ago into Tartarus before the presence of a
new and better order of things. He endeavours to swell out his language to
a gigantic sublimity, corresponding to the vast dimensions of his
personages. Hence he abounds in harsh compounds and over-strained
epithets, and the lyrical parts of his pieces are often, from their
involved construction, extremely obscure. In the singular strangeness of
his images and expressions he resembles Dante and Shakspeare. Yet in these
images there is no want of that terrific grace which almost all the
writers of antiquity commend in Aeschylus.

Aeschylus flourished in the very freshness and vigour of Grecian freedom,
and a proud sense of the glorious struggle by which it was won, seems to
have animated him and his poetry. He had been an eye-witness of the
greatest and most glorious event in the history of Greece, the overthrow
and annihilation of the Persian hosts under Darius and Xerxes, and had
fought with distinguished bravery in the memorable battles of Marathon and
Salamis. In the _Persians_ he has, in an indirect manner, sung the
triumph which he contributed to obtain, while he paints the downfall of
the Persian ascendancy, and the ignominious return of the despot, with
difficulty escaping with his life, to his royal residence. The battle of
Salamis he describes in the most vivid and glowing colours. Through the
whole of this piece, and the _Seven before Thebes_, there gushes forth a
warlike vein; the personal inclination of the poet for a soldier's
life, shines throughout with the most dazzling lustre. It was well
remarked by Gorgias, the sophist, that Mars, instead of Bacchus, had
inspired this last drama; for Bacchus, and not Apollo, was the tutelary
deity of tragic poets, which, on a first view of the matter, appears
somewhat singular, but then we must recollect that Bacchus was not merely
the god of wine and joy, but also the god of all higher kinds of

Among the remaining pieces of Aeschylus, we have what is highly deserving
of our attention--a complete _Trilogy_. The antiquarian account of
the trilogies is this: that in the more early times the poet did not
contend for the prize with a single piece, but with three, which, however,
were not always connected together in their subjects, and that to these
was added a fourth,--namely, a _satiric drama_. All were acted in one
day, one after another. The idea which, in relation to the tragic art, we
must form of the trilogy, is this: a tragedy cannot be indefinitely
lengthened and continued, like the Homeric Epos for instance, to which
whole rhapsodies have been appended; tragedy is too independent and
complete within itself for this; nevertheless, several tragedies may be
connected together in one great cycle by means of a common destiny running
through the actions of all. Hence the restriction to the number three
admits of a satisfactory explanation. It is the thesis, the antithesis,
and the synthesis. The advantage of this conjunction was that, by the
consideration of the connected fables, a more complete gratification was
furnished than could possibly be obtained from a single action. The
subjects of the three tragedies might be separated by a wide interval of
time, or follow close upon one another.

The three pieces which form the trilogy of Aeschylus, are the _Agamemnon_,
the _Choephorae_ or, we should call it, _Electra_, and the _Eumenides_ or
_Furies_. The subject of the first is the murder of Agamemnon by
Clytemnestra, on his return from Troy. In the second, Orestes avenges his
father by killing his mother: _facto pius et sceleratus eodem_. This deed,
although enjoined by the most powerful motives, is, however, repugnant to
the natural and moral order of things. Orestes, as a prince, was, it is
true, called upon to exercise justice, even on the members of his own
family; but we behold him here under the necessity of stealing in disguise
into the dwelling of the tyrannical usurper of his throne, and of going to
work like an assassin. The memory of his father pleads his excuse; but
however much Clytemnestra may have deserved her death, the voice of blood
cries from within. This conflict of natural duties is represented in the
_Eumenides_ in the form of a contention among the gods, some of whom
approve of the deed of Orestes, while others persecute him, till at last
Divine Wisdom, in the persona of Minerva, balances the opposite claims,
establishes peace, and puts an end to the long series of crime and
punishment which have desolated the royal house of Atreus.

A considerable interval takes place between the period of the first and
second pieces, during which Orestes grows up to manhood. The second and
third are connected together immediately in order of time. Upon the murder
of his mother, Orestes flees forthwith to Delphi, where we find him at the
commencement of the _Eumenides_.

In each of the two first pieces, there is a visible reference to the one
which follows. In _Agamemnon_, Cassandra and the chorus, at the close,
predict to the haughty Clytemnestra and her paramour, Aegisthus, the
punishment which awaits them at the hands of Orestes. In the _Choephorae_,
Orestes, upon the execution of the deed of retribution, finds that all
peace is gone: the furies of his mother begin to persecute him, and he
announces his resolution of taking refuge in Delphi.

The connexion is therefore evident throughout; and we may consider the
three pieces, which were connected together even in the representation, as
so many acts of one great and entire drama. I mention this as a
preliminary justification of the practice of Shakspeare and other modern
poets, to connect together in one representation a larger circle of human
destinies, as we can produce to the critics who object to this the
supposed example of the ancients.

In _Agamemnon_, it was the intention of Aeschylus to exhibit to us a
sudden fall from the highest pinnacle of prosperity and renown into the
abyss of ruin. The prince, the hero, the general of the combined forces of
the Greeks, in the very moment of success and the glorious achievement of
the destruction of Troy, the fame of which is to be re-echoed from the
mouths of the greatest poets of all ages, in the very act of crossing the
threshold of his home, after which he had so long sighed, and amidst the
fearless security of preparations for a festival, is butchered, according
to the expression of Homer, "like an ox in the stall," slain by his
faithless wife, his throne usurped by her worthless seducer, and his
children consigned to banishment or to hopeless servitude.

With the view of giving greater effect to this dreadful reverse of
fortune, the poet endeavours to throw a greater splendour over the
destruction of Troy. He has done this in the first half of the piece in a
manner peculiar to himself, which, however singular, must be allowed to be
impressive in the extreme, and well fitted to lay fast hold of the
imagination. It is of importance to Clytemnestra that she should not be
surprised by the sudden arrival of her husband; she has therefore arranged
an uninterrupted series of signal fires from Troy to Mycenae, to announce
to her that great event. The piece commences with the speech of a
watchman, who supplicates the gods for a deliverance from his labours, as
for ten long years he has been exposed to the cold dews of night, has
witnessed the changeful course of the stars, while looking in vain for the
expected signal; at the same time he sighs in secret over the corruption
which reigns within the royal house. At this moment he sees the long-
wished-for beacon blazing up, and hastens to announce it to his mistress.
A chorus of aged persons appears, and in their songs they go through the
whole history of the Trojan War, through all its eventful fluctuations of
fortune, from its origin, and recount all the prophecies relating to it,
and the sacrifice of Iphigenia, by which the sailing of the Greeks was
purchased. Clytemnestra explains to the chorus the joyful cause of the
sacrifice which she orders; and the herald Talthybius immediately makes
his appearance, who, as an eye-witness, relates the drama of the conquered
and plundered city, consigned as a prey to the flames, the joy of the
victors, and the glory of their leader. With reluctance, as if unwilling
to check their congratulatory prayers, he recounts to them the subsequent
misfortunes of the Greeks, their dispersion, and the shipwreck suffered by
many of them, an immediate symptom of the wrath of the gods. It is obvious
how little the unity of time was observed by the poet,--how much, on the
contrary, he avails himself of the prerogative of his mental dominion over
the powers of nature, to give wings to the circling hours in their course
towards the dreadful goal. Agamemnon now arrives, borne in a sort of
triumphal car; and seated on another, laden with booty, follows Cassandra,
his prisoner of war, and concubine also, according to the customary
privilege of heroes. Clytemnestra greets him with hypocritical joy and
veneration; she orders her slaves to cover the ground with the most costly
embroideries of purple, that it might not be touched by the foot of the
conqueror. Agamemnon, with wise moderation, refuses to accept an honour
due only to the gods; at last he yields to her solicitations, and enters
the palace. The chorus then begins to utter its dark forebodings.
Clytemnestra returns to allure, by friendly speeches, Cassandra also to
destruction. The latter is silent and unmoved, but the queen is hardly
gone, when, seized with prophetic furor, she breaks out into the most
confused and obscure lamentations, but presently unfolds her prophecies
more distinctly to the chorus; in spirit she beholds all the enormities
which have been perpetrated within that house--the repast of Thyestes,
which the sun refused to look upon; the ghosts of the mangled children
appear to her on the battlements of the palace. She also sees the death
which is preparing for her lord; and, though shuddering at the reek of
death, as if seized with madness, she rushes into the house to meet her
own inevitable doom, while from behind the scene we hear the groans of the
dying Agamemnon. The palace opens; Clytemnestra stands beside the body of
her king and husband; like an insolent criminal, she not only confesses
the deed, but boasts of and justifies it, as a righteous requital for
Agamemnon's sacrifice of Iphigenia to his own ambition. Her jealousy of
Cassandra, and criminal connexion with the worthless Aegisthus, who does
not appear till after the completion of the murder and towards the
conclusion of the piece, are motives which she hardly touches on, and
throws entirely into the background. This was necessary to preserve the
dignity of the subject; for, indeed, Clytemnestra could not with propriety
have been portrayed as a frail seduced woman--she must appear with the
features of that heroic age, so rich in bloody catastrophes, in which all
passions were violent, and men, both in good and evil, surpassed the
ordinary standard of later and more degenerated ages. What is more
revolting--what proves a deeper degeneracy of human nature, than horrid
crimes conceived in the bosom of cowardly effeminacy? If such crimes are
to be portrayed by the poet, he must neither seek to palliate them, nor to
mitigate our horror and aversion of them. Moreover, by bringing the
sacrifice of Iphigenia thus immediately before us, the poet has succeeded
in lessening the indignation which otherwise the foul and painful fate of
Agamemnon is calculated to awaken. He cannot be pronounced wholly
innocent; a former crime recoils on his own head: besides, according to
the religious idea of the ancients, an old curse hung over his house.
Aegisthus, the author of his destruction, is a son of that very Thyestes
on whom his father Atreus took such an unnatural revenge; and this fateful
connexion is vividly brought before our minds by the chorus, and more
especially by the prophecies of Cassandra.

I pass over the subsequent piece of the _Choephorae_ for the present;
I shall speak of it when I come to institute a comparison between the
manner in which the three poets have handled the same subject.

The fable of the _Eumenides_ is, as I have already said, the justification
of Orestes, and his absolution from blood-guiltiness: it is a trial, but a
trial where the accusers and the defenders and the presiding judges are
gods. And the manner in which the subject is treated corresponds with its
majesty and importance. The scene itself brought before the eyes of the
Greeks all the highest objects of veneration that they acknowledged.

It opens in front of the celebrated temple at Delphi, which occupies the
background; the aged Pythia enters in sacerdotal pomp, addresses her
prayers to all the gods who at any time presided, or still preside, over
the oracle, harangues the assembled people (represented by the actual
audience), and goes into the temple to seat herself on the tripod. She
returns full of consternation, and describes what she has seen in the
temple: a man, stained with blood, supplicating protection, surrounded by
sleeping women with snaky hair; she then makes her exit by the same
entrance as she came in by. Apollo now appears with Orestes, who is in a
traveller's garb, and carries a sword and olive-branch in his hands. He
promises him his farther protection, enjoins him to flee to Athens, and
commends him to the care of the present but invisible Mercury, to whose
safeguard travellers, and especially those who were under the necessity of
journeying by stealth, were usually consigned.

Orestes goes off at the side which was supposed to lead to foreign lands;
Apollo re-enters his temple, which remains open, and the Furies are seen
in the interior, sleeping on the benches. Clytemnestra's ghost now ascends
by the charonic stairs, and, passing through the orchestra, appears on the
stage. We are not to imagine it a haggard skeleton, but a figure with the
appearance of life, though paler, with the wound still open in her breast,
and shrouded in ethereal-coloured vestments. She calls on the Furies, in
the language of vehement reproach, and then disappears, probably through a
trap-door. The Furies awake, and not finding Orestes, they dance in wild
commotion round the stage, while they sing the choral song. Apollo again
comes out of the temple, and drives them away, as profaning his sanctuary.
We may imagine him appearing with the sublime displeasure of the Apollo of
the Vatican, with bow and quiver, but also clad with tunic and chlamys.

The scene now changes; but as the Greeks on such occasions were fond of
going the shortest way to work, the background probably remained
unchanged, and was now supposed to represent the temple of Minerva, on the
Areopagus, while the lateral decorations were converted into Athens and
its surrounding landscape. Orestes now enters, as from foreign land, and,
as a suppliant, embraces the statue of Pallas standing before the temple.
The chorus (who, according to the poet's own description, were clothed in
black, with purple girdles, and serpents in their hair, in masks having
perhaps something of the terrific beauty of Medusa-heads, and marking too
their great age on the principles of sculpture) follows close on his
steps, but for the rest of the piece remains below in the orchestra. The
Furies had at first behaved themselves like beasts of prey, furious at the
escape of their booty, but now, hymning with tranquil dignity the high and
terrible office they had among mortals, they claim the head of Orestes, as
forfeited to them, and devote it with mysterious charms to endless
torment. At the intercession of the suppliant, Pallas, the warrior-virgin,
appears in a chariot drawn by four horses. She inquires the cause of his
invocation, and listens with calm dignity to the mutual complaints of
Orestes and his adversaries, and, at the solicitation of the two parties,
finally undertakes, after due reflection, the office of umpire. The
assembled judges take their seats on the steps of the temple--the herald
commands silence among the people by sound of trumpet, just as in a real
trial. Apollo advances to advocate the cause of his suppliant, the Furies
in vain protest against his interference, and the arguments for and
against the deed are debated between them in short speeches. The judges
cast their ballots into the urn, Pallas throws in a white one; all is
wrought up to the highest pitch of expectation; Orestes, in agony of
suspense, exclaims to his protector--

O Phoebus Apollo, how will the cause be decided?

The Furies on the other hand:

O Night, black Mother, seest thou these doings?

Upon counting the black and white pebbles, they are found equal in number,
and the accused, therefore, by the decision of Pallas, is acquitted. He
breaks out into joyful thanksgiving, while the Furies on the other hand
declaim against the overbearing arrogance of these younger gods, who take
such liberties with those of Titanic race. Pallas bears their rage with
equanimity, addresses them in the language of kindness, and even of
veneration; and these so indomitable beings are unable to withstand the
charms of her mild eloquence. They promise to bless the land which is
under her tutelary protection, while on her part Pallas assigns them a
sanctuary in the Attic domain, where they are to be called the
_Eumenides_, that is, "the Benevolent Goddesses." The whole ends with
a solemn procession round the theatre, with hymns of blessing, while bands
of children, women, and old men, in purple robes and with torches in their
hands, accompany the Furies in their exit.

Let us now take a retrospective view of the whole trilogy. In the
_Agamemnon_ we have a predominance of free-will both in the plan and
execution of the deed: the principal character is a great criminal, and
the piece ends with the revolting impressions produced by the sight of
triumphant tyranny and crime. I have already pointed out the allusions it
contains to a preceding destiny.

The deed committed in the _Choephorae_ is partly enjoined by Apollo
as the appointment of fate, and partly originates in natural motives:
Orestes' desire of avenging his father, and his brotherly love for the
oppressed Electra. It is only after the execution of the deed that the
struggle between the most sacred feelings becomes manifest, and here again
the sympathies of the spectators are excited without being fully appeased.

From its very commencement, the _Eumenides_ stands on the very summit
of tragical elevation: all the past is here, as it were, concentrated into
a focus. Orestes has become the mere passive instrument of fate; and free
agency is transferred to the more elevated sphere of the gods. Pallas is
properly the principal character. That opposition between the most sacred
relations, which often occurs in life as a problem not to be solved by
man, is here represented as a contention in the world of the gods.

And this brings me to the pregnant meaning of the whole. The ancient
mythology is in general _symbolical_, although not _allegorical_; for the
two are _certainly_ distinct. Allegory is the personification of an idea,
a poetic story invented solely with such a view; but that is symbolical
which, created by the imagination for other purposes, or possessing an
independent reality of its own, is at the same time easily susceptible of
an emblematical explanation; and even of itself suggests it.

The Titans in general symbolize the dark and mysterious powers of
primaeval nature and mind; the younger gods, whatsoever enters more
immediately within the circle of consciousness. The former are more nearly
allied to original chaos, the latter belong to a world already reduced to
order. The Furies denote the dreadful powers of conscience, in so far as
it rests on obscure feelings and forebodings, and yields to no principles
of reason. In vain Orestes dwells on the just motives which urged him to
the deed, the cry of blood still sounds in his ear. Apollo is the god of
youth, of the noble ebullition of passionate indignation, of bold and
daring action. Accordingly this deed was commanded by him. Pallas is
thoughtful wisdom, justice, and moderation, which alone can allay the
conflict of reason and passion.

Even the sleep of the Furies in the temple is symbolical; for only in the
sanctuary, in the bosom of religion, can the fugitive find rest from the
torments of conscience. Scarcely, however, has he ventured forth again
into the world, when the image of his murdered mother appears, and again
awakes them. The very speech of Clytemnestra betrays its symbolical
import, as much as the attributes of the Furies, the serpents, and their
sucking of blood. The same may be said of Apollo's aversion for them; in
fact, this symbolical character runs through the whole. The equal cogency
of the motives for and against the deed is denoted by the equally divided
votes of the judges. And if at last a sanctuary within the Athenian
territory is offered to the softened Furies, this is as much as to say
that reason is not everywhere to enforce its principles against
involuntary instinct, that there are in the human mind certain boundaries
which are not to be passed, and all contact with which even every person
possessed of a true sentiment of reverence will cautiously avoid, if he
would preserve peace within.

So much for the deep philosophical meaning which we need not wonder to
find in this poet, who, according to the testimony of Cicero, was a
Pythagorean. Aeschylus had also political views. Foremost of these was the
design of rendering Athens illustrious. Delphi was the religious centre of
Greece, and yet how far it is thrown into the shade by him! It can shelter
Orestes, indeed, from the first onset of persecution, but not afford him a
complete liberation; this is reserved for the land of law and humanity.
But, a further, and in truth, his principal object was to recommend as
essential to the welfare of Athens the Areopagus [Footnote: I do not find
that this aim has ever been expressly ascribed to Aeschylus by any ancient
writer. It is, however, too plain to be mistaken, and is revealed
especially in the speech of Pallas, beginning with the 680th verse. It
agrees, moreover, with the account, that in the very year when the piece
was represented, (Olymp. lxxx. 1.) a certain Ephialtes excited the people
against the Areopagus, which was the best guardian of the old and more
austere constitution, and kept democratic extravagance in check. This
Ephialtes was murdered one night by an unknown hand. Aeschylus received
the first prize in the theatrical games, but we know that he left Athens
immediately afterwards, and passed his remaining years in Sicily. It is
possible that, although the theatrical judges did him justice, he might be
held in aversion by the populace, and that this induced him, without any
express sentence of banishment, to leave his native city. The story of the
sight of the terrible chorus of Furies having thrown children into mortal
convulsions, and caused women to miscarry, appears to be fabulous. A poet
would hardly have been crowned, who had been the occasion of profaning the
festival by such occurrences.], an uncorruptible yet mild tribunal, in
which the white ballot of Pallas given in favour of the accused is an
invention which does honour to the humanity of the Athenians. The poet
shows how a portentous series of crimes led to an institution fraught with
blessings to humanity.

But it will be asked, are not extrinsic aims of this kind prejudicial to
the pure poetical impressions which the composition ought to produce? Most
undoubtedly, if pursued in the manner in which other poets, and especially
Euripides, have followed them out. But in Aeschylus the aim is subservient
to the poetry, rather than the poetry to the aim. He does not lower
himself to a circumscribed reality, but, on the contrary, elevates it to a
higher sphere, and connects it with the most sublime conceptions.

In the _Oresteia_ (for so the trilogy or three connected pieces was
called,) we certainly possess one of the sublimest poems that ever was
conceived by the imagination of man, and, probably, the ripest and most
perfect of all the productions of his genius. The date of the composition
of them confirms this supposition: for Aeschylus was at least sixty years
of age when he brought these dramas on the stage, the last with which he
ever competed for the prize at Athens. But, indeed, every one of his
pieces that has come down to us, is remarkable either for displaying some
peculiar property of the poet, or, as indicative of the step in art at
which he stood at the date of its composition.

I am disposed to consider the _Suppliants_ one of his more early works. It
probably belonged to a trilogy, and stood between two other tragedies on
the same subject, the names of which are still preserved, namely the
_Egyptians_ and the _Danaidae_. The first, we may suppose, described the
flight of the _Danaidae_ from Egypt to avoid the detested marriage with
their cousins; the second depicts the protection which they sought and
obtained in Argos; while the third would contain the murder of the
husbands who were forced upon them. We are disposed to view the two first
pieces as single acts, introductory to the tragical action which properly
commences in the last. But the tragedy of the _Suppliants_, while it is
complete in itself, and forms a whole, is yet, when viewed in this
position, defective, since it is altogether without reference to or
connexion with what precedes and what follows. In the _Suppliants_ the
chorus not only takes a part in the action, as in the _Eumenides_, but it
is even the principal character that attracts and commands our interest.
This cast of the tragedy is neither favourable for the display of
peculiarity of character, nor the exciting emotion by the play of powerful
passions; or, to speak in the language of Grecian art, it is unfavourable
both to _ethos_ and to _pathos_. The chorus has but one voice and one
soul: to have marked the disposition common to fifty young women (for the
chorus of _Danaidae_ certainly amounted to this number,) by any exclusive
peculiarities, would have been absurd in the very nature of things: over
and above the common features of humanity such a multitude could only be
painted with those common to their sex, their age, and, perhaps, those of
their nation. In respect to the last, the intention of Aeschylus is more
conspicuous than his success: he lays a great stress on the foreign
descent of the _Danaidae_; but this he does but assert of them, without
allowing the foreign character to be discovered in their words and
discourse. The sentiments, resolutions, and actions of a multitude, and
yet manifested with such uniformity, and conceived and executed like the
movements of a regular army, have scarcely the appearance of proceeding
freely and directly from the inmost being. And, on the other hand, we take
a much stronger interest in the situations and fortunes of a single
individual with whose whole character we have become intimately
acquainted, than in a multitude of uniformly repeated impressions massed
as it were together. We have more than reason to doubt whether Aeschylus
treated the fable of the third piece in such a way that Hypermnestra, the
only one of the _Danaidae_ who is allowed to form an exception from the
rest, became, with her compassion or her love, the principal object of the
dramatic interest: here, again, probably, his chief object was by
expressing, in majestic choral songs, the complaints, the wishes, the
cares, and supplications of the whole sisterhood, to exhibit a kind of
social solemnity of action and suffering.

In the same manner, in the _Seven before Thebes_, the king and the
messenger, whose speeches occupy the greatest part of the piece, speak
more in virtue of their office than as interpreters of their own personal
feelings. The description of the assault with which the city is
threatened, and of the seven leaders who, like heaven-storming giants,
have sworn its destruction, and who, in the emblems borne on their
shields, display their arrogance, is an epic subject clothed in the pomp
of tragedy. This long and ascending series of preparation is every way
worthy the one agitating moment at which Eteocles, who has hitherto
displayed the utmost degree of prudence and firmness, and stationed, at
each gate, a patriotic hero to confront each of the insolent foes; when
the seventh is described to him as no other than Polynices, the author of
the whole threatened calamity, hurried away by the Erinnys of a father's
curse, insists on becoming himself his antagonist, and, notwithstanding
all the entreaties of the chorus, with the clear consciousness of
inevitable death, rushes headlong to the fratricidal strife. War, in
itself, is no subject for tragedy, and the poet hurries us rapidly from
the ominous preparation to the fatal moment of decision: the city is
saved, the two competitors for the throne fall by each other's hands, and
the whole is closed by their funeral dirge, sung conjointly by the sisters
and a chorus of Theban virgins. It is worthy of remark that Antigone's
determination to inter her brother, notwithstanding the prohibition with
which Sophocles opens his own piece, which he names after her, is
interwoven with the conclusion of this play, a circumstance which, as in
the case of the _Choephorae_, immediately connects it with a new and
further development of the tragic story.

I wish I could persuade myself that Aeschylus composed the _Persians_
to comply with the wish of Hiero, King of Syracuse, who was desirous
vividly to realize the great events of the Persian war. Such is the
substance of one tradition; but according to another, the piece had been
previously exhibited in Athens. We have already alluded to this drama,
which, both in point of choice of subject, and the manner of handling it,
is undoubtedly the most imperfect of all the tragedies of this poet that
we possess. Scarcely has the vision of Atossa raised our expectation in
the commencement, when the whole catastrophe immediately opens on us with
the arrival of the first messenger, and no further progress is even
imaginable. But although not a legitimate drama, we may still consider it
as a proud triumphal hymn of liberty, clothed in soft and unceasing
lamentations of kindred and subjects over the fallen majesty of the
ambitious despot. With great judgment, both here and in the _Seven before
Thebes_, the poet describes the issue of the war, not as accidental, which
is almost always the case in Homer, but (for in tragedy there is no place
for accident,) as the result of overweening infatuation on the one hand,
and wise moderation on the other.

The _Prometheus Bound_, held also a middle place between two others--
the _Fire-bringing Prometheus_ and the _Prometheus Unbound_, if we dare
reckon the first, which, without question, was a satiric drama, a part of
a trilogy. A considerable fragment of the _Prometheus Unbound_ has been
preserved to us in a Latin translation by Attius.

The _Prometheus Bound_ is the representation of constancy under suffering,
and that the never-ending suffering of a god. Exiled in its scene to a
naked rock on the shore of the earth-encircling ocean, this drama still
embraces the world, the Olympus of the gods, and the earth, the abode of
mortals; all as yet scarcely reposing in security above the dread abyss of
the dark primaeval powers--the Titans. The idea of a self-devoting
divinity has been mysteriously inculcated in many religions, in dim
foreboding of the true; here, however, it appears in most fearful
contrast to the consolations of Revelation. For Prometheus does not suffer
from any understanding with the power which rules the world, but in
atonement for his disobedience to that power, and his disobedience
consists in nothing but the attempt to give perfection to the human race.
He is thus an image of human nature itself; endowed with an unblessed
foresight and riveted to a narrow existence, without a friend or ally, and
with nothing to oppose to the combined and inexorable powers of nature,
but an unshaken will and the consciousness of her own lofty aspirations.
The other productions of the Greek Tragedians are so many tragedies; but
this I might say is Tragedy herself: her purest spirit revealed with all
the annihilating and overpowering force of its first, and as yet
unmitigated, austerity.

There is little of external action in this piece. Prometheus merely
suffers and resolves from the beginning to the end; and his sufferings and
resolutions are always the same. But the poet has, in a masterly manner,
contrived to introduce variety and progress into that which in itself was
determinately fixed, and has in the objects with which he has surrounded
him, given us a scale for the measurement of the matchless power of his
sublime Titan. First the silence of Prometheus, while he is chained down
under the harsh inspection of _Strength_ and _Force_, whose threats serve
only to excite a useless compassion in Vulcan, who is nevertheless forced
to carry them into execution; then his solitary complainings, the arrival
of the womanly tender ocean nymphs, whose kind but disheartening sympathy
stimulates him to give freer vent to his feelings, to relate the causes of
his fall, and to reveal the future, though with prudent reserve he reveals
it only in part; the visit of the ancient Oceanus, a kindred god of the
Titanian race, who, under the pretext of a zealous attachment to his
cause, counsels submission to Jupiter, and is therefore dismissed with
proud contempt; next comes Io, the frenzy-driven wanderer, a victim of the
same tyranny as Prometheus himself suffers under: to her he predicts the
wanderings to which she is still doomed, and the fate which at last awaits
her, which, in some degree, is connected with his own, as from her blood,
after the lapse of many ages, his deliverer is to spring; then the
appearance of Mercury, as the messenger of the universal tyrant, who, with
haughty menaces, commands him to disclose the secret which is to ensure
the safety of Jupiter's throne against all the malice of fate and fortune;
and, lastly, before Prometheus has well declared his refusal, the yawning
of the earth, which, amidst thunder and lightning, storms and earthquake,
engulfs both him and the rock to which he is chained in the abyss of the
nether world. The triumph of subjection was never perhaps more gloriously
celebrated, and we have difficulty in conceiving how the poet in the
_Prometheus Unbound_ could have sustained himself on the same height of

In the dramas of Aeschylus we have one of many examples that, in art as
well as in nature, gigantic productions precede those that evince
regularity of proportion, which again in their turn decline gradually into
littleness and insignificance, and that poetry in her earliest appearance
attaches itself closely to the sanctities of religion, whatever may be the
form which the latter assumes among the various races of men.

A saying of the poet, which has been recorded, proves that he endeavoured
to maintain this elevation, and purposely avoided all artificial polish,
which might lower him from this godlike sublimity. His brothers urged him
to write a new Paean. He answered: "The old one of Tynnichus is the best,
and his compared with this, fare as the new statues do beside the old; for
the latter, with all their simplicity, are considered divine; while the
new, with all the care bestowed on their execution, are indeed admired,
but bear much less of the impression of divinity." In religion, as in
everything else, he carried his boldness to the utmost limits; and thus he
even came to be accused of having in one of his pieces disclosed the
Eleusinean mysteries, and was only acquitted on the intercession of his
brother Aminias, who bared in sight of the judges the wounds which he had
received in the battle of Salamis. He perhaps believed that in the
communication of the poetic feeling was contained the initiation into the
mysteries, and that nothing was in this way revealed to any one who was
not worthy of it.

In Aeschylus the tragic style is as yet imperfect, and not unfrequently
runs into either unmixed epic or lyric. It is often abrupt, irregular, and
harsh. To compose more regular and skilful tragedies than those of
Aeschylus was by no means difficult; but in the more than mortal grandeur
which he displayed, it was impossible that he should ever be surpassed;
and even Sophocles, his younger and more fortunate rival, did not in this
respect equal him. The latter, in speaking of Aeschylus, gave a proof that
he was himself a thoughtful artist: "Aeschylus does what is right without
knowing it." These few simple words exhaust the whole of what we
understand by the phrase, powerful genius working unconsciously.


Life and Political Character of Sophocles--Character of his different

The birth of Sophocles was nearly at an equal distance between that of his
predecessor and that of Euripides, so that he was about half a life-time
from each: but on this point all the authorities do not coincide. He was,
however, during the greatest part of his life the contemporary of both. He
frequently contended for the ivy-wreath of tragedy with Aeschylus, and he
outlived Euripides, who, however, also attained to a good old age. To
speak in the spirit of the ancient religion, it seems that a beneficent
Providence wished in this individual to evince to the human race the
dignity and blessedness of its lot, by endowing him with every divine
gift, with all that can adorn and elevate the mind and the heart, and
crowning him with every imaginable blessing of this life. Descended from
rich and honourable parents, and born a free citizen of the most
enlightened state of Greece;--there were birth, necessary condition, and
foundation. Beauty of person and of mind, and the uninterruped enjoyment
of both in the utmost perfection, to the extreme term of human existence;
a most choice and finished education in gymnastics and the musical arts,
the former so important in the development of the bodily powers, and the
latter in the communication of harmony; the sweet bloom of youth, and the
ripe fruit of age; the possession of and unbroken enjoyment of poetry and
art, and the exercise of serene wisdom; love and respect among his fellow
citizens, renown abroad, and the countenance and favour of the gods: these
are the general features of the life of this pious and virtuous poet. It
would seem as if the gods, to whom, and to Bacchus in particular, as the
giver of all joy, and the civilizer of the human race, he devoted himself
at an early age by the composition of tragical dramas for his festivals,
had wished to confer immortality on him, so long did they delay the hour
of his death; but as this could not be, they loosened him from life as
gently as was possible, that he might imperceptibly change one immortality
for another, the long duration of his earthly existence for the
imperishable vitality of his name. When a youth of sixteen, he was
selected, on account of his beauty, to dance (playing the while, after the
Greek manner, on the lyre) at the head of the chorus of youths who, after
the battle of Salamis (in which Aeschylus fought, and which he has so
nobly described), executed the Paean round the trophy erected on that
occasion. Thus then the beautiful season of his youthful bloom coincided
with the most glorious epoch of the Athenian people. He held the rank of
general as colleague with Pericles and Thucydides, and, when arrived at a
more advanced age, was elected to the priesthood of a native hero. In his
twenty-fifth year he began to exhibit tragedies; twenty times was he
victorious; he often gained the second place, but never was he ranked so
low as in the third. In this career he proceeded with increasing success
till he had passed his ninetieth year; and some of his greatest works were
even the fruit of a still later period. There is a story of an accusation
being brought against him by one or more of his elder sons, of having
become childish from age, and of being incapable of managing his own
affairs. An alleged partiality for a grandson by a second wife is said to
have been the motive of the charge. In his defence he contented himself
with reading to his judges his _Oedipus at Colonos_, which he had
then just composed (or, according to others, only the magnificent chorus
in it, wherein he sings the praises of Colonos, his birth-place,) and the
astonished judges, without farther consultation, conducted him in triumph
to his house. If it be true that the second _Oedipus_ was written at
so late an age, as from its mature serenity and total freedom from the
impetuosity and violence of youth we have good reason to conclude that it
actually was, it affords us a pleasing picture of an old age at once
amiable and venerable. Although the varying accounts of his death have a
fabulous look, they all coincide in this, and alike convey this same
purport, that he departed life without a struggle, while employed in his
art, or something connected with it, and that, like an old swan of Apollo,
he breathed out his life in song. The story also of the Lacedaemonian
general, who having entrenched the burying-ground of the poet's ancestors,
and being twice warned by Bacchus in a vision to allow Sophocles to be
there interred, dispatched a herald to the Athenians on the subject, I
consider as true, as well as a number of other circumstances, which serve
to set in a strong light the illustrious reverence in which his name was
held. In calling him virtuous and pious, I used the words in his own
sense; for although his works breathe the real character of ancient
grandeur, gracefulness, and simplicity, he, of all the Grecian poets, is
also the one whose feelings bear the strongest affinity to the spirit of
our religion.

One gift alone was denied to him by nature: a voice attuned to song. He
could only call forth and direct the harmonious effusions of other voices;
he was therefore compelled to depart from the hitherto established
practice for the poet to act a part in his own pieces. Once only did he
make his appearance on the stage in the character of the blind singer
Thamyris (a very characteristic trait) playing on the cithara.

As Aeschylus, who raised tragic poetry from its rude beginnings to the
dignity of the Cothurnus, was his predecessor; the historical relation in
which he stood to him enabled Sophocles to profit by the essays of that
original master, so that Aeschylus appears as the rough designer, and
Sophocles as the finisher and successor. The more artificial construction
of Sophocles' dramas is easily perceived: the greater limitation of the
chorus in proportion to the dialogue, the smoother polish of the rhythm,
and the purer Attic diction, the introduction of a greater number of
characters, the richer complication of the fable, the multiplication of
incidents, a higher degree of development, the more tranquil dwelling upon
all the momenta of the action, and the more striking theatrical effect
allowed to decisive ones, the more perfect rounding off of the whole, even
considered from a merely external point of view. But he excelled Aeschylus
in something still more essential, and proved himself deserving of the
good fortune of having such a preceptor, and of being allowed to enter
into competition in the same field with him: I mean the harmonious
perfection of his mind, which enabled him spontaneously to satisfy every
requisition of the laws of beauty, a mind whose free impulse was
accompanied by the most clear consciousness. To surpass Aeschylus in
boldness of conception was perhaps impossible: I am inclined, however, to
believe that is only because of his wisdom and moderation that Sophocles
appears less bold, since he always goes to work with the greatest energy,
and perhaps with even a more sustained earnestness, like a man who knows
the extent of his powers, and is determined, when he does not exceed them,
to stand up with the greater confidence for his rights [Footnote: This
idea has been so happily expressed by the greatest genius perhaps of the
last century, that the translator hopes he will be forgiven for here
transcribing the passage: "I can truly say that, poor and unknown as I
then was, I had pretty nearly as high an idea of myself and of my works,
as I have at this moment, when the public has decided in their favour. It
ever was my opinion, that the mistakes and blunders both in a rational and
religious point of view, of which we see thousands daily guilty, are owing
to their ignorance of themselves. To know myself, had been all along my
constant study. I weighed myself alone; I balanced myself with others; I
watched every means of information to see how much ground I occupied as a
man and as a poet; I studied assiduously nature's design in my formation--
where the lights and shades in my character were intended."--_Letter
from Burns to Dr. Moore, in Currie's Life._--TRANS.]. As Aeschylus
delights in transporting us to the convulsions of the primary world of the
Titans, Sophocles, on the other hand, never avails himself of divine
interposition except where it is absolutely necessary; he formed men,
according to the general confession of antiquity, better, that is, not
more moral and exempt from error, but more beautiful and noble than they
really are; and while he took every thing in the most human sense, he was
at the same time open to its higher significance. According to all
appearance he was also more temperate than Aeschylus in his use of scenic
ornaments; displaying perhaps more of taste and chastened beauty, but not
attempting the same colossal magnificence.

To characterize the native sweetness and gracefulness so eminent in this
poet, the ancients gave him the appellation of the Attic bee. Whoever is
thoroughly imbued with the feeling of this peculiarity may flatter himself
that a sense for ancient art has arisen within him; for the affected
sentimentality of the present day, far from coinciding with the ancients
in this opinion, would in the tragedies of Sophocles, both in respect of
the representation of bodily sufferings, and in the sentiments and
structure, find much that is insupportably austere.

When we consider the great fertility of Sophocles, for according to some
he wrote a hundred and thirty pieces (of which, however, seventeen were
pronounced spurious by Aristophanes the grammarian), and eighty according
to the most moderate account, little, it must be owned, has come down to
us, for we have only seven of them. Chance, however, has so far favoured
us, that in these seven pieces we find several which were held by the
ancients as his greatest works, the _Antigone_, for example, the
_Electra_, and the two on the subject of _Oedipus_; and these have also
come down to us tolerably free from mutilation and corruption in their
text. The _Oedipus Tyrannus_, and the _Philoctetes_, have been generally,
but without good reason, preferred by modern critics to all the others:
the first on account of the artifice of the plot, in which the dreadful
catastrophe, which so powerfully excites the curiosity (a rare case in the
Greek tragedies), is inevitably brought about by a succession of connected
causes; the latter on account of the masterly display of character, the
beautiful contrast observable in those of the three leading personages,
and the simple structure of the piece, in which, with so few persons,
everything proceeds from the truest and most adequate motives. But the
whole of the tragedies of Sophocles are separately resplendent with
peculiar excellencies. In _Antigone_ we have the purest display of
feminine heroism; in _Ajax_ the sense of manly honour in its full force;
in the _Trachiniae_ (or, as we should rather name it, the _Dying
Hercules_), the female levity of Dejanira is beautifully atoned for by her
death, and the sufferings of Hercules are portrayed with suitable dignity;
_Electra_ is distinguished by energy and pathos; in _Oedipus Coloneus_
there prevails a mild and gentle emotion, and over the whole piece is
diffused the sweetest gracefulness. I will not undertake to weigh the
respective merits of these pieces against each other: but I own I
entertain a singular predilection for the last of them, because it appears
to me the most expressive of the personal feelings of the poet himself. As
this piece was written for the very purpose of throwing a lustre on
Athens, and his own birth-place more particularly, he appears to have
laboured on it with a special love and affection.

_Ajax_ and _Antigone_ are usually the least understood. We cannot conceive
how these pieces should run on so long after what we usually call the
catastrophe. On this subject I shall hereafter offer a remark or two.

Of all the fables of ancient mythology in which fate is made to play a
conspicuous part, the story of Oedipus is perhaps the most ingenious; but
still many others, as, for instance, that of Niobe, which, without any
complication of incidents, simply exhibit on a scale of colossal
dimensions both of human arrogance, and its impending punishment from the
gods, appear to me to be conceived in a grander style. The very intrigue
which is involved in that of Oedipus detracts from its loftiness of
character. Intrigue in the dramatic sense is a complication arising from
the crossing of purposes and events, and this is found in a high degree in
the fate of Oedipus, as all that is done by his parents or himself in
order to evade the predicted horrors, serves only to bring them on the
more surely. But that which gives so grand and terrible a character to
this drama, is the circumstance which, however, is for the most part
overlooked; that to the very Oedipus who solved the riddle of the Sphinx
relating to human life, his own life should remain so long an inextricable
riddle, to be so awfully cleared up, when all was irretrievably lost. A
striking picture of the arrogant pretension of human wisdom, which is ever
right enough in its general principles, but does not enable the possessor
to make the proper application to himself.

Notwithstanding the severe conclusion of the first _Oedipus_ we are
so far reconciled to it by the violence, suspicion, and haughtiness in the
character of Oedipus, that our feelings do not absolutely revolt at so
horrible a fate. For this end, it was necessary thus far to sacrifice the
character of Oedipus, who, however, raises himself in our estimation by
his fatherly care and heroic zeal for the welfare of his people, that
occasion him, by his honest search for the author of the crime, to
accelerate his own destruction. It was also necessary, for the sake of
contrast with his future misery, to exhibit him in his treatment of
Tiresias and Creon, in all the haughtiness of regal dignity. And, indeed,
all his earlier proceedings evince, in some measure, the same
suspiciousness and violence of character; the former, in his refusing to
be quieted by the assurances of Polybos, when taunted with being a
suppositious child, and the latter, in his bloody quarrel with Laius. The
latter character he seems to have inherited from both his parents. The
arrogant levity of Jocasta, which induces her to deride the oracle as not
confirmed by the event, the penalty of which she is so soon afterwards to
inflict upon herself, was not indeed inherited by her son; he is, on the
contrary, conspicuous throughout for the purity of his intentions; and his
care and anxiety to escape from the predicted crime, added naturally to
the poignancy of his despair, when he found that he had nevertheless been
overtaken by it. Awful indeed is his blindness in not perceiving the truth
when it was, as it were, brought directly home to him; as, for instance,
when he puts the question to Jocasta, How did Laius look? and she answers
he had become gray-haired, otherwise in appearance he was not unlike
Oedipus. This is also another feature of her levity, that she should not
have been struck with the resemblance to her husband, a circumstance that
might have led her to recognize him as her son. Thus a close analysis of
the piece will evince the utmost propriety and significance of every
portion of it. As, however, it is customary to extol the correctness of
Sophocles, and to boast more especially of the strict observance of
probability which, prevails throughout this _Oedipus_, I must here
remark that this very piece is a proof how, on this subject, the ancient
artists followed very different principles from those of modern critics.
For, according to our way of thinking, nothing could be more improbable
than that Oedipus should, so long, have forborne to inquire into the
circumstances of the death of Laius, and that the scars on his feet, and
even the name which he bore, should never have excited the curiosity of
Jocasta, &c. But the ancients did not produce their works of art for
calculating and prosaic understandings; and an improbability which, to be
found out, required dissection, and did not exist within the matters of
the representation itself, was to them none at all.

The diversity of character of Aeschylus and Sophocles is nowhere more
conspicuous than in the _Eumenides_ and the _Oedipus Coloneus_, as both
these pieces were composed with the same aim. This aim was to glorify
Athens as the sacred abode of law and humanity, on whose soil the
crimes of the hero families of other countries might, by a higher
mediation, be at last propitiated; while an ever-during prosperity was
predicted to the Athenian people. The patriotic and liberty-breathing
Aeschylus has recourse to a judicial, and the pious Sophocles to a
religious, procedure; even the consecration of Oedipus in death. Bent down
by the consciousness of inevitable crimes, and lengthened misery, his
honour is, as it were, cleared up by the gods themselves, as if desirous
of showing that, in the terrible example which they made of him, they had
no intention of visiting him in particular, but merely wished to give a
solemn lesson to the whole human race. Sophocles, to whom the whole of
life was one continued worship of the gods, delighted to throw all
possible honour on its last moments as if a more solemn festival; and
associated it with emotions very different from what the thought of
mortality is in general calculated to excite. That the tortured and
exhausted Oedipus should at last find peace and repose in the grove of the
Furies, in the very spot from which all other mortals fled with aversion
and horror, he whose misfortune consisted in having done a deed at which
all men shudder, unconsciously and without warning of any inward feeling;
in this there is a profound and mysterious meaning.

Aeschylus has given us in the person of Pallas a more majestic
representation of the Attic cultivation, prudence, moderation, mildness,
and magnanimity; but Sophocles, who delighted to draw all that is godlike
within the sphere of humanity, has, in his Theseus, given a more delicate
development of all these same things. Whoever is desirous of gaining an
accurate idea of Grecian heroism, as contrasted with the Barbarian, would
do well to consider this character with attention.

In Aeschylus, before the victim of persecution can be delivered, and the
land can participate in blessings, the infernal horror of the Furies
congeals the spectators' blood, and makes his hair stand on end, and the
whole rancour of these goddesses of rage is exhausted: after this the
transition to their peaceful retreat is the more wonderful; the whole
human race seems, as it were, delivered from their power. In Sophocles,
however, they do not ever appear, but are kept altogether in the
background; and they are never mentioned by their own name, but always
alluded to by some softening euphemism. But this very obscurity, so
exactly befitting these daughters of night, and the very distance at which
they are kept, are calculated to excite a silent horror in which the
bodily senses have no part. The clothing the grove of the Furies with all
the charms of a southern spring completes the sweetness of the poem; and
were I to select from his own tragedies an emblem of the poetry of
Sophocles, I should describe it as a sacred grove of the dark goddesses of
fate, in which the laurel, the olive, and the vine, are always green, and
the song of the nightingale is for ever heard.

Two of the pieces of Sophocles refer, to what in the Greek way of
thinking, are the sacred rights of the dead, and the solemn importance of
burial; in _Antigone_ the whole of the action hinges on this, and in
_Ajax_ it forms the only satisfactory conclusion of the piece.

The ideal of the female character in _Antigone_ is characterized by
great austerity, and it is sufficient of itself to put an end to all the
seductive representations of Grecian softness, which of late have been so
universally current. Her indignation at Ismene's refusal to take part in
her daring resolution; the manner in which she afterwards repulses Ismene,
when repenting of her former weakness, she begs to be allowed to share her
heroic sister's death, borders on harshness; both her silence, and then
her invectives against Creon, by which she provokes him to execute his
tyrannical threats, display the immovable energy of manly courage. The
poet has, however, discovered the secret of painting the loving heart of
woman in a single line, when to the assertion of Creon, that Polynices was
an enemy to his country, she replies:

My love shall go with thine, but not my hate.
[Footnote: This is the version of Franklin, but it does not convey the
meaning of the original, and I am not aware that the English language is
sufficiently flexible to admit of an exact translation. The German, which,
though far inferior to the Greek in harmony, is little behind in
flexibility, has in this respect great advantage over the English; and
Schlegel's "_nicht mitzuhassen, mitzulieben bin ich da_," represents
exactly _Outoi synechthein alla symphilein ephyn_.--TRANS.]

Moreover, she puts a constraint on her feelings only so long as by giving
vent to them, she might make her firmness of purpose appear equivocal.
When, however, she is being led forth to inevitable death, she pours forth
her soul in the tenderest and most touching waitings over her hard and
untimely fate, and does not hesitate, she, the modest virgin, to mourn the
loss of nuptials, and the unenjoyed bliss of marriage. Yet she never in a
single syllable betrays any inclination for Haemon, and does not even
mention the name of that amiable youth [Footnote: Barthélemy asserts the
contrary; but the line to which he refers, according to the more correct
manuscripts, and even according to the context, belongs to Ismene.]. After
such heroic determination, to have shown that any tie still bound her to
existence, would have been a weakness; but to relinquish without one
sorrowful regret those common enjoyments with which the gods have enriched
this life, would have ill accorded with her devout sanctity of mind.

On a first view the chorus in _Antigone_ may appear weak, acceding,
as it does, at once, without opposition to the tyrannical commands of
Creon, and without even attempting to make the slightest representation in
behalf of the young heroine. But to exhibit the determination and the deed
of Antigone in their full glory, it was necessary that they should stand
out quite alone, and that she should have no stay or support. Moreover,
the very submissiveness of the chorus increases our impression of the
irresistible nature of the royal commands. So, too, was it necessary for
it to mingle with its concluding addresses to Antigone the most painful
recollections, that she might drain the full cup of earthly sorrows. The
case is very different in _Electra_, where the chorus appropriately
takes an interest in the fate of the two principal characters, and
encourages them in the execution of their design, as the moral feelings
are divided as to its legitimacy, whereas there is no such conflict in
Antigone's case, who had nothing to deter her from her purpose but mere
external fears.

After the fulfilment of the deed, and the infliction of its penalties, the
arrogance of Creon still remains to be corrected, and the death of
Antigone to be avenged; nothing less than the destruction of his whole
family, and his own despair, could be a sufficient atonement for the
sacrifice of a life so costly. We have therefore the king's wife, who had
not even been named before, brought at last on the stage, that she may
hear the misfortunes of her family, and put an end to her own existence.
To Grecian feelings it would have been impossible to consider the poem as
properly concluding with the death of Antigone, without its penal

The case is the same in Ajax. His arrogance, which was punished with a
degrading madness, is atoned for by the deep shame which at length drives
him even to self-murder. The persecution of the unfortunate man must not,
however, be carried farther; when, therefore, it is in contemplation to
dishonour his very corpse by the refusal of interment, even Ulysses
interferes. He owes the honours of burial to that Ulysses whom in life he
had looked upon as his mortal enemy, and to whom, in the dreadful
introductory scene, Pallas shows, in the example of the delirious Ajax,
the nothingness of man. Thus Ulysses appears as the personification of
moderation, which, if it had been possessed by Ajax, would have prevented
his fall.

Self-murder is of frequent occurrence in ancient mythology, at least as
adapted to tragedy; but it generally takes place, if not in a state of
insanity, yet in a state of agitation, after some sudden calamity which
leaves no room for consideration. Such self-murders as those of Jocasta,
Haemon, Eurydice, and lastly of Dejanira, appear merely in the light of a
subordinate appendage in the tragical pictures of Sophocles; but the
suicide of Ajax is a cool determination, a free action, and of sufficient
importance to become the principal subject of the piece. It is not the
last fatal crisis of a slow mental malady, as is so often the case in
these more effeminate modern times; still less is it that more theoretical
disgust of life, founded on a conviction of its worthlessness, which
induced so many of the later Romans, on Epicurean as well as Stoical
principles, to put an end to their existence. It is not through any
unmanly despondency that Ajax is unfaithful to his rude heroism. His
delirium is over, as well as his first comfortless feelings upon awaking
from it; and it is not till after the complete return of consciousness,
and when he has had time to measure the depth of the abyss into which, by
a divine destiny, his overweening haughtiness has plunged him, when he
contemplates his situation, and feels it ruined beyond remedy:--his honour
wounded by the refusal of the arms of Achilles; and the outburst of his
vindictive rage wasted in his infatuation on defenceless flocks; himself,
after a long and reproachless heroic career, a source of amusement to his
enemies, an object of derision and abomination to the Greeks, and to his
honoured father,--should he thus return to him--a disgrace: after
reviewing all this, he decides agreeably to his own motto, "gloriously to
live or gloriously to die," that the latter course alone remains open to
him. Even the dissimulation,--the first, perhaps, that he ever practised,
by which, to prevent the execution of his purpose from being disturbed, he
pacifies his comrades, must be considered as the fruit of greatness of
soul. He appoints Teucer guardian to his infant boy, the future
consolation of his own bereaved parents; and, like Cato, dies not before
he has arranged the concerns of all who belong to him. As Antigone in her
womanly tenderness, so even he in his wild manner, seems in his last
speech to feel the majesty of that light of the sun from which he is
departing for ever. His rude courage disdains compassion, and therefore
excites it the more powerfully. What a picture of awaking from the tumult
of passion, when the tent opens and in the midst of the slaughtered herds
he sits on the ground bewailing himself!

As Ajax, in the feeling of inextinguishable shame, forms the violent
resolution of throwing away life, Philoctetes, on the other hand, bears
its wearisome load during long years of misery with the most enduring
patience. If Ajax is honoured by his despair, Philoctetes is equally
ennobled by his constancy. When the instinct of self-preservation comes
into collision with no moral impulse, it naturally exhibits itself in all
its strength. Nature has armed with this instinct whatever is possessed of
the breath of life, and the vigour with which every hostile attack on
existence is repelled is the strongest proof of its excellence. In the
presence, it is true, of that band of men by which he had been abandoned,
and if he must depend on their superior power, Philoctetes would no more
have wished for life than did Ajax. But he is alone with nature; he quails
not before the frightful aspect which she exhibits to him, and still
clings even to the maternal bosom of the all-nourishing earth. Exiled on a
desert island, tortured by an incurable wound, solitary and helpless as he
is, his bow procures him food from the birds of the forest, the rock
yields him soothing herbs, the fountain supplies a fresh beverage, his
cave affords him a cool shelter in summer, in winter he is warmed by the
mid-day sun, or a fire of kindled boughs; even the raging attacks of his
pain at length exhaust themselves, and leave him in a refreshing sleep.
Alas! it is the artificial refinements, the oppressive burden of a
relaxing and deadening superfluity which render man indifferent to the
value of life: when it is stripped of all foreign appendages, though borne
down with sufferings so that the naked existence alone remains, still will
its sweetness flow from the heart at every pulse through all the veins.
Miserable man! ten long years has he struggled; and yet he still lives,
and clings to life and hope. What force of truth is there in all this!
What, however, most moves us in behalf of Philoctetes is, that he, who by
an abuse of power had been cast out from society, when it again approaches
him is exposed by it to a second and still more dangerous evil, that of
falsehood. The anxiety excited in the mind of the spectator lest
Philoctetes should be deprived of his last means of subsistence, his bow,
would be too painful, did he not from the beginning entertain a suspicion
that the open-hearted and straight-forward Neoptolemus will not be able to
maintain to the end the character which, so much against his will, he has
assumed. Not without reason after this deception does Philoctetes turn
away from mankind to those inanimate companions to which the instinctive
craving for society had attached him. He calls on the island and its
volcanoes to witness this fresh wrong; he believes that his beloved bow
feels pain in being taken from him; and at length he takes a melancholy
leave of his hospitable cavern, the fountains and the wave-washed cliffs,
from which he so often looked in vain upon the ocean: so inclined to love
is the uncorrupted mind of man.

Respecting the bodily sufferings of Philoctetes and the manner of
representing them, Lessing has in his _Laocoön_ declared himself against
Winkelmann, and Herder again has in the _Silvae Criticae_ (Kritische
Wälder) contradicted Lessing. Both the two last writers have made many
excellent observations on the piece, although we must allow with Herder,
that Winkelmann was correct in affirming that the Philoctetes of
Sophocles, like Laocoön in the celebrated group, suffers with the
suppressed agony of an heroic soul never altogether overcome by his pain.

The _Trachiniae_ appears to me so very inferior to the other pieces
of Sophocles which have reached us, that I could wish there were some
warrant for supposing that this tragedy was composed in the age, indeed,
and in the school of Sophocles, perhaps by his son Iophon, and that it was
by mistake attributed to the father. There is much both in the structure
and plan, and in the style of the piece, calculated to excite suspicion;
and many critics have remarked that the introductory soliloquy of
Dejanira, which is wholly uncalled-for, is very unlike the general
character of Sophocles' prologues: and although this poet's usual rules of
art are observed on the whole, yet it is very superficially; no where can
we discern in it the profound mind of Sophocles. But as no writer of
antiquity appears to have doubted its authenticity, while Cicero even
quotes from it the complaint of Hercules, as from an indisputable work of
Sophocles, we are compelled to content ourselves with the remark, that in
this one instance the tragedian has failed to reach his usual elevation.

This brings us to the consideration of a general question, which, in the
examination of the works of Euripides, will still more particularly engage
the attention of the critic: how far, namely, the invention and execution
of a drama must belong to one man to entitle him to pass for its author.
Dramatic literature affords numerous examples of plays composed by several
persons conjointly. It is well known that Euripides, in the details and
execution of his pieces, availed himself of the assistance of a learned
servant, Cephisophon; and he perhaps also consulted with him respecting
his plots. It appears, moreover, certain that in Athens schools of
dramatic art had at this date been formed; such, indeed, as usually arise
when poetical talents are, by public competition, called abundantly and
actively into exercise: schools of art which contain scholars of such
excellence and of such kindred genius, that the master may confide to them
a part of the execution, and even the plan, and yet allow the whole to
pass under his name without any disparagement to his fame. Such were the
schools of painting of the sixteenth century, and every one knows what a
remarkable degree of critical acumen is necessary to discover in many of
Raphael's pictures how much really belongs to his own pencil. Sophocles
had educated his son Iophon to the tragic art, and might therefore easily
receive assistance from him in the actual labour of composition,
especially as it was necessary that the tragedies that were to compete for
the prize should be ready and got by heart by a certain day. On the other
hand, he might also execute occasional passages for works originally
designed by the son; and the pieces of this description, in which the hand
of the master was perceptible, would be naturally attributed to the more
celebrated name.

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