Part 6 out of 11
achieved. Meanwhile a Spartan army invaded Attica and marched to
the neighborhood of Eleusis. Having lost much of her empire, with
a fair prospect of losing all of it if hostilities continued,
Athens concluded a thirty years' truce with Sparta and her allies,
by the terms of which she abandoned her conquests in the
Peloponnesus, and Megara became an ally of Sparta (445 B.C.)
THE "AGE OF PERICLES."
With the close of the Persian contest, and the beginning of the
Thirty Years' truce, properly begins what has been termed the
"Age of Pericles"--the inauguration of a new and important era
of Athenian greatness and renown. Having won the highest military
honors and political ascendancy, Athens now took the lead in
intellectual progress. Themistocles and Cimon had restored to
Athens all that of which Xerxes had despoiled it--the former
having rebuilt its ruins, and the latter having given to its
public buildings a degree of magnificence previously unknown.
But Pericles surpassed them both:
He was the ruler of the land
When Athens was the land of fame;
He was the light that led the band
When each was like a living flame;
The centre of earth's noblest ring,
Of more than men the more than king.
Yet not by fetter nor by spear
His sovereignty was held or won:
Feared--but alone as freemen fear;
Loved--but as freemen love alone;
He waved the sceptre o'er his kind
By nature's first great title--mind!
Orator and philosopher, as well as statesman and general, Pericles
had the most lofty views. "Athens," says a modern writer, "was
to become not only the capital of Greece, but the center of art
and refinement, and, at the same time, of those democratical
theories which formed the beau ideal of the Athenian notions
of government." Athens became the center and capital of the most
polished communities of Greece; she drew into a focus all the
Grecian intellect, and she obtained from her dependents the wealth
to administer the arts, which universal traffic and intercourse
taught her to appreciate. The treasury of the state being placed
in the hands of Pericles, he knew no limit to expenditure but
the popular will, which, fortunately for the glories of Grecian
art, kept pace with the vast conceptions of the master designer.
Most of those famous structures that crowned the Athenian Acropolis,
or surrounded its base, were either built or adorned by his
direction, under the superintendence of the great sculptor,
Phidias. The Parthenon, the Ode'um, the gold and ivory statue of
the goddess Minerva, and the Olympian Jupiter--the latter two
the work of the great sculptor himself--were alone sufficient to
immortalize the "Age of Pericles." Of these miracles of sculpture
and of architecture, as well as of the literature of this period,
we shall speak farther in a subsequent place.
Of the general condition and appearance of Athens during the
fourteen years that the Thirty Years' Truce was observed, HAYGARTH
gives us the following poetical description:
All the din of war
Was hushed to rest. Within a city's walls,
Beneath a marble portico, were seen
Statesmen and orators, in robes of peace,
Holding discourse. The assembled multitude
Sat in the crowded theatre, and bent
To hear the voice of gorgeous Tragedy
Breathing, in solemn verse, or ode sublime,
Her noble precepts. The broad city's gates
Poured forth a mingled throng--impatient steeds
Champing their bits, and neighing for the course:
Merchants slow driving to the busy port
Their ponderous wains: Religion's holy priests
Leading her red-robed votaries to the steps
Of some vast temple: young and old, with hands
Crossed on their breasts, hastening to walks and shades
Suburban, where some moralist explained
The laws of mind and virtue. On a rock
A varied group appeared: some dragged along
The rough-hewn block; some shaped it into form;
Some reared the column, or with chisel traced
Forms more than human; while Content sat near,
And cheered with songs the toil of Industry.
But, as the poet adds,
Soon passed this peaceful pageant: War again
Brandished his bloody lance--
and then began that dismal period between the "Age of Pericles"
and the interference of the Romans--embracing the three
Peloponnesian wars, the rising power of Macedonia under Philip
of Macedon, the wars of Alexander and the contentions that
followed--known as the period of the civil convulsions of Greece.
THE PELOPONNESIAN WARS, AND THE FALL OF ATHENS.
CAUSES OF THE FIRST WAR.
The various successful schemes of Pericles for enriching and
extending the power of Athens were regarded with fear and jealousy
by Sparta and her allies, who were only waiting for a reasonable
excuse to renew hostilities. The opportunity came in 435 B.C.
Corinth, the ally of Sparta, had become involved in a war with
Corcy'ra, one of her colonies, when the latter applied to Athens
for assistance. Pericles persuaded the Athenians to grant the
assistance, and a small fleet was dispatched to Corcyra. The
engagement that ensued, in which the Athenian ships bore a part
--the greatest contest, Thucydides observes, that had taken place
between Greeks to that day--was favorable to the Corinthians;
but the sight of a larger Athenian squadron advancing toward
the scene of action caused the Corinthians to retreat. This first
breach of the truce was soon followed by another. Potidæ'a, a
Corinthian colony, but tributary to Athens, revolted, on account
of some unjust demands that the Athenians had enforced against
it, and claimed and obtained the assistance of the Corinthians.
Thus, in two instances, were Athens and Corinth, though nominally
at peace, brought into conflict as open enemies.
THE CONGRESS AT SPARTA.--THE PERSECUTION OF PERICLES.
The Lacedæmonians meanwhile called a meeting of the Peloponnesian
Confederacy at Sparta, at which Ægina, Meg'ara, and other states
made their complaints against Athens. It was also attended by
envoys from Athens, who seriously warned it not to force Athens
into a struggle that would be waged for its very existence. But
a majority of the Confederacy were of the opinion that Athens
had violated her treaties, and the result of the deliberations
was a declaration of war against her. Not with any real desire
for peace, but in order to gain time for her preparations before
the declaration was made public, Sparta opened negotiations with
Athens; but her preliminary demands were of course refused, while
her ultimatum, that Athens should restore to the latter's allies
their independence, was met with a like demand by the Athenians
--that no state in Peloponnesus should be forced to accommodate
itself to the principles in vogue at Sparta, "Let this be our
answer," said Pericles, in closing his speech in the Athenian
assembly: "We have no wish to begin war, but whosoever attacks
us, him we mean to repel; for our guiding principle ought to be
no other than this: that the power of that state which our fathers
made great we will hand down undiminished to our posterity." The
advice of Pericles was adopted, all farther negotiations were
thereupon concluded, and Athens prepared for war.
Although the political authority of Pericles was now at its height,
and his services were receiving unwonted public recognition, he
had many enemies among all classes of citizens, who made his
position for a time extremely hazardous. These at first attacked
his friends--Phidias, Anaxagoras, Aspasia, and others--who were
prominent representatives of his opinions and designs. The former
was falsely accused of theft, in having retained for himself a
part of the gold furnished to him for the golden robe of Athene
Par'thenos, and of impiety for having reproduced his own features
in one of the numerous figures on the shield of the goddess. He
was cast into prison, where he died before his trial was concluded.
Anaxagoras, having exposed himself to the penalties of a decree
by which all who abjured the current religious views were to be
indicted and tried as state criminals, barely escaped with his
life; while Aspasia, the mistress of Pericles, charged with impiety
and base immorality, was only saved by the eloquence and tears
of the great statesman, which flowed freely and successfully
in her behalf before the jury. Finally, Pericles was attacked
in person. He was accused of a waste of the public moneys, and
was commanded to render an exact account of his expenditures.
Although he came forth victorious from this and all other attacks,
it is evident, as one historian observes, that "the endeavors of
his enemies did not fail to exercise a certain influence upon
the masses; and this led Pericles, who believed that war was
in any case inevitable, to welcome its speedy commencement, as
he hoped that the common danger would divert public attention
from home affairs, render harmless the power of his adversaries,
strengthen patriotic feeling, and make manifest to the Athenians
their need of his services."
* * * * *
THE FIRST PELOPONNESIAN WAR.
On the side of Sparta was arrayed the whole of Peloponnesus,
except Argos and Acha'ia, together with the Megarians, Phocians,
Locrians, Thebans, and some others; while the allies of Athens
were the Thessalians, Acarnanians, Messenians, Platæans, Chi'ans,
Lesbians, her tributary towns in Thrace and Asia Minor, and all
the islands north of Crete with two exceptions--Me'los and The'ra.
Hostilities were precipitated by a treacherous attack of the
Thebans upon Platæa in 431 B.C.; and before the close of the
same year a Spartan army of sixty thousand ravaged Attica, and
sat down before the very gates of Athens, while the naval forces
of the Athenians desolated the coasts of the Peloponnesus. The
Spartans were soon called from Attica to protect their homes,
and Pericles himself, at the lead of a large force, spread
desolation over the little territory of Megaris. This expedition
closed the hostilities for the year, and, on his return to Athens,
Pericles was intrusted with the duty of pronouncing the oration
at the public funeral which, in accordance with the custom of the
country, was solemnized for those who had fallen in the war.
This occasion afforded Pericles an opportunity to animate the
courage and the hopes of his countrymen, by such a description
of the glories and the possibilities of Athens as he alone could
give. Commencing his address with a eulogy on the ancestors and
immediate forefathers of the Athenians, he proceeds to show the
latter "by what form of civil polity, what dispositions and habits
of life," they have attained their greatness; graphically
contrasting their institutions with those of other states, and
especially with those of the Spartans, their present enemies.
The Oration of Pericles.
[Footnote: From "History of Thucydides," translated by S. T.
Bloomfield, D. D., vol. I., p. 366.]
"We enjoy a form of government not framed on an imitation of the
institutions of neighboring states, but, are ourselves rather a
model to, than imitative of, others; and which, from the government
being administered not for the few but for the many, is denominated
a democracy. According to its laws, all participate in an equality
of rights as to the determination of private suits, and everyone is
preferred to public offices with a regard to the reputation he
holds, and according as each is in estimation for anything; not
so much for being of a particular class as for his personal merit.
Nor is any person who can, in whatever way, render service to the
state kept back on account of poverty or obscurity of station.
Thus liberally are our public affairs administered, and thus
liberally, too, do we conduct ourselves as to mutual suspicions
in our private and every-day intercourse; not bearing animosity
toward our neighbor for following his own humor, nor darkening
our countenance with the scowl of censure, which pains though
it cannot punish. While, too, we thus mix together in private
intercourse without irascibility or moroseness, we are, in our
public and political capacity, cautiously studious not to offend;
yielding a prompt obedience to the authorities for the time being,
and to the established laws; especially those which are enacted
for the benefit of the injured, and such as, though unwritten,
reflect a confessed disgrace on the transgressors."
Having referred to the recreation provided for the public mind
by the exhibition of games and sacrifices throughout the whole
year, as well as to some points in military matters in which
the Athenians excel, Pericles proceeds as follows: "In these
respects, then, is our city worthy of admiration, and in others
also; for we study elegance combined with frugality, and cultivate
philosophy without effeminacy. Riches we employ at opportunities
for action, rather than as a subject of wordy boast. To confess
poverty with us brings no disgrace; not to endeavor to escape
it by exertion is disgrace indeed. There exists, moreover, in
the same persons an attention both to their domestic concerns
and to public affairs; and even among such others as are engaged
in agricultural occupations or handicraft labor there is found
a tolerable portion of political knowledge. We are the only people
who account him that takes no share in politics, not as an
intermeddler in nothing, but one who is good for nothing. We
are, too, persons who examine aright, or, at least, fully revolve
in mind our measures, not thinking that words are any hindrance
to deeds, but that the hindrance rather consists in the not being
informed by words previously to setting about in deed what is to
be done. For we possess this point of superiority over others,
that we execute a bold promptitude in what we undertake, and yet
a cautious prudence in taking forethought; whereas with others
it is ignorance alone that makes them daring, while reflection
makes them dastardly.
"In short, I may affirm that the city at large is the instructress
of Greece, and that individually each person among us seems to
possess the most ready versatility in adapting himself, and that
not ungracefully, to the greatest variety of circumstances and
situations that diversify human life. That all this is not a
mere boast of words for the present purpose, but rather the actual
truth, this very power of the state, unto which by these habits
and dispositions we have attained, clearly attests; for ours
is the only one of the states now existing which, on trial,
approves itself greater than report; it alone occasions neither
to an invading enemy ground for chagrin at being worsted by such,
nor to a subject state aught of self-reproach, as being under
the power of those unworthy of empire. A power do we display
not unwitnessed, but attested by signs illustrious, which will
make us the theme of admiration both to the present and future
ages; nor need we either a Homer, or any such panegyrist, who
might, indeed, for the present delight with his verses, but any
idea of our actions thence formed the actual truth of them might
destroy: nay, every sea and every land have we compelled to become
accessible to our adventurous courage; and everywhere have we
planted eternal monuments both of good and of evil. For such a
state, then, these our departed heroes (unwilling to be deprived
of it) magnanimously fought and fell; and in such a cause it is
right that everyone of us, the survivors, should readily encounter
toils and dangers."
After paying a handsome tribute to the memory of the departed
warriors whose virtues, he says, helped to adorn Athens with
all that makes it the theme of his encomiums, Pericles exhorts
his hearers to emulate the spirit of those who contributed to
their country the noblest sacrifice. "They bestowed," he adds,
"their persons and their lives upon the public; and therefore,
as their private recompense, they receive a deathless renown
and the noblest of sepulchres, [Footnote:
While kings, in dusty darkness hid,
Have left a nameless pyramid,
Thy heroes, though the general doom
Hath swept the column from their tomb,
A mightier monument command--
The mountains of their native land!
These, points thy muse, to stranger's eye--
The graves of those that cannot die!
not so much that wherein their bones are entombed as in which
their glory is preserved--to be had in everlasting remembrance
on all occasions, whether of speech or action. For to the
illustrious the whole earth is a sepulchre; nor do monumental
inscriptions in their own country alone point it out, but an
unwritten and mental memorial in foreign lands, which, more durable
than any monument, is deeply seated in the breast of everyone.
Imitating, then, these illustrious models--accounting that
happiness is liberty, and that liberty is valor--be not backward
to encounter the perils of war. [Footnote: It was a kindred spirit
that led our own great statesman, Webster, in quoting from this
oration, to ask: "Is it Athens or America? Is Athens or America
the theme of these immortal strains? Was Pericles speaking of his
own country as he saw it or knew it? or was he gazing upon a
bright vision, then two thousand years before him, which we see
in reality as he saw it in prospect?"] For the unfortunate and
hopeless are not those who have most reason to be lavish of their
lives, but rather such as, while they live, have to hazard a
chance to the opposite, and who have most at stake; since great
would be the reverse should they fall into adversity. For to
the high-minded, at least, more grievous is misfortune
overwhelming them amid the blandishments of prosperity; than
the stroke of death overtaking them in the full pulse of vigor
and common hope, and, moreover, almost unfelt."
Says the historian from whose work the speech of Pericles is
taken: "Such was the funeral solemnity which took place this
winter, with the expiration of which the first year of the war
was brought to a close." DR. ERNST CURTIUS comments as follows
on the oration: "With lofty simplicity Pericles extols the Athenian
Constitution, popular in the fullest sense through having for
its object the welfare of the entire people, and offering equal
rights to all the citizens; but at the same time, and in virtue
of this its character, adapted for raising the best among them
to the first positions in the state. He lauds the high spiritual
advantages offered by the city, the liberal love of virtue and
wisdom on the part of her sons, their universal sympathy in the
common weal, their generous hospitality, their temperance and
vigor, which peace and the love of the beautiful had not weakened,
so that the city of the Athenians must, in any event, be an object
of well-deserved admiration both for the present and for future
ages. Such were the points of view from which Pericles displayed
to the citizens the character of their state, and described to
them the people of Athens, as it ought to be. He showed them
their better selves, in order to raise them above themselves and
arouse them to self-denial, to endurance, and to calm resolution.
Full of a new vital ardor they returned home from the graves, and
with perfect confidence confronted the destinies awaiting them
in the future." [Footnote: "The History of Greece," vol. iii.,
p. 66; by Dr. Ernst Curtius.]
THE PLAGUE AT ATHENS.
In the spring of 430 B.C. the Spartans again invaded Attica,
and the Athenians shut themselves up in Athens. But here the
plague, a calamity more dreadful than war, attacked them and
swept away multitudes. This plague, which not only devastated
Athens, but other Grecian cities also, is described at considerable
length, with a harrowing minuteness of detail, by the Latin poet
LUCRETIUS. His description is based upon the account given by
Thucydides. We give here only the beginning and the close of it:
A plague like this, a tempest big with fate,
Once ravaged Athens and her sad domains;
Unpeopled all the city, and her paths
Swept with destruction. For amid the realms
Begot of Egypt, many a mighty tract
Of ether traversed, many a flood o'erpassed,
At length here fixed it; o'er the hapless realm
Of Cecrops hovering, and the astonished race
Dooming by thousands to disease and death.
* * * * *
Thus seized the dread, unmitigated pest
Man after man, and day succeeding day,
With taint voracious; like the herds they fell
Of bellowing beeves, or flocks of timorous sheep:
On funeral, funeral hence forever piled.
E'en he who fled the afflicted, urged by love
Of life too fond, and trembling for his fate,
Repented soon severely, and himself
Sunk in his guilty solitude, devoid
Of friends, of succor, hopeless and forlorn;
While those who nursed them, to the pious task
Roused by their prayers, with piteous moans commixt,
Fell irretrievable: the best by far,
The worthiest, thus most frequent met their doom.
--Trans. by J. MASON GOOD.
THE DEATH OF PERICLES.
Oppressed by both war and pestilence, the Athenians were seized
with rage and despair, and accused Pericles of being the author
of their misfortunes. But that determined man still adhered to
his plans, and endeavored to soothe the popular mind by an
expedition against Peloponnesus, which he commanded in person.
After committing devastations upon various parts of the enemy's
coasts, Pericles returned to find the people still more impatient
of the war and clamorous for peace. An embassy was sent to Sparta
with proposals for a cessation of hostilities, but it was
dismissed without a hearing. This repulse increased the popular
exasperation, and, although at an assembly that he called for
the purpose Pericles succeeded, by his power of speech, in
quieting the people, and convincing them of the justice and
patriotism of his course, his political enemies charged him with
peculation, of which he was convicted, and his nomination as
general was cancelled. He retired to private life, but his
successors in office were incompetent and irresolute, and it
was not long before he was re-elected general. He appeared to
recover his ascendancy; but in the middle of the third year of
the war he died, a victim to the plague.
He perished, but his wreath was won;
He perished in his height of fame:
Then sunk the cloud on Athens' sun,
Yet still she conquered in his name.
Filled with his soul, she could not die;
Her conquest was Posterity!
Thucydides relates that when Pericles was near his end, and
apparently insensible, the friends who had gathered round his bed
relieved their sorrow by recalling the remembrance of his military
exploits, and of the trophies which he had raised. He interrupted
them, observing that they had omitted the most glorious praise
which he could claim: "Other generals have been as fortunate,
but I have never caused the Athenians to put on mourning"--
referring, doubtless, to his success in achieving important
advantages with but little loss of life; and which THIRLWALL
considers "a singular ground of satisfaction, if Pericles had
been conscious of having involved his country in the bloodiest
war it had ever waged."
The success of Pericles in retaining, for so many years, his
great influence over the Athenian people, must be attributed,
in large part, to his wonderful powers of persuasion. Cicero is
said to have regarded him as the first example of an almost perfect
orator; and Bulwer says that "the diction of his speeches, and
that consecutive logic which preparation alone can impart to
language, became irresistible to a people that had itself become
a Pericles." Whatever may be said of Pericles as a politician,
his intellectual superiority cannot be questioned. As the
accomplished man of genius, and the liberal patron of literature
and art, he is worthy of the highest admiration; for "by these
qualities he has justly given name to the most brilliant
intellectual epoch that the world has ever seen." The following
extract from MITFORD'S History of Greece, may be considered a
correct sketch of the great democratic ruler:
The Character of Pericles.
"No other man seems to have been held in so high estimation by
most of the ablest writers of Greece and Rome, for universal
superiority of talents, as Pericles. The accounts remaining of
his actions hardly support his renown, which was yet, perhaps,
more fairly earned than that of many, the merit of whose
achievements has been, in a great degree, due to others acting
under them, whose very names have perished. The philosophy of
Pericles taught him not to be vain-glorious, but to rest his
fame upon essentially great and good rather than upon brilliant
actions. It is observed by Plutarch that, often as he commanded
the Athenian forces, he never was defeated; yet, though he won
many trophies, he never gained a splendid victory. A battle,
according to a great modern authority, is the resource of ignorant
generals; when they know not what to do they fight a battle. It
was almost universally the resource of the age of Pericles; little
conception was entertained of military operations beyond ravage
and a battle. His genius led him to a superior system, which the
wealth of his country enabled him to carry into practice. His
favorite maxim was to spare the lives of his soldiers; and scarcely
any general ever gained so many important advantages with so
"This splendid character, however, perhaps may seem to receive
some tarnish from the political conduct of Pericles; the
concurrence, at least, which is imputed to him, in depraving the
Athenian Constitution, to favor that popular power by which he
ruled, and the revival and confirmation of that pernicious
hostility between the democratical and aristocratical interests,
first in Athens and then by the Peloponnesian war throughout the
nation. But the high respect with which he is always spoken of
by three men in successive ages, Thucydides, Xenophon, and
Isoc'rates, all friendly to the aristocratical interest, and all
anxious for concord with Lacedæmon, strongly indicates that what
may appear exceptionable in his conduct was, in their opinion,
the result, not of choice, but of necessity. By no other conduct,
probably, could the independence of Athens have been preserved;
and yet that, as the event showed, was indispensable for the
liberty of Greece."
* * * * *
II. THE ATHENIAN DEMAGOGUES.
Soon after the death of Pericles the results of the political
changes introduced by him, as well as of the moral and social
changes that had taken place in the people from various causes,
became apparent in the raising to power of men from the lower
walks of life, whose popularity was achieved and maintained
mainly by intrigue and flattery. Chief among these rose Cle'on,
a tanner, who has been characterized as "the violent demagogue
whose arrogant presumption so unworthily succeeded the
enlightened magnanimity of Pericles." In the year 428 Mityle'ne,
the capital of the Island of Lesbos, revolted against the
supremacy of Athens, but was speedily reduced to subjection,
and one thousand or more Mityleneans were sent as prisoners to
Athens, to be disposed of as the Athenian assembly should direct.
Cleon first prominently appears in public in connection with the
disposal of these prisoners. With the capacity to transact
business in a popular manner, and possessing a stentorian voice
and unbounded audacity, he had become "by far the most persuasive
speaker in the eyes of the people;" and now, taking the lead in
the assembly debate, he succeeded in having the unfortunate
prisoners cruelly put to death. From this period his influence
steadily increased, and in the year 425 he was elected commander
of the Athenian forces. For several years circumstances favored
him. With the aid of his general, Demosthenes, he captured Py'lus
from the Spartans, and on his return to Athens he was received
with demonstrations of great favor; but his military incompetence
lost him both the victory and his life in the battle of Amphip'olis,
What we know of the political conduct of Cleon comes from
measurably unreliable sources. Aristoph'anes, the chief of the
comic poets, describes him as "a noisy brawler, loud in his
criminations, violent in his gestures, corrupt and venal in his
principles, a persecutor of rank and merit, and a base flatterer
and sycophant of the people." Thucydides also calls him "a dishonest
politician, a wrongful accuser of others, and the most violent
of all the citizens." Both these writers, however, had personal
grievances. Of course Cleon very naturally became a target for
the invective of the poet. "The taking of Pylus," says GILLIES,
"and the triumphant return of Cleon, a notorious coward transformed
by caprice and accident into a brave and successful commander,
were topics well suiting the comic vein of Aristophanes; and in
the comedy first represented in the seventh year of the war--The
Knights--he attacks him in the moment of victory, when fortune
had rendered him the idol of a licentious multitude, when no
comedian was so daring as to play his character, and no painter
so bold as to design his mask." The poet himself, therefore,
appeared on the stage, "only disguising his face, the better
to represent the part of Cleon." As another writer has said,
"Of all the productions of Aristophanes, so replete with comic
genius throughout, The Knights is the most consummate and
irresistible; and it presents a portrait of Cleon drawn in colors
broad and glaring, most impressive to the imagination, and hardly
effaceable from the memory." The following extract from the play
will show the license indulged in on the stage in democratic
Athens, the boldness of the poet's attacks, and will serve, also,
as a sample of his style:
Cleon the Demagogue.
The chorus come upon the stage; and thus commence
their attack upon Cleon:
Chorus. Close around him, and confound him, the confounder
of us all;
Pelt him, pummel him, and maul him; rummage, ransack, overhaul him;
Overbear him and outbawl him; bear him down, and bring him under.
Bellow, like a burst of thunder, robber! harpy! sink of plunder!
Rogue and villain! rogue and cheat! rogue and villain, I repeat!
Oftener than I can repeat it has the rogue and villain cheated.
Close around him, left and right; spit upon him, spurn and smite:
Spit upon him as you see; spurn and spit at him like me.
But beware, or he'll evade you! for he knows the private track
Where En'crates was seen escaping with his mill-dust on his back.
Cleon. Worthy veterans of the jury, you that, either right or wrong,
With my threepenny provision I've maintained and cherished long,
Come to my aid! I'm here waylaid--assassinated and betrayed"!
Chorus. Rightly served! we serve you rightly, for your hungry
love of pelf;
For your gross and greedy rapine, gormandizing by yourself--
You that, ere the figs are gathered, pilfer with a privy twitch
Fat delinquents and defaulters, pulpy, luscious, plump, and rich;
Pinching, fingering, and pulling--tempering, selecting, culling;
With a nice survey discerning which are green and which are turning,
Which are ripe for accusation, forfeiture, and confiscation.
Him, besides, the wealthy man, retired upon an easy rent,
Hating and avoiding party, noble-minded, indolent,
Fearful of official snares; intrigues, and intricate affairs--
Him you mark; you fix and hook him, while he's gaping unawares;
At a fling, at once you bring him hither from the Chersonese;
Down you cast him, roast and baste him, and devour him at your ease.
Cleon. Yes; assault, insult, abuse me! This is the return I find
For the noble testimony, the memorial I designed:
Meaning to propose proposals for a monument of stone,
On the which your late achievements should be carved and neatly done.
Chorus. Out, away with him! the slave! the pompous, empty, fawning
Does he think with idle speeches to delude and cheat us all,
As he does the doting elders that attend his daily call?
Pelt him here, and bang him there; and here, and there, and
Cleon. Save me, neighbors! Oh, the monsters! Oh, my
side, my back, my breast!
Chorus. What! you're forced to call for help? you brutal,
[Clean is pelted off the stage, pursued by the Chorus.]
THE PEACE OF NI'ÇI-AS.
The struggle between Sparta and Athens continued ten years without
intermission, and without any successes of a decisive character
on either side. In the eleventh year of the struggle (421 B.C.)
a treaty for a term of fifty years was concluded--called the
Peace of Nicias, in honor of the Athenian general of that name
--by which the towns captured during the war were to be restored,
and both Athens and Sparta placed in much the same state as when
hostilities commenced. But this proved to be a hollow truce;
for the war was a virtual triumph for Athens--and interest,
inclination, and the ambitious views of her party leaders were
not long in finding plausible pretexts for renewing the struggle.
Again, the Boeotian, Megarian, and Corinthian allies of Sparta
refused to carry out the terms of the treaty by making the required
surrenders, and Sparta had no power to compel them, while Athens
would accept no less than she had bargained for.
The Athenian general Nicias, through whose influence the Fifty
Years' Truce had been concluded, endeavored to carry out its
terms; but through the artifices of Alcibi'ades, a nephew of
Pericles, a wealthy Athenian, and an artful demagogue, the treaty
was soon dishonored on the part of Athens. Alcibi'ades also managed
to involve the Spartans in a war with their recent allies, the
Ar'gives, during which was fought the battle of Mantine'a, 418
B.C., in which the Spartans were victorious; and he induced the
Athenians to send an armament against the Dorian island of Me'los,
which had provoked the enmity of Athens by its attachment to
Sparta, and which was compelled, after a vigorous siege, to
surrender at discretion. Meanwhile the feeble resistance of
Sparta, and her apparent timidity, encouraged Athens to resume
a project of aggrandizement which she had once before undertaken,
but had been obliged to relinquish. This was no less than the
virtual conquest of Sicily, whose important cities, under the
leadership of Syracuse, had some years before joined the
* * * * *
III. THE SICILIAN EXPEDITION.
Although opposed by Nicias, Socrates, and a few of the wiser
heads at Athens, the counsels of Alcibiades prevailed, and, after
three months of great preparation, an expedition sailed from
Athens for Sicily, under the plea of delivering the town of
Eges'ta from the tyranny of Syracuse (415 B.C.). The armament
fitted out on this occasion, the most powerful that had ever
left a Grecian port, was intrusted to the joint command of
Alcibiades, Nicias, and Lam'achus. The expedition captured the
city of Cat'ana, which was made the headquarters of the armament;
but here Alcibiades was summoned to Athens on the absurd charge
of impiety and sacrilege, connected with the mutilation of the
statues of the god Her'mes, that had taken place just before he
left Athens. He was also charged with having profaned the
Eleusinian mysteries by giving a representation of them in his
own house. Fearing to trust himself to the giddy multitude in a
trial for life, Alcibiades at once threw himself upon the
generosity of his open enemies, and sought refuge at Sparta.
When, soon after, he heard that the Athenians had condemned
him to death, he answered, "I will show them that I am still
By the death of Lamachus, Nicias was soon after left in sole
command of the Athenians. He succeeded in landing near Syracuse
and defeating the Syracusans in a well-fought engagement; but
he wasted his time in fortifying his camp, and in useless
negotiations, until his enemies, having received aid from Corinth
and Sparta, under the Spartan general Gylip'pus, were able to
bid him defiance. Although new forces were sent from Athens,
under the Athenian general Demosthenes, the Athenians were defeated
in several engagements, and their entire force was nearly destroyed
(413 B.C.). "Never, in Grecian history," says THUCYDIDES, "had
ruin so complete and sweeping, or victory so glorious and
unexpected, been witnessed." Both Nicias and Demosthenes were
captured and put to death, and the Syracusans also captured seven
thousand prisoners and sold them as slaves. Some of the latter,
however, are said to have received milder treatment than the
others, owing, it is supposed, to their familiarity with the
works of the then popular poet, Eurip'ides, which in Sicily,
historians tell us, were more celebrated than known. It is to
this incident, probably, that reference is made by BYRON in the
When Athens' armies fell at Syracuse,
And fettered thousands bore the yoke of war,
Redemption rose up in the Attic Muse--
Her voice their only ransom from afar.
See! as they chant the tragic hymn, the car
Of the o'ermastered victor stops; the reins
Fall from his hands--his idle scimitar
Starts from its belt--he rends his captive's chains,
And bids him thank the bard for freedom and his strains.
--Childe Harold, IV., 16.
* * * * *
IV. THE SECOND PELOPONNESIAN WAR.
The aid which Gylippus had rendered the Syracusans now brought
Sparta and Athens in direct conflict. The result of the Athenian
expedition was the greatest calamity that had befallen Athens,
and the city was filled with affliction and dismay. The Spartans
made frequent forays into Attica, and Athens was almost in a
state of siege, while several of her allies, instigated by
Alcibiades, who was active in the Spartan councils, revolted
and joined the Spartans. It was not long, however, before Athens
regained her wonted determination and began to repair her wasted
energies. Samos still remained faithful to her interests, and,
with her help, a new flee was built, with which Lesbos was
recovered, and a victory was obtained over the Peloponnesians
at Miletus. Soon after this defeat Alcibiades, who had forfeited
the confidence of the Spartans by his conduct, was denounced
as a traitor and condemned to death. He escaped to the court
of Tissapher'nes, the most powerful Persian satrap in Asia Minor.
By his intrigues Alcibiades, who now sought a reconciliation
with his countrymen, partially detached Tissaphernes from the
interests of Sparta, and offered the Athenians a Persian alliance
as the price of his restoration to his country. But, as he feared
and hated the Athenian democracy, he insisted that an oligarchy
should be established in its place.
The Athenian generals accepted the proposal as the only means
of salvation for Athens; and, although they subsequently
discovered that Alcibiades could not perform what he had
undertaken, a change of government was effected, after much
opposition from the people, from a democracy to an aristocracy
of four hundred of the nobility; but the new government, dreading
the ambition of Alcibiades, refused to recall him. Another change
soon followed. The defeat of the Athenian navy at Ere'tria, and
the revolt of Euboea, produced a new revolution at Athens, by
which the government of the four hundred was overthrown, and
democracy restored. Alcibiades was now recalled; but before his
return he aided in destroying the Peloponnesian fleet in the
battle of Cys'icus (411 B.C.). He was welcomed at Athens with
great enthusiasm, a golden crown was decreed him, and he was
appointed commander-in-chief of all the forces of the commonwealth
both by land and by sea.
THE HUMILIATION OF ATHENS.
Alcibiades was still destined to experience the instability of
fortune. He sailed from Athens in September, 407, and proceeded
to Samos. While he was absent from the main body of his fleet
on a predatory excursion, one of his subordinates, contrary to
instructions, attacked a Spartan fleet and was defeated with a
loss of fifteen ships. Although in command of a splendid force,
Alcibiades had accomplished really nothing, and had now lost a
part of his fleet. An unjust suspicion of treachery fell upon
him, the former charges against him were revived, and he was
deprived of his command and again banished. In the year 406 the
Athenians defeated a large Spartan fleet under Callicrat'idas,
but their victory secured them no permanent advantages. Lysander,
a general whose abilities the Athenians could not match since
they had deprived themselves of the services of Alcibiades, was
now in command of the Spartan forces. He obtained the favor of
Cyrus, the youngest son of the King of Persia, who had been
invested with authority over the whole maritime region of Asia
Minor, and, aided by Persian gold, he manned a numerous fleet
with which he met the Athenians at Æ'gos-pot'ami, on the
Hellespont, destroyed most of their ships, and captured three
thousand prisoners (405 B.C.). The maritime allies of Athens
immediately submitted to Lysander, who directed the Athenians
throughout Greece to repair at once to Athens, with threats of
death to all whom he found elsewhere; and when famine began to
prey upon the collected multitude in the city, he appeared before
the Piræus with his fleet, while a large Spartan army blockaded
Athens by land.
The Athenians had no hopes of effectual resistance, and only
delayed the surrender of their city to plead for the best terms
that could be obtained. Compelled at last to submit to whatever
terms were dictated to them, they agreed to destroy their long
walls and fortifications; to surrender all their ships but twelve;
to restore their exiles; to relinquish their conquests; to become
a member of the Peloponnesian Confederacy; and to serve Sparta
in all her expeditions, whether by land or by sea. Thus fell
imperial Athens (404 B.C. ), in the seventy-third year after
the formation of the Confederacy of Delos, the origin of her
subsequent empire. Soon after this event, and in the same year,
Alcibiades, who had been honored by both Athens and Sparta, and
was now the dread of both, met his fate in a foreign land. While
living in Phrygia he was murdered by the Persian satrap at the
instance of Sparta. It has been said of him that, "with qualities
which, if properly applied, might have rendered him the greatest
benefactor of Athens, he contrived to attain the infamous
distinction of being that citizen who had inflicted upon her the
most signal amount of damage."
The war just closed was characterized by many instances of cruelty
and heartlessness, in marked contrast with the boasted clemency
and culture of the age, of which two prominent illustrations
may be given. The first occurred at Platæa in the year 427, soon
after the execution by the Athenians of the Mitylene'an prisoners.
After a long and heroic defence against the Spartans under King
Archida'mus himself, and after a solemn promise had been given
that no harm should be illegally done to any person within its
walls, Platæa surrendered. But a Spartan court soon after decreed
that the Platæan alliance with Athens was a treasonable offence,
and punishable, of course, with death. Thereupon all those who
had surrendered (two hundred Platæans and twenty-five Athenians)
were barbarously murdered. The other instance occurred at Lamp'sacus,
where the three thousand prisoners taken by Lysander at Ægospotami
were tried by court-martial and put to death.
Referring to these barbarities, MAHAFFY observes, in his Social
Life in Greece, that, "though seldom paralleled in human history,
they appear to have called forth no cry of horror in Greece.
Phil'ocles, the unfortunate Athenian general at Ægospotami,
according to Theophrastus, submitted with dignified resignation
to a fate which he confessed would have attended the Lacedæmonians
had they been vanquished. [Footnote: Plutarch relates that when
Lysander asked Philocles what punishment he thought he deserved,
undismayed by his misfortunes, he answered, "Do not start a
question where there is no judge to decide it; but, now you are
a conqueror, proceed as you would have been proceeded with had
you been conquered." After this he bathed, dressed himself in a
rich robe, and then led his countrymen to execution, being the
first to offer his neck to the axe.] The barbarity of the Greeks
is but one evidence out of a thousand that, hitherto in the world's
history, no culture, no education, no political training, has
been able to rival the mature and ultimate effects of Christianity
in humanizing society."
CHANGES IN GOVERNMENT AT ATHENS.
The change of government which followed the Spartan occupation
of Athens conformed to the aristocratic character of the Spartan
institutions. All authority was placed by Lysander in the hands
of thirty archons, who became known as the Thirty Tyrants, and
whose power was supported by a Spartan garrison. Their cruelty
and rapacity knew no bounds, and filled Athens with universal
dismay. The streets of Athens flowed with blood, and while many
of the best men of the city fell, others more fortunate succeeded
in escaping to the territory of the friendly Thebans, who, groaning
under Spartan supremacy, sympathized with Athens, and regarded
the Thirty as mere instruments for maintaining the Spartan
dominion. A large band of exiles soon assembled, and choosing
one Thrasybu'lus for their leader, they resolved to strike a
blow for the deliverance of their country.
They first seized a small fortress on the frontier of Attica,
when, their numbers rapidly increasing, they were able to seize
the Piræus, where they entrenched themselves and defeated the
force that was brought against them, killing, among others,
Cri'ti-as, the chief of the tyrants. The loss of Critias threw
the majority into the hands of a party who resolved to depose
the Thirty and constitute a new oligarchy of Ten. The rule of
the Thirty was overthrown; but the change in government was
simply a reduction in the number of tyrants, as the Ten emulated
the wickedness of their predecessors, and when the populace
turned against them, applied to Sparta for assistance. Lysander
again entered Athens at the head of a large force; but the Spartan
councils became divided, Lysander was deposed from command, and
eventually, by the aid of Sparta herself, the Ten were overthrown.
The Spartans now withdrew their forces from Attica, and Athens
again became a democracy (403 B.C.). Freed from foreign domination,
she soon obtained internal peace; but her empire had vanished.
GRECIAN LITERATURE AND ART I FROM THE BEGINNING OF THE PERSIAN
TO THE CLOSE OF THE PELOPONNESIAN WARS. (500-403 B.C.)
In a former chapter we briefly traced the growth of Grecian
literature and art from their beginnings down to the time of
the Persian wars. Within this period, as we noticed, their progress
was the greatest in the Grecian colonies, while, of the cities
of central Greece, the one destined to become pre-eminent in
literature and the fine arts--Athens--contributed less than several
others to intellectual advancement. "She produced no artists to
be compared with those of Argos, Corinth, Si'cy-on, and of many
other cities, while she could boast of no poets as celebrated
as those of the Ionian and Æolian schools." But at the opening
of the Persian wars the artistic and literary talent of Greece
began to center in Athens, and with the close of that contest
properly begins the era of Athenian greatness. Athens, hitherto
inferior in magnitude and political importance, having borne
the brunt and won the highest martial honor of the conflict with
Persia, now took the lead, as well in intellectual progress as
in political ascendancy. To this era PROFESSOR SYMONDS refers,
"It was the struggle with Xerxes which developed all the latent
energies of the Greeks, which intensified their national existence,
and which secured for Athens, as the central power on which the
scattered forces of the race converged, the intellectual
dictatorship of Hellas. It was a struggle of spiritual energy
against brute force, of liberty against oppression, of intellectual
freedom against superstitious ignorance, of civilization against
barbarism; and Athens, who had fought and won this battle of the
Spirit--by spirit we mean the greatness of the soul, liberty,
intelligence, and everything which raises men above brutes and
slaves, and makes them free beneath the arch of heaven--became
immediately the recognized impersonation of the spirit itself.
Whatever was superb in human nature found its natural home and
sphere in Athens. We hear no more of the colonies. All great
works of art and literature are now produced in Athens, and it
is to Athens that the sages come to teach and to be taught."
[Footnote: "The Greek Poets." First Series, p. 19.]
* * * * *
I. LYRIC POETRY.
SIMON'IDES AND PINDAR.
The rapid progress made in the cultivation of lyric poetry
preceding the Persian wars found its culmination, during those
wars, in Simonides of Ceos, the most brilliant period of whose
life was spent at Athens; and in Pindar, a native of Thebes,
who is considered the greatest lyric poet of all ages. The life
of Simonides was a long one, reaching from 556 to 469 B.C.
"Coming forward at a time," says MAHAFFY, "when the tyrants had
made poetry a matter of culture, and dissociated it from politics,
we find him a professional artist, free from all party struggles,
alike welcome at the courts of tyrants and among the citizens of
free states; he was respected throughout all the Greek world,
and knew well how to suit himself, socially and artistically,
to his patrons. The great national struggle with Persia gave
him the opportunity of becoming the spokesman of the nation in
celebrating the glories of the victors and the heroism of the
fallen patriots; and this exceptional opportunity made him quite
the foremost poet of his day, and decidedly better known and
more admired than Pindar, who has so completely eclipsed him
in the attention of posterity." [Footnote: "Classical Greek
Literature," vol. i., p. 207.]
Simonides was the intimate friend of Miltiades and Themistocles
at Athens, of Pausanias at Sparta, and of the tyrants of Sicily.
In the first named city he composed his epigrams on Marathon,
Thermopylæ, Salamis, and Platæa--"poems not destined to be merely
sung or consigned to parchment, but to be carved in marble or
engraved in letters of imperishable bronze upon the works of
the noblest architects and statuaries." In his elegy upon Marathon
he carried away the prize from Æschylus. He was a most prolific
poet, and his writings, comprising all the subjects that human
life, with its joys and sorrows, its hopes and disappointments,
could furnish, are noted for their sweetness and pure and exquisite
polish. He particularly excelled in the pathetic; and the most
celebrated of the existing fragments of his muse, the "Lamentation
of Dan'a-ë," is a piece of this character. The poem is based
upon a tradition concerning Danaë, the daughter of Acris'ius,
King of Argos, and her infant son, the offspring of Jove.
Acrisius had been told by the oracle that his life would be taken
by a son that his daughter should bear, and, for his own
preservation, when the boy had reached the age of four years,
Acrisius threw both him and his mother into a chest and set them
adrift on the sea. But they were rescued by Dictys, a fisherman
of the Island of Seri'phus, whose brother Polydec'tes, king of
the country, received and protected them. The boy grew up to
manhood, and became the famous hero Per'seus, who accidentally
killed Acrisius at the funeral games of Polydectes. The following
Lamentation of Dan'a-ë.
While, around her lone ark sweeping,
Wailed the winds and waters wild,
Her young cheeks all wan with weeping,
Danae clasped her sleeping child;
And "Alas!" cried she, "my dearest,
What deep wrongs, what woes are mine;
But nor wrongs nor woes thou fearest
In that sinless rest of thine.
Faint the moonbeams break above thee,
And within here all is gloom;
But, fast wrapped in arms that love thee,
Little reck'st thou of our doom.
Not the rude spray, round thee flying,
Has e'en damped thy clustering hair;
On thy purple mantlet lying,
O mine Innocent, my Fair!
Yet, to thee were sorrow sorrow,
Thou wouldst lend thy little ear;
And this heart of thine might borrow,
Haply, yet a moment's cheer.
But no: slumber on, babe, slumber;
Slumber, ocean's waves; and you,
My dark troubles, without number--
Oh, that ye would slumber too!
Though with wrongs they've brimmed my chalice,
Grant, Jove, that, in future years,
This boy may defeat their malice,
And avenge his mother's tears!"
--Trans. by W. PETER.
Simonides was nearly eighty years old when he gained his last
poetical prize at Athens, making the fiftieth that he had won.
He then retired to Syracuse, at the invitation of Hi'ero, where
he spent the remaining ten years of his life. He was a philosopher
as well as poet, and his wise sayings made him a special favorite
with the accomplished Hiero. When inquired of by that monarch
concerning the nature of God, Simonides requested one day for
deliberating on the subject; and when Hiero repeated the question
the next day, the poet asked for two days more. As he still went
on doubling the number of days, the monarch, lost in wonder,
asked him why he did so. "Because," replied Simonides, "the longer
I reflect on the subject, the more obscure does it appear to
me to be."
Pindar, the most celebrated of all the lyric poets of Greece,
was born about 520 B.C. At an early age he was sent to Athens
to receive instruction in the art of poetry: returning to Thebes
at twenty, his youthful genius was quickened and guided by the
influence of Myr'tis and Corin'na, two poetesses who then enjoyed
great celebrity in Boeotia. At a later period "he undoubtedly
experienced," says THIRLWALL, "the animating influence of that
joyful and stirring time which followed the defeat of the barbarian
invader, though, as a Theban patriot, he could not heartily enjoy
a triumph by which Thebes as well as Persia was humbled." But
his enthusiasm for Athens, which he calls "the buttress of Hellas,"
is apparent in one of his compositions; and the Athenians specially
honored him with a valuable present, and, after his death, erected
a bronze statue to his memory. It is probable, however, that
while he was sincerely anxious for the success of Greece in the
great contest, he avoided as much as possible offending his own
people, whose sympathies and hopes lay the other way.
The reputation of Pindar early became so great that he was employed,
by various states and princes, to compose choral songs for special
occasions. Like Simonides, he "loved to bask in the sunshine
of courts;" but he was frank, sincere, and manly, assuming a
lofty and dignified position toward princes and others in authority
with whom he came in contact. He was especially courted by Hiero,
despot of Syracuse, but remained with him only a few years, his
manly disposition creating a love for an independent life that
the courtly arts of his patron could not furnish. As his poems
show, he was a reserved man, learned in the myths and ceremonies
of the times, and specially devoted to the worship of the gods.
"The old myths," says a Greek biographer, "were for the most part
realities to him, and he accepted them with implicit credence,
except when they exhibited the gods in a point of view which
was repugnant to his moral feelings; and he accordingly rejects
some tales, and changes others, because they are inconsistent
with his moral conceptions." As a poet correctly describes him,
using one of the names commonly applied to him,
Pindar, that eagle, mounts the skies,
While virtue leads the noble way.
The poems of Pindar were numerous, and comprised triumphal odes,
hymns to the gods, pæans, dirges, and songs of various kinds.
His triumphal odes alone have come down to us entire; but of
some of his other compositions there are a few sublime and beautiful
fragments. The poet and his writings cannot be better described
than in the following general characterization by SYMONDS:
"By the force of his originality Pindar gave lyrical poetry a
wholly new direction, and, coming last of the great Dorian lyrists,
taught posterity what sort of thing an ode should be. His grand
pre-eminence as an artist was due, in great measure, to his
personality. Frigid, austere, and splendid; not genial like that
of Simonides, not passionate like that of Sappho, not acrid like
that of Archil'ochus; hard as adamant, rigid in moral firmness,
glittering with the strong, keen light of snow; haughty,
aristocratic, magnificent--the unique personality of the man
Pindar, so irresistible in its influence, so hard to characterize,
is felt in every strophe of his odes. In his isolation and elevation
Pindar stands like some fabled heaven-aspiring peak, conspicuous
from afar, girdled at the base with ice and snow, beaten by winds,
wreathed round with steam and vapor, jutting a sharp and dazzling
outline into cold blue ether. Few things that have life dare
to visit him at his grand altitude. Glorious with sunlight and
with stars, touched by rise and set of day with splendor, he
shines when other lesser lights are dulled. Pindar among his
peers is solitary. He had no communion with the poets of his
day. He is the eagle; Simonides and Bacchyl'ides are jackdaws.
He soars to the empyrean; they haunt the valley mists. Noticing
this rocky, barren, severe, glittering solitude of Pindar's soul,
critics have not infrequently complained that his poems are devoid
of individual interest. Possibly they have failed to comprehend
and appreciate the nature of this sublime and distant genius,
whose character, in truth, is just as marked as that of Dante
or of Michael Angelo."
After giving some illustrations of the impression produced upon
the imagination by a study of Pindar's odes, the writer proceeds
with his characterization, in the following language: "He who
has watched a sunset attended by the passing of a thunder-storm
in the outskirts of the Alps--who has seen the distant ranges
of the mountains alternately obscured by cloud and blazing with
the concentrated brightness of the sinking sun, while drifting
scuds of hail and rain, tawny with sunlight, glistening with
broken rainbows, clothe peak and precipice and forest in the
golden veil of flame-irradiated vapor--he who has heard the thunder
bellow in the thwarting folds of hills, and watched the lightning,
like a snakes tongue, flicker at intervals amid gloom and glory
--knows, in Nature's language, what Pindar teaches with the voice
of Art. It is only by a metaphor like this that any attempt to
realize the Sturm and Drang of Pindar's style can be communicated.
As an artist he combines the strong flight of the eagle, the
irresistible force of the torrent, the richness of Greek wine,
and the majestic pageantry of Nature in one of her sublimer
moods." [Footnote: "The Greek Poets." First Series, pp. 171, 174.]
Pindar, as we have seen, was compared to an eagle, because of
the daring flights and lofty character of his poetry--a simile
which has been beautifully expressed in the following lines by
The pride and ample pinion
That the Theban eagle bare,
Sailing with supreme dominion,
Through the azure deeps of air.
Another image, also, has been employed to show these features
of his poetry. The poet POPE represents him riding in a gorgeous
chariot sustained by four swans:
Four swans sustain a car of silver bright,
With heads advanced and pinions stretched for flight;
Here, like some furious prophet, Pindar rode,
And seemed to labor with th' inspiring god.
A third image, given to us by HORACE, represents another
characteristic of Pindar, which may be called "the stormy violence
of his song:"
As when a river, swollen by sudden showers,
O'er its known banks from some steep mountain pours;
So, in profound, unmeasurable song,
The deep-mouthed Pindar, foaming, pours along.
--Trans. by FRANCIS.
As a sample of the religious sentiment of Pindar we give the
following fragment of a threnos translated by MR. SYMONDS, which,
he says, "sounds like a trumpet blast for immortality, and,
trampling underfoot the glories of this world, reveals the gladness
of the souls that have attained Elysium:"
For them, the night all through,
In that broad realm below,
The splendor of the sun spreads endless light;
'Mid rosy meadows bright,
Their city of the tombs, with incense-trees
And golden chalices
Of flowers, and fruitage fair,
Scenting the breezy air,
Is laden. There, with horses and with play,
With games and lyres, they while the hours away.
On every side around
Pure happiness is found,
With all the blooming beauty of the world;
There fragrant smoke, upcurled
From altars where the blazing fire is dense
With perfumed frankincense,
Burned unto gods in heaven,
Through all the land is driven,
Making its pleasant place odorous
With scented gales, and sweet airs amorous.
* * * * *
II. THE DRAMA.
One of the most striking proofs that we possess of the rapid
growth and expansion of the Greek mind, is found in the rise
of the Drama, a new kind of poetical composition, which united
the leading features of every species before cultivated, in a
new whole "breathing a rhetorical, dialectical, and ethical spirit"
--a branch of literature that peculiarly characterized the era
of Athenian greatness. Its elements were found in the religious
festivals celebrated in Greece from the earliest ages, and
especially in the feast of Bacchus, where sacred odes of a grave
and serious character, intermixed with episodes of mythological
story recited by an actor, were sung by a chorus that danced
around the altar. A goat was either the principal sacrifice on
these occasions, or the participants, disguised as Satyrs, had
a goat-like appearance; and from the two Greek words representing
"goat" and "song" we get our word tragedy, [Footnote: From the
Greek tragos, "a goat," and o'de, "a song."] or goat-song. At
some of the more rustic festivals in honor of the same god the
performance was of a more jocose or satirical character; and
hence arose the term comedy, [Footnote: From the Greek ko'me,
"a village," and o'de, "a song."] from the two Greek words
signifying "village" and "song"--village-song. In the teller of
mythological legends we find the first germ of dialogue, as the
chorus soon came to assist him by occasional question and remark.
This feature was introduced by Thespis, a native of Ica'ria,
in 535 B.C., under whose direction, and that of Phryn'icus, his
pupil, the first feeble rudiments of the drama were established.
In this condition it was found by Æschylus, in 500 B.C., who
brought a second actor upon the scene; whence arose the increased
prominence of the dialogue, and the limitation and subsidiary
character of the chorus. Æschylus also added more expressive
masks, and various machinery and scenes calculated to improve
and enlarge dramatic representation. Of the effect of this new
creation upon all kinds of poetical genius we have the following
fine illustration from the pen of BULWER:
"It was in the very nature of the Athenian drama that, when once
established, it should concentrate and absorb almost every variety
of poetical genius. The old lyrical poetry, never much cultivated
in Athens, ceased in a great measure when tragedy arose; or,
rather, tragedy was the complete development, the new and perfected
consummation, of the dithyrambic ode. Lyrical poetry transmigrated
into the choral song as the epic merged into the dialogue and
plot of the drama. Thus, when we speak of Athenian poetry we
speak of dramatic poetry--they were one and the same. In Athens,
where audiences were numerous and readers few, every man who
felt within himself the inspiration of the poet would necessarily
desire to see his poetry put into action--assisted with all the
pomp of spectacle and music, hallowed by the solemnity of a
religious festival, and breathed by artists elaborately trained
to heighten the eloquence of words into the reverent ear of
assembled Greece. Hence the multitude of dramatic poets; hence
the mighty fertility of each; hence the life and activity of
this--the comparative torpor and barrenness of every other--
species of poetry."
MELPOM'ENE, one of the nine Muses, whose name signifies "To
represent in song," is said to have been the inventress of tragedy,
over which she presided, always veiled, bearing in one hand the
lyre, as the emblem of her vocation, and in the other a tragic
mask. As queen of the lyre, every poet was supposed to proclaim
the marvels of her song, and to invoke her aid.
Queen of the lyre, in thy retreat
The fairest flowers of Pindus glow,
The vine aspires to crown thy seat,
And myrtles round thy laurel grow:
Thy strings adapt their varied strain
To every pleasure, every pain,
Which mortal tribes were born to prove;
And straight our passions rise or fall,
As, at the wind's imperious call,
The ocean swells, the billows move.
When midnight listens o'er the slumbering earth,
Let me, O Muse, thy solemn whispers hear:
When morning sends her fragrant breezes forth,
With airy murmurs touch my opening ear,
Æschylus, the first poet who rendered the drama illustrious,
and into whose character and writings the severe and ascetic
doctrines of Pythagoras entered largely, was born at Eleu'sis,
in Attica, in 525 B.C. He fought, as will be remembered, in the
combats of Marathon and Salamis, and also in the battle of Platæa.
He therefore flourished at the time when the freedom of Greece,
rescued from foreign enemies, was exulting in its first strength;
and his writings are characteristic of the boldness and vigor
of the age. In his works we find the fundamental idea of the
Greek drama--retributive justice. The sterner passions alone
are appealed to, and the language is replete with bold metaphor
and gigantic hyperbole. Venus and her inspirations are excluded;
the charms of love are unknown: but the gods--vast, majestic,
in shadowy outline, and in the awful sublimity of power-pass
before and awe the beholder. [Footnote: see Grote's "History
of Greece," Chap. lxvii.] Says a prominent reviewer: "The
conceptions of the imagination of Æschylus are remarkable for
a sort of colossal sublimity and power, resembling the poetry of
the Book of Job; and those poems of his which embody a connected
story may be said to resemble the stupendous avenues of the
Temple of Elora, [See Index.] with the vast scenes and vistas;
its strange, daring, though rude sculptures; its awful, shadowy,
impending horrors. Like the architecture, the poems, too, seem
hewn out of some massy region of mountain rock. Æschylus appears
as an austere poet-soul, brooding among the grand, awful, and
terrible myths which have floated from a primeval world, in which
traditions of the Deluge, of the early, rudimental struggle between
barbaric power and nascent civilization, were still vital."
"The personal temperament of the man," says DR. PLUMPTRE, [Footnote:
"The Tragedies of Æschylus," by E. H. Plumptre, D.D.] seems to
have been in harmony with the characteristics of his genius.
Vehement, passionate, irascible; writing his tragedies, as later
critics judged, as if half drunk; doing (as Sophocles said of
him) what was right in his art without knowing why; following
the impulses that led him to strange themes and dark problems,
rather than aiming at the perfection of a complete, all-sided
culture; frowning with shaggy brows, like a wild bull, glaring
fiercely, and bursting into a storm of wrath when annoyed by
critics or rival poets; a Marlowe rather than a Shakspeare: this
is the portrait sketched by one who must have painted a figure
still fresh in the minds of the Athenians. [Footnote: Aristophanes,
in The Frogs.] Such a man, both by birth and disposition, was
likely to attach himself to the aristocratic party, and to look
with scorn on the claims of the demos to a larger share of power;
and there is hardly a play in which some political bias in that
direction may not be traced."
Æschylus wrote his plays in trilogies, or three successive dramas
connected. Of the eighty tragedies that he wrote, only seven
have been preserved. From three of these, The Persians, Prome'theus,
and Agamemnon, we have given extracts descriptive of historical
and mythological events. The latter is the first of three plays
on the fortunes of the house of A'treus, of Myce'næ; and these
three, of which the Choëph'oroe and Eumenides are the other two,
are the only extant specimen of a trilogy. The Agamemnon is the
longest, and by some considered the grandest, play left us by
Æschylus. "In the Agamemnon," says VON SCHLEGEL, "it was the
intention of Æschylus 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." [Footnote:
"Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature," by Augustus William
on Schlegel. Black's translation.]
Among the fine passages of this play, the death of Agamemnon, at
the hand of Clytemnes'tra, is a scene that the poet paints with
terrible effect. Says MR. EUGENE LAWRENCE, [Footnote: "A Primer
of Greek Literature," by Eugene Lawrence, p.55.] "Mr. E. C.
Stedman's version of the death of Agamemnon is an excellent one.
A horror rests upon the palace at Mycenæ; there is a scent of
blood, the exhalations of the tomb. The queen, Clytemnestra, enters
the inner room, terrible as Lady Macbeth. A cry is heard:
"'Agam. Woe's me! I'm stricken a deadly blow within!'
"'Chor. Hark! who is't cries "a blow?" Who meets his death?'
"'Agam. Woe's me! Again! again! a second time I'm stricken!'
"'Chor. The deed, methinks, from the king's cry, is done.'
At length the queen appears, standing at her full height, terrible,
holding her bloody weapon in her hand. She seeks no concealment.
She proclaims her guilt:
"'I smote him! nor deny that thus I did it;
So that he could not flee or ward off doom.
A seamless net, as round a fish, I cast
About him, yea, a deadly wealth of robe,
Then smote him twice; and with a double cry
He loosed his limbs; and to him fallen I gave
Yet a third thrust, a grace to Hades, lord
Of the under-world and guardian of the dead.'"
But the most finished of the tragedies of Æschylus is Choëphoroe,
which is made the subject of the revenge of Ores'tes, son of
Agamemnon, who avenges the murder of his father by putting his
mother to death. For this crime the Eumenides represents him as
being driven insane by the Furies; but his reason was subsequently
restored. It is the chief object of the poet, in this tragedy, to
display the distress of Orestes at the necessity he feels of
avenging his father's death upon his mother. To this BYRON refers
in Childe Harold:
O thou! who never yet of human wrong
Left the unbalanced scale--great Nem'esis!
Thou who didst call the Furies from the abyss,
And round Orestes bade them howl and hiss
For that unnatural retribution--just,
Had it but been from hands less near--in this,
Thy former realm, I call thee from the dust!
At the close of an interesting characterization of Æschylus and
his works--much too long for a full quotation here--PROFESSOR
MAHAFFY observes as follows:
"We always feel that Æschylus thought more than he expressed,
that his desperate compounds are never affected or unnecessary.
Although, therefore, he violated the rules that bound weaker
men, it is false to say that be was less an artist than they.
His art was of a different kind, despising what they prized, and
attempting what they did not dare, but not the less a conscious
and thorough art. Though the drawing of character was not his
main object, his characters are truer and deeper than those of
poets who attempted nothing else. Though lyrical sweetness had
little place in the gloom and terror of his Titanic stage, yet
here too, when he chooses, he equals the masters of lyric song.
So long as a single Homer was deemed the author of the Iliad
and the Odyssey, we might well concede to him the first place,
and say that Æschylus was the second poet of the Greeks. But
by the light of nearer criticism, and with a closer insight into
the structure of the epic poems, we must retract this judgment,
and assert that no other poet among the Greeks, either in grandeur
of conception or splendor of execution, equals the untranslatable,
unapproachable, inimitable Æschylus." [Footnote: "Classical Greek
Literature," vol. i., p.275.]
Æschylus was succeeded, as master of the drama, by Sophocles--
the Raffaelle of the drama, as Bulwer calls him--who was also
one of the generals of the Athenian expedition against Samos
in the year 440 B.C. He brought the drama to the greatest
perfection of which it was susceptible. In him we find a greater
range of emotions than in Æschylus--figures more distinctly
seen, a more expanded dialogue, simplicity of speech mixed with
rhetorical declamation, and the highest degree of poetic beauty.
Says a late writer: "The artist and the man were one in Sophocles.
We cannot but think of him as specially created to represent
Greek art in its most refined and exquisitely balanced perfection.
It is impossible to imagine a more plastic nature, a genius more
adapted to its special function, more fittingly provided with
all things needful to its full development, born at a happier
moment in the history of the world, and more nobly endowed with
physical qualities suited to its intellectual capacity."
Sophocles composed one hundred and thirteen plays, but only seven
of them are extant. Of these the most familiar is the tragedy
of OEd'ipus Tyran'nus--"King OEdipus." It is not only considered
his masterpiece, but also, as regards the choice and disposition
of the fable on which it is founded, the finest tragedy of
antiquity. A new interest has been given to it in this country
by its recent representation in the original Greek. Of its many
translations, it is conceded that none have done, and none can
do it justice; they can do little more than give its plan and
general character. The following, in brief, is the story of this
La'i-us, King of Thebes, was told by the Delphic oracle that if
a son should be born to him, by the hand of that son he should
surely die. When, therefore, his queen, Jocasta, bare him a son,
the parents gave the child to a shepherd, with orders to cast
it out, bound, on the hill Cithæ'ron to perish. But the shepherd,
moved to compassion, deceived the parents, and intrusted the
babe to a herdsman of Pol'ybus, King of Corinth; and the wife
of Polybus, being childless, named the foundling OEdipus, and
reared it as her own.
Thirty years later, OEdipus, ignorant of his birth, and being
directed by the oracle to shun his native country, fled from
Corinth; and it happened at the same time that his father (Laius)
was on his way to consult the oracle at Delphi, for the purpose
of ascertaining whether the child that had been exposed had
perished or not. As father and son, strangers to each other, met
in a narrow path in the mountains, a dispute arose for the right
of way, and in the contest that ensued the father was slain.
Immediately after this event the goddess Juno, always hostile to
Thebes, sent a monster, called the sphinx, to propound a riddle
to the Thebans, and to ravage their territory until some one
should solve the riddle--the purport of which was, "What animal
is that which goes on four feet in the morning, on two at noon,
and on three at evening?" OEdipus, the supposed son of Polybus,
of Corinth, coming to Thebes, solved the riddle, by answering
the sphinx that it was man, who, when an infant, creeps on all
fours, in manhood goes on two feet, and when old uses a staff.
The sphinx then threw herself down to the earth and perished;
whereupon the Thebans, in their joy, chose OEdipus as king, and
he married the widowed queen Jocasta, by whom he had two sons
and two daughters. Although everything prospered with him--as
he loved the Theban people, and was beloved by them in turn for
his many virtues--soon the wrath of the gods fell upon the city,
which was visited by a sore pestilence. Creon, brother of the
queen, is now sent to consult the oracle for the cause of the
evil; and it is at the point of his return that the drama opens.
He brings back the response
"That guilt of blood is blasting all the state;"
that this guilt is connected with the death of Laius, and that
"Now the god clearly bids us, he being dead,
To take revenge on those who shed his blood,"
OEdipus engages earnestly in the business of unraveling the mystery
connected with the death of Laius, the cause of all the Theban
woes. Ignorant that he himself bears the load of guilt, he charges
the Thebans to be vigilant and unremitting in their efforts,--
"And for the man who did the guilty deed,
Whether alone he lurks, or leagued with more,
I pray that he may waste his life away,
For vile deeds vilely dying; and for me,
If in my house, I knowing it, he dwells,
May every curse I spake on my head fall."
A blind and aged priest and prophet, Tire'sias, is brought before
OEdipus, and, being implored to lend the aid of prophecy to "save
the city from the curse" that had fallen on it, he at first refuses to
exert his prophetic power.
Tiresias. Ah! Reason fails you an, but ne'er will I
Say what thou bidd'st, lest I thy troubles show.
I will not pain myself nor thee. Why, then,
All vainly question? Thou shalt never know.
But, urged and threatened by the king, he at length exclaims:
Tier. And has it come to this? I charge thee, hold
To thy late edict, and from this day forth
Speak not to me, nor yet to these, for thou--
Thou art the accursed plague-spot of the land!
OEdipus at first believes that the aged prophet is merely the
tool of others, who are engaged in a conspiracy to expel him
from the throne; but when Jocasta, in her innocence, informs
him of the death of Laius, names the mountain pass in which he
fell, slain, as was supposed, by a robber band, and describes
his dress and person, OEdipus is startled at the thought that
he himself was the slayer, and he exclaims,
"Great Zeus! what fate hast thou decreed for me?
Woe! woe! 'tis all too clear."
Yet there is one hope left. The man whom he slew in that same
mountain pass fell by no robber band, and, therefore, could not
have been Laius. Soon even this hope deserts him, when the story
is truly told. He learns, moreover, that he is not the son of
Polybus, the Corinthian king, but a foundling adopted by his
queen. Connecting this with the story now told him by Jocasta,
of her infant son, whom she supposed to have perished on the
mountain, the horrid truth begins to dawn upon all. Jocasta rushes
from the presence of OEdipus, exclaiming,
"Woe! woe! ill-fated one! my last word this,
This only, and no more for evermore."
When the old shepherd, forced to declare the truth, tells how
he saved the life of the infant, and gave it into the keeping
of the herdsman of Polybus, the evil-starred OEdipus exclaims,
in agony of spirit:
"Woe! woe! woe! all cometh clear at last.
O light! may this my last glance be on thee,
Who now am seen owing my birth to those
To whom I ought not, and with whom I ought not
In wedlock living, whom I ought not slaying."
Horrors still thicken in this terrible tragedy. Word is brought
to OEdipus that Jocasta is dead--dead by her own hand! He rushes in:
Then came a sight
Most fearful. Tearing from her robe the clasps,
All chased with gold, with which she decked herself,
He with them struck the pupils of his eyes,
With words like these--"Because they had not seen
What ills he suffered and what ills he did,
They in the dark should look, in time to come,
On those whom they ought never to have seen,
Nor know the dear ones whom he fain had known."
With such-like wails, not once or twice alone,
Raising his eyes, he smote them; and the balls,
All bleeding, stained his cheek, nor poured they forth
Gore drops slow trickling, but the purple shower
Fell fast and full, a pelting storm of blood.
The now blind and wretched OEdipus, bewailing his fate and the
evils he had so unwittingly brought upon Thebes, begs to be cast
forth with all speed from out the land.
OEdipus. Lead me away, my friends, with utmost speed
Lead me away; the foul, polluted one,
Of all men most accursed,
Most hateful to the gods.
Chorus. Ah, wretched one, alike in soul and doom,
I fain could wish that I had never known thee.
OEdipus. Ill fate be his who from the fetters freed
The child upon the hills,
And rescued me from death,
And saved me--thankless boon!
Ah! had I died but then,
Nor to my friends nor me had been such woe.
A touching picture is presented in the farewell of OEdipus, on
departing from Thebes to wander an outcast upon the earth. The
tragedy concludes with the following moral by the chorus:
Chorus. Ye men of Thebes, behold this OEdipus,
Who knew the famous riddle, and was noblest.
Whose fortune who saw not with envious glances?
And lo! in what a sea of direst trouble
He now is plunged! From hence the lesson learn ye,
To reckon no man happy till ye witness
The closing day; until he pass the border
Which Severs life from death unscathed by sorrow.
--Trans. by E. H. PLUMPTRE.
Character of the Works of Sophocles.
The character of the works of Sophocles is well described in the
following extract from an Essay on Greek Poetry, by THOMAS NOON
TALFOURD: "The great and distinguishing excellence of Sophocles
will be found in his excellent sense of the beautiful, and the
perfect harmony of all his powers. His conceptions are not on
so gigantic a scale as those of Æschylus; but in the circle which
he prescribes to himself to fill, not a place is left unadorned;
not a niche without its appropriate figure; not the smallest
ornament which is incomplete in the minutest graces. His judgment
seems absolutely perfect, for he never fails; he is always fully
master of himself and his subject; he knows the precise measure
of his own capacities; and while he never attempts a flight beyond
his reach, he never debases himself nor his art by anything beneath
"Sophocles was undoubtedly the first philosophical poet of the
ancient world. With his pure taste for the graceful he perceived,
amidst the sensible forms around him, one universal spirit of
Jove pervading all things. Virtue and justice, to his mind, did
not appear the mere creatures of convenience, or the means of
gratifying the refined selfishness of man; he saw them, having
deep root in eternity, unchanging and imperishable as their divine
author. In a single stanza he has impressed this sentiment with
a plenitude of inspiration before which the philosophy of expediency
vanishes--a passage that has neither a parallel nor equal of its
kind, that we recollect, in the whole compass of heathen poetry,
and which may be rendered thus: 'Oh for a spotless purity of
action and of speech, according to those sublime laws of right
which have the heavens for their birthplace, and God alone for
their author--which the decays of mortal nature cannot vary,
nor time cover with oblivion, for the divinity is mighty within
them and waxes not old!'"
Sophocles died in extreme old age, "without disease and without
suffering, and was mourned with such a sincerity and depth of
grief as were exhibited at the death of no other citizen of Athens."
Thrice happy Sophocles! in good old age,
Blessed as a man, and as a craftsman blessed,
He died: his many tragedies were fair,
And fair his end, nor knew be any sorrow.
Wind, gentle evergreen, to form a shade
Around the tomb where Sophocles is laid;
Sweet ivy wind thy boughs, and intertwine
With blushing roses and the clustering vine.
Thus will thy lasting leaves, with beauties hung,
Prove grateful emblems of the lays he sung,
Whose soul, exalted by the god of wit,
Among the Muses and the Graces writ.
--SIM'MIAS, the Theban.
Contemporary with Sophocles was Euripides, born in 480 B.C., the
last of the three great masters of the drama--the three being
embraced within the limits of a single century. Under Sophocles
the principal changes effected in the outward form of the drama
were the introduction of a third actor, and a consequent limitation
of the functions of the chorus. Euripides, however, changed the
mode of handling tragedy. Unlike Sophocles, who only limited
the activity of the chorus, he disconnected it from the tragic
interest of the drama by giving but little attention to the
character of its songs. He also made some other changes; and,
as one writer expresses it, his innovations "disintegrated the
drama by destroying its artistic unity." But although perhaps
inferior, in all artistic point of view, to his predecessors,
the genius of Euripides supplied a want that they did not meet.
Although his plays are all connected with the history and mythology
of Greece, in them rhetoric is more prominent than in the plays
of either Æschylus or Sophocles; the legendary characters assume
more the garb of humanity; the tender sentiments--love, pity,
compassion--are invoked to a greater degree, and an air of exquisite
delicacy and refinement embellishes the whole. These were the
qualities in the plays of Euripides that endeared him to the
Greeks of succeeding ages, and that gave to his works such an
influence on the Roman and modern drama.
Of Euripides MR. SYMONDS remarks: "His lasting title to fame
consists in his having dealt with the deeper problems of life
in a spirit which became permanent among the Greeks, so that
his poems never lost their value as expressions of current
philosophy. Nothing strikes the student of later Greek literature
more strongly than this prolongation of the Euripidean tone of
thought and feeling. In the decline of tragic poetry the literary
sceptre was transferred to comedy; and the comic playwrights may
be described as the true successors of Euripides. The dialectic
method, which he affected, was indeed dropped, and a more
harmonious form of art than the Euripidean was created for comedy
by Menan'der, when the Athenians, after passing through their
disputatious period, had settled down into a tranquil acceptation
of the facts of life. Yet this return to harmony of form and
purity of perception did not abate the influence of Euripides.
Here and there throughout his tragedies he had said, and well
said, what the Greeks were bound to think and feel upon important
matters; and his sensitive, susceptible temperament repeated
itself over and over again among his literary successors. The
exclamation of Phile'mon that, if he could believe in immortality,
he would hang himself to see Euripides, is characteristic not
only of Philemon, but also of the whole Macedonian period of
Greek literature." [Footnote: "The Greek Poets." Second Series,
Euripides wrote about seventy-five plays, of which eighteen have
come down to us. The Me-de'a, which is thought to be his best
piece, is occupied with the circumstances of the vengeance taken
by Medea on the ungrateful Jason, the hero of the Argonautic
expedition, for whom she had sacrificed all, and who, after his
return, abandoned her for a royal Corinthian bride. [Footnote:
See Argonautic Expedition, p. 81.] But the most touching of the
plays of Euripides is the Alces'tis, founded on the fable of
Alcestis dying for her husband, Adme'tus. MILTON thus alludes
to the story, in his sonnet on his deceased wife:
Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me, like Alcestis, from the grave,
Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
Rescued from death by force, though pale and faint.
The substance of the story is as follows:
Admetus, King of Phe'ræ, in Thessaly, married Alcestis, who became
noted for her conjugal virtues. Apollo, when banished from heaven,
received so kind treatment from Admetus that he induced the Fates
to prolong the latter's life beyond the ordinary limit, on
condition that one of his own family should die in his stead.
Alcestis at once consented to die for her husband, and when the
appointed time came she heroically and composedly gave herself
to death. Soon after her departure, however, the hero Hercules
visited Admetus, and, pained with the profound grief of the
household, he rescued Alcestis from the grim tyrant Death and
restored her to her family. The whole play abounds in touching
scenes and descriptions; and the best modern critics concede that
there is no female character in either Æschylus or Sophocles,
not even excepting Antig'one, that is so great and noble, and
at the same time so purely tender and womanly, as Alcestis.
"Where has either Greek or modern literature," says MAHAFFY,
"produced a nobler ideal than the Alcestis of Euripides? Devoted
to her husband and children, beloved and happy in her palace,
she sacrifices her life calmly and resignedly--a life which is
not encompassed with afflictions, but of all the worth that life
can be, and of all the usefulness which makes it precious to
noble natures." [Footnote: "Social Life in Greece, p. 189.] We
give the following short extract from the poet's account of the
preparations made by Alcestis for her approaching end:
Alcestis Preparing for Death.
When she knew
The destined day was come, in fountain water
She bathed her lily-tinctured limbs, then took
From her rich chests, of odorous cedar formed,
A splendid robe, and her most radiant dress.
Thus gorgeously arrayed, she stood before
The hallowed flames, and thus addressed her prayer:
"O queen, I go to the infernal shades;
Yet, ere I go, with reverence let me breathe
My last request: protect my orphan children;
Make my son happy with the wife he loves,
And wed my daughter to a noble husband;
Nor let them, like their mother, to the tomb
Untimely sink, but in their native land
Be blessed through lengthened life to honored age."
Then to each altar in the royal house
She went, and crowned it, and addressed her vows,
Plucking the myrtle bough: nor tear, nor sigh
Came from her; neither did the approaching ill
Change the fresh beauties of her vermeil cheek.
Her chamber then she visits, and her bed;
There her tears flowed, and thus she spoke: "O bed
To which my wedded lord, for whom I die,
Led me a virgin bride, farewell! to thee
No blame do I impute, for me alone
Hast thou destroyed: disdaining to betray
Thee, and my lord, I die: to thee shall come
Some other woman, not more chaste, perchance
More happy." As she lay she kissed the couch,
And bathed it with a flood of tears: that passed,
She left her chamber, then returned, and oft
She left it, oft returned, and on the couch
Fondly, each time she entered, cast herself.
Her children, as they hung upon her robes,
Weeping, she raised, and clasped them to her breast
Each after each, as now about to die.
--Trans. by POTTER.
Euripides died in the year 406 B.C., in Macedon, to which country
he had been compelled to go on account of domestic troubles;
and the then king, Archela'us honored his remains with a sumptuous
funeral, and erected a monument over them.
Divine Euripides, this tomb we see
So fair is not a monument for thee,
So much as thou for it; since all will own
That thy immortal fame adorns the stone.
We have now observed the transitions through which Grecian tragedy
passed in the hands of its three great masters, Æschylus, Sophocles,
and Euripides. As GROTE says, "The differences between these
three poets are doubtless referable to the working of Athenian
politics and Athenian philosophy on the minds of the two latter.
In Sophocles we may trace the companion of Herodotus; in Euripides
the hearer of Anaxag'oras, Socrates, and Prod'icus; in both,
the familiarity with that wide-spread popularity of speech, and
real, serious debate of politicians and competitors before the
dikastery, which both had ever before their eyes, but which the
genius of Sophocles knew how to keep in subordination to his
grand poetical purpose." To properly estimate the influence which
the tragedies exerted upon the Athenians, we must remember that
a large number of them was presented on the stage every year;
that it was rare to repeat anyone of them; that the theatre of
Bacchus, in which they were represented, accommodated thirty
thousand persons; that, as religious observances, they formed
part of the civil establishment; and that admission to them was
virtually free to every Athenian citizen. Taking these things
into consideration, GROTE adds: "If we conceive of the entire
population of a large city listening almost daily to those
immortal compositions whose beauty first stamped tragedy as a
separate department of poetry, we shall be satisfied that such
powerful poetic influences were never brought to act upon any
other people; and that the tastes, the sentiments, and the
intellectual standard of the Athenians must have been sensibly
improved and exalted by such lessons." [Footnote: "History of
Greece," Chap, lxvii.]
Another marked feature of Athenian life, and one but little less
influential than tragedy in its effects upon the Athenian character,
was comedy. It had its origin, as we have seen, in the vintage
festivals of Bacchus, where the wild songs of the participants
were frequently interspersed with coarse witticisms against the
spectators. Like tragedy, it was a Dorian invention, and Sicily
seems to have early become the seat of the comic writers.
Epichar'mus, a Dorian poet and philosopher, was the first of
these to put the Bacchic songs and dances into dramatic form.
The place of his nativity is uncertain, but he passed the greater
part of his life at Syracuse, in the society of the greatest
literary men of the age, and there he is supposed to have written
his comedies some years prior to the Persian war. It seems, however,
that comedy was introduced into Attica by Susa'rion, a native
of Meg'ara, long before the time of Epichar'mus (578 B.C.). But
the former's plays were so largely made up of rude and abusive
personalities that they were not tolerated by the Pisistrati'dæ,
and for over a century we bear nothing farther of comedy in
Attica--not until it was revived by Chion'ides, about 488 B.C.,
or, according to some authorities, twenty years later.
Under the contemporaries or successors of Chionides comedy became
an important agent in the political warfare of Athens, although
it was frequently the subject of prohibitory or restrictive legal
enactments. "Only a nation," says a recent writer, "in the plenitude
of self-contentment, conscious of vigor, and satisfied with its
own energy, could have tolerated the kind of censorship the comic
poets dared to exercise."
Characterization of the Old Comedy.
In the preliminary discourse to his translation of the Comedies
of Aristophanes, MR. THOMAS MITCHELL, an English critic of note,
makes these observations upon the character of the Old Comedy:
"The Old Comedy, as it is called, in contradistinction to what
was afterward named the Middle and the New, stood in the extreme
relation of contrariety and parody to the tragedy of the Greeks
--it was directed chiefly to the lower orders of society at Athens;
it served in some measure the purposes of the modern journal, in
which public measures and the topics of the day might be fully
discussed; and in consequence the dramatis personæ were generally
the poet's own contemporaries, speaking in their own names and
acting in masks, which, as they bore only a caricature resemblance
of their own faces, showed that the poet, in his observations,
did not mean to be taken literally. Like tragedy, comedy
constituted part of a religious ceremony; and the character of
the deity to whom it was more particularly dedicated was stamped
at times pretty visibly upon the work which was composed in his
honor. The Dionysian festivals were the great carnivals of
antiquity--they celebrated the returns of vernal festivity or
the joyous vintage, and were in consequence the great holidays
of Athens--the seasons of universal relaxation.
"The comic poet was the high-priest of the festival; and if the
orgies of his divinity (the god of wine) sometimes demanded a
style of poetry which a Father of our Church probably had in
his eye when he called all poetry the devil's wine, the organ
of their utterance (however strange it may seem to us) no doubt
considered himself as perfectly absolved from the censure which
we should bestow on such productions: in his compositions he
was discharging the same pious office as the painter, whose duty
it was to fill the temples of the same deity with pictures which
our imaginations would consider equally ill-suited to the
habitations of divinity. What religion therefore forbids among
us, the religion of the Greeks did not merely tolerate but enjoin.
Nor was the extreme and even profane gayety of the comedy without
its excuse. To unite extravagant mirth with a solemn seriousness
was enjoined by law, even in the sacred festival of Ceres.
"While the philosophers, therefore, querulously maintained that
man was the joke and plaything of the gods, the comic poet reversed
the picture, and made the gods the playthings of men; in his hands,
indeed, everything was upon the broad grin: the gods laughed,
men laughed, and animals laughed. Nature was considered as a
sort of fantastic being, with a turn for the humorous; and the
world was treated as a sort of extended jest-book, where the
poet pointed out the bon-mots [Footnote: French; pronounced
bong-mos.] and acted in some degree as corrector of the Press.
If he discharged this office sometimes in the sarcastic spirit
of a Mephistopheles, this, too, was considered as part of his
functions. He was the Ter'roe Fil'ius [Footnote: Terroe Filius,
son of the earth; that is, a human being.] of the day; and
lenity would have been considered, not as an act of discretion,
but as a cowardly dereliction of duty."
It was in the time of Pericles that the comedy just described
first dealt with men and subjects under their real names; and
in one of the plays of Crati'nus--under whom comedy received
its full development--Cimon is highly eulogized, and his rival,
Pericles, is bitterly derided. With unmeasured and unsparing
license comedy attacked, under the veil of satire, not only all
that was really ludicrous or base, but often cast scorn and derision
on that which was innocent, or even meritorious. For the reason
that the comic writers were so indiscriminate in their attacks,
frequently making transcendent genius and noble personality, as
well as demagogism and personal vice, the butt of comic scorn;
their writings have but little historical value except in the
few instances in which they are corroborated by higher authority.
Among the contemporaries of Cratinus were Eu'polis and Aristophanes,
the latter of whom became the chief of what is known as the Old
Attic Comedy. Of his life little is known; but he was a member
of the conservative or aristocratic party at Athens, directing
his attacks chiefly against the democratic or popular party of
Pericles, and continuing to write comedies until about 392 B.C.
While his comedies are replete with coarse wit, they are wonderfully
brilliant, and contain much, also, that is pure and beautiful.
As a late writer has well said, "Beauty and deformity came to
him with equal abundance, and his wonderful pieces are made up
of all that is low and all that is pure and lovely."
The Muses, seeking for a shrine
Whose glories ne'er should cease,
Found, as they strayed, the soul divine
--PLATO, trans. by MERIVALE.
MR. GROTE characterizes the comedies of Aristophanes as follows:
"Never probably will the full and unshackled force of comedy be
so exhibited again. Without having Aristophanes actually before
us it would have been impossible to imagine the unmeasured and
unsparing license of attack assumed by the old comedy upon the
gods, the institutions, the politicians, philosophers, poets,
private citizens, specially named--and even the women, whose life
was entirely domestic--of Athens. With this universal liberty
in respect of subject there is combined a poignancy of derision
and satire, a fecundity of imagination and variety of turns, and
a richness of poetical expression such as cannot be surpassed,
and such as fully explains the admiration expressed for him by
the philosopher Plato, who in other respects must have regarded
him with unquestionable disapprobation. His comedies are popular
in the largest sense of the word, addressed to the entire body
of male citizens on a day consecrated to festivity, and providing
for their amusement or derision, with a sort of drunken abundance,
out of all persons or things standing in any way prominent before
the public eye." [Footnote: "History or Greece," Chap. lxvii.]
In his introduction to the Dialogues of Plato, REV. WILLIAM SEWELL,
an English clergyman and author, observes that "Men smile when
they hear the anecdote of Chrys'ostom, one of the most venerable
fathers of the Church, who never went to bed without something
from Aristophanes under his pillow." He adds: "But the noble
tone of morals, the elevated taste, the sound political wisdom,
the boldness and acuteness of the satire, the grand object, which
is seen throughout, of correcting the follies of the day, and
improving the condition of his country--all these are features