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no inconsiderable zeal, that the introduction of this far-sought elegance and gallantry, not only into the body of literature as a whole, but even into those departments of it where their presence is most unsuitable, has an evident tendency to make literature tame, uniform, and unmanly. It may be that there is some foundation for this complaint: the whole literature of antiquity, but particularly that of the Greeks, lies open to a reproach of an entirely opposite nature. If our literature has sometimes been too exclusively feminine, theirs was at all times uniformly and exclusively masculine, not unfrequently of a nature far more rough and unpolished than might have been expected, from the general intellectual character and refinement of the ancients.'— p. 55.
After some further remarks on the degraded state of female society in Greece, and the baneful effect it had upon Grecian literature, M. Schlegel proceeds to consider more at length the character of the extraordinary man, who has pourtrayed the manners of his own times with such singular success. The glowing mind of the critic throws a warm colouring over his author; but to those who are intimately acquainted with him in the original (and all effective transfusion must, we are persuaded, be given up as hopeless) the encomiums bestowed will not appear fanciful or extravagant.
Here, where we are treating of the decline of Grecian manners, and of the writer who has painted that decline the most powerfully and the most clearly—the consideration of this common defect of antiquity has, I imagine, been not improperly introduced. But when this imperfection has once been distinctly recognised as one the reproach of which affects in justice not the individual writers, but rather the collective character, manners, and literature of antiquity ; it were absurd to allow ourselves to be any longer so much influenced by it, as to disguise from ourselves the great qualities often found in combination with it in writings which are altogether invaluable to us, both as specimens of poetical art, and as representations of the spoken wit of a very highly refined state of society; to refuse, in one word, to perceive in Aristophanes the great poet which he really is. It is true that the species and form of his writing---if indeed that can be said with propriety to belong to any precise species or form of composition-are things to which we have no parallel in modern letters. All the peculiarities of the Old Comedy may be traced to those deifications of physical powers, which were prevalent among
the ancients. Among them, in the festivals dedicated to Bacchus and the other frolicsome deities, every sort of freedom, even the wildest ebullitions of mirth and jollity were not only permitted, but were strictly in character, and formed, in truth, the consecrated ceremonial of the season. The fancy, above all things, a power by its very nature impatient of constraint, the birthright and peculiar possession of the poet, was on these occasions permitted to attempt the most audacious heights, and revel in the wildest world of dreams, loosened for a moment from all those fetters of law, custom, and propriety, which at other times, and in other species of writing, must ever regulate its
exertion even in the hands of poets. The true poet, however, at whatever time this old privilege granted him a Saturnalian licence for the play of his fancy, was uniformly impressed with a sense of the obligation under which he lay, not only by a rich and various display of his inventive genius, but by the highest elegance of language and versification, to maintain entire his poetical dignity and descent, and to show, in the midst of all his extravagances, that he was not animated by prosaic petulance, nor personal spleen, but inspired with the genuine audacity and fearlessness of a poet. Of this there is the most perfect illustration in Aristophanes. In language and versification his excellence is not barely acknowledged—it is such as to entitle him to take his place among the first poets to whom Greece has given birth. In many passages of serious and earnest poetry, which (thanks to the boundless variety and lawless formation of the popular comedy of Athens) he has here and there introduced, Aristophanes shews himself to be a true poet, and capable, had he so chosen, of reaching the highest eminence even in the more dignified departments of his art.
* This might be abundantly sufficient, not indeed to represent Aristophanes as a fit subject of imitation, for that he can never be, but to set his merit as a poet in its true light. But if we examine into the use which he has made as a man, but more particularly as a citizen, of that liberty which was his poetical birthright, both by the manners of antiquity, and by the constitution of his country, we shall find many things which might be said still further in his vindication, and which cannot indeed fail to raise him personally in our esteem. His principal merit as a patriot consists in the fidelity with which he paints all the corruptions of the state, and in the chastisement which he inflicts on the pestilent demagogues who caused that corruption or profited by its effects. The latter duty was attended with no inconsiderable danger in a state governed by a democracy, and during a time of total anarchy; yet Aristophanes has performed it with the most fearless resolution. It is true that he pursues and parodies Euripides with unrelenting severity; but this is perfectly in character with the old spirit of merciless enmity which animated all the comic poets against the tragedians; and it is impossible not to perceive that not only the more ancient Æschylus, but even his contemporary Sophocles, is uniformly mentioned in a tone altogether different, in a temper moderate and sparing; nay, very frequently, with the profoundest feelings of admiration and respect. It forms another grievous subject of reproach against Aristophanes, that he has represented in colours so odious, Socrates, the most wise and the most virtuous of all his fellow-citizens ; it is, however, by no means improbable that this was not the effect of mere poetical wantonness; but that Aristophanes selected, without any bad intention, that first and best of illustrious names, that he might under it render the Sophists, as ridiculous as they deserved to be, and as foolish and worthless in the eyes of the people as he could make them. The poet, it is not unlikely, in his own mind, mingled and confounded, even without wishing it, this inestimable sage with his enemies the sophists, whose schools he frequented in his maturer years, solely with the view of making
himself master of that which he intended to refute and overthrow.'-pp. 57 -62.
It is on this subject of reproach against Aristophanes, on which these two distinguished brothers seem to think something ought to be said, that our own remarks will be offered. We shall take it for granted that our readers are acquainted with some of the leading differences between the scenic representations of the Greeks and
We shall suppose them to know, that the dramas of that people grew out of and formed part of their religious ceremonies
—that they were exhibited in theatres of a colossal size compared with ours—that the times of exhibition were at distant intervalsthat when those few intervals did take place, the whole day was devoted to theatrical entertainments—that a prize was conferred on the most successful competitor—and that a piece once performed, was never, in the same shape at least, represented a second time. We shall also suppose them to know something of the general principles of that peculiar part of the ancient drama, the old COMEDY, as it is called, in contradistinction to what was afterwards named the MIDDLE, and the NEW;--as that it stood in the most extreme relation of parody to the tragedy of the Greeksthat it was directed chiefly to the lower orders of society at Athens
- that it served in some measure the purposes of the modern Gazette, in which public measures and the topics of the day might be fully discussed, and that in consequence the dramatis persona 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 faces, shewed that the poet in his observations upon them did not mean to be taken literally to his expression. The extreme and even profane gaiety of the old coMEDY is not also without its excuse.—That man was the plaything of the gods, was an opinion advanced by the gravest pbilosophers ;* the comic poet reversed the picture, and made the gods the plaything of men : in his hands indeed every thing was upon the broad grin ; the gods laughed, men laughed, animals laughed: Nature was considered as a sort of fantastic being, with a turn for the humorous, and the world was treated as a species of extended jest book, where the poet pointed out the bons-mots, and acted in some degree as corrector to the press. If he discharged this office sonietimes in the sarcastic spirit of a Mephistophilus, this too was considered as a part of his functions: he was the Terræ-Filius of the day, and lenity would have been considered, not as an act of discretion, but as a cowardly dereliction of duty.
Of the species of comedy thus described, whoever was the inventor, whether * Epicharmus or Phormis, Aristophanes was the great finisher and perfecter. With an ear tuned to the nicest modulations of harmony, and with a temperament apparently most joyous, he was just fitted for the entertainment of a people, of whom Philip of Macedon, when he compared them to the Hermaict statues, so common in their streets, drew in a few words one of the most happy and characteristic descriptions. That gaiety which is so well adapted to a nation of quick natural parts, and which has so few charms for persons of cultivated minds, the gaiety which consists in painting pleasantly the dulness of the understanding (la bêtise) and in inspiring buffoonery; of that gaiety, which has been made equally the basis of Italian and Grecian comedy, Aristophanes was pre-eminently the master. Music, dancing, metre, decoration—all that union of amusement, which the Greeks, a seeing and not a reading public, (this fact cannot be too much in our minds, when we are talking of their dramatic literature) required of their writers for the stage, Aristophanes seems to have improved; the muse of Comedy herself he left as he found her--a beautiful Titania, matchless in her own proportions, but with a spell upon her affections, and showering favours, which should have been better bestowed-upon an ass's head, with Bottom, the weaver, below it. An utter aversion to every species of affectation, and a most splenetic hatred to Euripides, (derived from deeper views of things, than people have generally given the comedian credit for,) perhaps guided Aristophanes on this point. He found that poet, half-pleader and half-bard, as he contemptuously considered him,
* Plato de Leg. lib. vii. p. 633. F. lib. i. 573. C.
affecting to rescue the sister muse of tragedy from the coarse hauds I of Æschylus, under whom she had been pampered into a sort of
cumbrous ostentatious Amazon. A course of strait-lacing and cool diet was bringing her a little more into compass: her appearance had already become more genteel, and only a little more polish was necessary to fit her for the society of the Sophists, to whose schools she continually resorted for the little prettinesses, and affectations and delicacies of thought and expression, which were for ever in her mouth. A rough hand and a good course of bark and steel were necessary to repair the spreading mischief. The puns of the Peiræus,
Arist. de Poet. lib. i. xi. + Φιλιππος της Αθηναιος εικαζε τους Ερμαις, ως στομα μονον έχεσι και αιδοια μεγαλα, Stobæi Serm. Edit. Schow. iv. p. 120. See also Diog. Laert. lib. v. $ 82.
# We are apt to forget that Athens was the greatest maritime power of antiquity : but Aristophanes, a consummate politician amid all his buffoonery, knew where her real strength lay; he therefore takes every occasion of paying court to the naval part of his audience, the nautic multitude as Thucydides calls them, and advocates their rights upon all occasions. How much Plato and he were at variance upon this point, see the fourth book of his Legislation. Aristotle coincides with the poet. De Rep. l. vii. c. 6. $ 3
the proverbs of the Agora, and the coarse jokes of the Ecclesia and Heliæa were therefore diligently collected, and showered from a full cornucopia, in all their native richness and strength upon an audience who perhaps found in them a charm of which we are not susceptible. The Italians, who in the particular cast of their vivacity, approach very nearly to the Athenians, are enthusiastically attached to the low Florentine ; and many of their critics to this day think nothing written with purity, which is not formed upon the language of the lower orders of Florence of the fourteenth century. Perhaps it added to their value, in the eyes of democratical pride and vanity, that it was a man of rank and property* (for Aristophanes was both) who condescended to amuse them according to their own notions of pleasantry and humour.
Till the fatal exhibition therefore of the Clouds, the dramatic career of Aristophanes had been short, but eminently successful. His first play, (the Dætaleis,) which was brought out before the author had reached the age established by law, we know to have been received with the most flattering attention: his Babylonians' could boast the triumph of having at once excited and defeated the vengeance of that pestilent demagogue, who seems, as the historian expresses it, to have been as much born for the depression of Athens, as Miltiades, Themistocles, Cymon and Pericles for its elevation; while the prize of victory had been awarded to his comedies of the Acharnians and the Knights. Diffidence had thus been removed; exertion was stimulated; and gratitude, success, emulation and hope, all urged the writer to press forward in a career, which had commenced under such favourable auspices.
The first of the dramatic pieces of Aristophanes seems to have been directed against the state of private manners in Athens; in his Acharnians he had endeavoured to moderate the insolence of national success, and to infuse juster notions respecting a great public measure, which was putting the existence of the Athenians as a people at stake ; while in the Knights, or as we should prefer calling it, the DEMAGOGUES, a mirror was held up to his fellow-citizens, where the ruler and the ruled saw themselves reflected with equal fidelity, and by which posterity has gained a complete knowledge of the greatest historical phænomenon that ever appeared, the ATHENIAN DEMUS. It now remained for the author to strike at the root of all these evils, private and public, domestic and political,-a mischievous and most pernicious system of education. This was undoubtedly the origin and object of the Clouds; and a brief outline of the progress of knowledge among the Greeks, and more particularly of that branch of it,
* Mit. Hist, of Greece, v. iii. p. 327. Arist. in Achar. v. 653, 4.