« PreviousContinue »
that which was at the same time presented to the ear,) we might have spoken with more confidence on what must now remain a subject full of perplexity and obscurity. As all dancing, however, among the Greeks was of the mimetic kind, whatever was the nature of the tragic dance, we may be sure that the comic dance stood in the same relation of parody to it, as the comedy itself of the ancients did to their tragedy; and to have enjoyed the mimetic movements of the cordax, or dance of comedy, we ought to have witnessed in the tragic chorus those movements, whose general name (emmeleia) implies accordance and a modulated harmony in the play of the characters. How far this mimetic province of the dance was called into action by the CHORUS of the Clouds, what steps were used in their parabases to give effect to the rhythm, what pauses in the metre were supplied by action, what gestures at once aided and gave life to the music, and in what manner the metaphysical speculations of the sophists, which, resting on no ground of experience, floated about in the kingdom of possibilities without any definite shape or body,—how far all this was ridiculed by appropriate movements and evolutions, must now be left to the fancy: we may be sure, however, that the fruitful mind of the poet who invented one of the most powerful and graceful metres* in the Greek language, would not be deficient in giving effect to his mental creations by all the effects of scenic decoration, and all the additions of costume, music, and dancing. In this union of talents, lay the great merit and difficulty of the ancient dramatists; and in this lies the depressing part of those who endeavour to give the public an idea of their works by translation. Conscious of what ought to be done, and what they know never can be done, the unfinished appearance of their labours throws a damp upon their toils, and they relinquish a work in despair, where they feel that their happiest efforts can only be a species of galvanism, giving motion to a muscle, to a leg, to an arm, but impotent and powerless to breathe the breath of life into the whole.
We have now described (somewhat more at length, we fear, than will be agreeable) what appears to us to have been the object of this very singular drama, the Clouds, and the process by which it was moulded into the form it now bears. The author might surely be pardoned for supposing that a piece thus carefully and laboriously constructed would have met with a reception, far more flattering than had attended any of his former plays.
* The Aristophanic tetrameter. In its happy mixture of anapestic and spondaic feet, this metre combines a degree of strength and playfulness which no other language can hope to reach. It is the want of a metre of this kind, which makes every scholar feel a deficiency in Mr. Cumberland's otherwise excellent translation of the Clouds.
We know, however, from his own confession, which is certainly more valid than Madame Dacier's conjectures, that this was not the case; that the prize of victory was assigned to the Wine Flask of Cratinus, (that Cratinus who collected his declining powers to shew a youthful and not altogether forbearing rival, that he could still contest the palm with him,) and to the Connus of the cold and spiritless Ameipsias. This was sufficiently mortifying; and the author, by his frequent complaints, shewed that he felt it to be so.
When we talk of a piece failing in our own country, every body knows what is meant; the taste of the writer and the taste of the audience, it is immediately understood, were at variance, and the sentiments of the latter, pretty unequivocally expressed, obliged the former to withdraw the obnoxious object from further obtrusion upon public notice. This does not altogether answer to the case of a dramatic failure among the Greeks. With them, a contributor to their scenic exhibitions had two or three distinct sets of enemies to encounter—the *archon, with whom lay the power of rejecting his piece in the first instance; the audience, to whom, after permission obtained from the ruling magistrate, it was presented; and thirdly, the critical overseers (xepitai), whose business it was, under the restrictions of a solemn oath, to decide the prize of victory, to what they thought the most distinguished of the competing pieces. The audience and the umpires, it will easily be imagined, were not always unanimous in their opinion. Which party favoured the Clouds ? If we listen to Ælian, whose testimony however stands amid such a tissue of falsehoods, that his opinion is scarcely worth a reference, the Clouds appeared so delicious to the ears of the audience, that they applauded as no audience ever applauded before; they cried out that the victory belonged to Aristophanes,tand they ordered the judges to inscribe his name accordingly. If this story be true, the fall of the piece, which consisted in not gaining the dramatic crown, must be ascribed to the presiding critics, and we should have to account why they were at variance with the audience: this, we think, would be no very
difficult task. How many the judges were on these occasions, and how they were appointed, we have no satisfactory intelligence; but that they were not always correct in their critical opinions, the well-known anecdotes of Philemon and Menander, among many others, sufficiently testify; and that this incorrectness did not always proceed from mere error in judgment, we find Aristophanes pretty clearly hinting, and Xenophon, if we remember right, very plainly declaring. Now if the judge in the
* Arist. in Ranis, v. 94. Schol. ibid. Le Jeune Anach. t. vi. p. 74. + Varia Historia, lib. ii. c. 13. p. 85.
VOL. XXI. NO. XLII.
theatre was, like the dicast in the courts of law, not inaccessible to a bribe, we may easily believe, that the sophists and their friends, among whom we must class the sons and relatives of all the richest men in Athens, and who had possessed interest enough but three or four years before to shut up the comic theatre altogether, would not be idle in taking every means to quash an opponent, who had already given proofs that he could deal blows, if not harder, at least more effective, than even those which the strong-handed Cratinus had administered. But we are inclined to disagree with Ælian, and to think that it was the audience, and not the judges, to whom must be ascribed the ill success of the piece.
There can be no doubt that the Clouds failed, and there is as little doubt that the author re-cast his piece with the intention of bringing it before the audience a second time;-that it was so brought, the acutest modern critics seem to doubt. By some curious accident, it so happens that the play originally condemned has come down to us, with * part of a parabasis (or address to the audience) evidently intended for the second. The author here complains pretty bitterly (for Aristophanes was clearly a man of warm feelings) of the injustice which had been done to this most elaborate of all his performances; but he no where hints at the judicial overseers as the occasion of its failure; on the contrary, the reproach is directed against the spectators, and from the epithet he attaches to them, we may see that it was a class of spectators not usually found in the comic theatre. The nature of the poet's subject, and the unusual labour, which he had bestowed upon the composition of it, had evidently led him to reckon upon an audience of a somewhat higher description than usual ; and as the keenest amateur of the Théâtre François sometimes deserts the sublime acting of Talma for the inimitable buffooneries of Potier and Brunet, so Aristophanes seems to have thought that he might reasonably calculate upon having for once at least the gentlemen of Athens (the xehoixaya doi) among his
arers. That they did attend, and that they assisted in the demolition of the piece with the less enlightened of the audience, is pretty clearly intimated in the poet's own words.
ταυτ' εν υμιν μεμφομαι τους σοφους, ών ένεκ' εγω ταυτ’ έπραγματευομην. In his play of the succeeding year, the Wasps, Aristophanes again complains of the failure of his Clouds, and mentions the direct
* Nr. Cumberland, who was not aware of this circumstance, has been led into some errors by it in his translation of the Clouds. The learned Madame Dacier, whose enthusiastic admiration of Aristophanes led her, if we remember right, to peruse his • Clouds' no less than two hundred times, has fallen into the same mistake,
reason of its failure, viz. a novelty of invention, which the audience had not the merit to appreciate. Had we not this direct testimony of the author, our researches would have led us to this very conclusion. The subject of the Clouds turned upon one of the most serious and important considerations in human affairs, the science of education : and what connection was there between this and the Dionysian Festival, where every one came to be amused; where he that laughed loudest was the merriest, and he that laughed longest was the wisest? Why were the Athenian rabble to be cheated of their Bacchanalian festivity, and to be passed off with a lecture, which, though conveyed through the medium of two fighting cocks, had yet something too serious in it
, to be sufficiently piquant for an Athenian audience just ripe for all the nonsense of holiday revelry? To this unfortunate choice of subject, Aristophanes added another error, viz. an unfortunate choice of time; for he selected for his representation of the Clouds that particular festival, when strangers as well as natives were admitted to the theatrical entertainments, and when of the thirty thousand spectators who were present, half, at least, were probably strangers. They would naturally ask, indeed, as we learn from Ælian* they actually did—Who is this Socrates. This is perhaps sufficient to show upon what general grounds the Clouds fell; but there are also some particular ones, which might not be without a share in its rejection. In his play of the preceding year, (the Demagogues,) Aristophanes had passed some severe sarcasms upon his countrymen for their general ingratitude to their comic poets; and though the extraordinary merit of the performance had carried the poet successfully through at the time, the Athenians, when their enthusiasm was over, were not a people likely to forget the affront, nor to let it pass with impunity. In the course of his bold and spirited remarks, the poet had further indulged a train of somewhat suspicious compliment upon his great predecessor Cratinus, not without a hint or two at the infirmities which intemperance had brought upon a man, now supposed to be past his labours. The old bard had spirit enough to resent the attack; he brought forward a comedy, called the Wine Flask, the subject of which was founded on his young rival's allusions; and to this piece, more suited in its nature and its allusions to a Bacchanalian festival than discussions upon education, the prize of victory, as we learn by the Didascalia, was adjudged. As the parabasis, referred to, throws much light upon the dramatic history of the times, we shall endeavour to relieve the dulness of our remarks by its insertion. In the commatium, or light prelude to the parabasis, as well as in the parabasis itself, and the macron or light lines at the conclusion of the parabasis, which the performer was required to pronounce without taking breath, we have endeavoured to come as near as possible to the metre of the original.
* Varia Hist. 1. ii. C. 13. p. 89.
Cleon having challenged his rival for Demus's favour to meet him before the awful bar of the senate, the CHORUS, after recommending the latter to the protection of that divinity, which, in modern times, would, under the same mythology, have presided over the Palais Royal of Paris, and the Piazza di Marco of Venice, addresses the audience in the name of the poet.
May the spirit that's in me direct thee;
To efforts and enterprize glorious ;
Of conquest and valour victorious.
For their tact and their skill are notorious.
and the tone to your drama have given,
would before this high presence have driven ; 'Tis great chance that his request, however warmly prest,
might have met with no easy compliance : But indulgent we have heard the petitions of a bard
of new mettle and noblest appliance. And well
he command aid and service at our hand ; for his hatreds and ours closely blending Into one concurring point leap, and hand and heart and joint
to the same noble object are tending. He no shade nor shelter seeks ;—what he thinks he boldly speaks ;
neither skirmish nor conflict declining, He marches all elate 'gainst that Typhon of the state
storm and hurricane and tempest combining.* When a writer at Athens had completed a dramatic work, he generally put it into the hands of one of those wealthy persons who either voluntarily undertook, or by compulsion of the law were enjoined to defray the expenses of the choral and theatrical exhibitions. This was called xopov åttely. `Aristophanes explains why he had been backward in complying with this established custom. The parabasis itself displays a feeling of ingratitude in the Athenians, which excites as much indignation, as the courage with which it is here exposed, demands applause.