Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

philosophical view, will be often surprized at the scoffs, the sarcasms, and impieties which were thrown into the strange mixture.

But whatever liberties the tragic or the comic stage might take with the exterior religion of the country, (and take with impunity,) there was an interior religion, which the Greek, with his usual love of contrast, guarded with the most susceptible jealousy, and with which neither dramatist nor philosopher dared to meddle. The scholar will readily perceive that we allude to the Eleusinian Mysteries, and to a subordinate branch of ancient superstition, the Hermaic worship.

How the name of Alcibiades became implicated with a real or supposed profanation of these mysteries, the interesting moment at which the implication took place, and the consequences k had upon the fortunes of that extraordinary man, whose united talents, courage, virtues and vices constitute him an Athenian Dcmus in miniature, the most superficial reader of ancient history need scarcely be reminded. The person, however, who played the most important, though the least notorious part in this transaction, was the orator Andocides. Though the least guilty of the party, Andocides only escaped with his life to become an exile; and for forty years he had to know the bitterest of human miseries,— the salt savour which there is in the bread of strangers; and that hardness of path which the feet experience, when other men's stairs are to be perpetually climbed and descended.*

That important political compact, which meets us so continually in the later orators of Greece, at length gave Andocides the power of returning to his still beloved country, and for three years he was allowed to live unmolested, performing not only the ordinary but even the most sacred functions at Athens, and finding in this exercise of his natural talents some compensation for the sorrows and fatigues which he had undergone. But misfortune only slumbered with Andocides. Circumstances, which it is unnecessary to explain, brought him under the displeasure of Callias, one of those monsters of profligacy, who occasionally meet us in Grecian history, and in whom vice appears the more hideous, because it here mixed itself with one of the most sacred of ancient functions—the high priesthood of Ceres. In the face, therefore, of all existing compacts, it was determined to bring Andocides again to trial for an offence in which he had originally been implicated more from youthful imprudence, than design, and for which he had already paid so heavy a penalty. And the gold of Callias found him proper abettors for his guilty purpose;—Ce

* Tu provcrai, si come sa di sale
Lo pane altrui, e com' e duro calle
Lo scendere e' I salir per l'altroi scale.—Dante.

phisius, phisius, formerly a farmer of public property, the profits of which he had appropriated to himself, and who was now in Athens under faith of the same treaties, which also legitimately screened Andocides from fu ther investigation; Melitus, who had been employed by the Thirty tyrants to seize the virtuous Leon, and who, but for the interposition of the same treaties, was liable to an action for murder; and Epichares, who, besides the most infamous private vices, had borne office under the Thirty, and who was consequently, by the old laws of the democracy, at the mercy of every one, to assassinate where, and when, and how he pleased.

Whatever other advantages these associates might possess, the force of moral character, it is evident, was not among them; and accordingly the powerful aid of Lysias was called in to give strength to the accusation, and to rebut recrimination. The first he accomplished with his usual eloquence; the second he had the wisdom or the honesty (but the former is most in his character) to decline. From the terms which he uses when anticipating recrimination, it is pretty evident that he thought the most prudent course was silence. The opening of this powerful speech is lost; but enough of it remains to put it in perfect comparison with that of Andocides. »

Forty years, as we have seen, had elapsed, since the commission of the imputed crime; but Lysias, like his other great compeers, possessed that power of oratory which forces time to disappear, and makes the things that are not, seem like things that are. The case, he knew, was a rotten one; and the whole speech, therefore, consists of an appeal to the feelings. To those who had profaned the Mysteries, it was supposed by the superstitious Greeks, that the elementary sustenance of life became polluted, and that the sin of the soul met its retribution in strange smells and depravities of the senses: and this opinion, with all the popular stories attached to it, the orator takes care to recal to his audience at the very outset. Then passing rapidly to certain unwritten, as well as written laws, by which judicial decision might be guided, he endeavours, by every artifice of oratory, that his hints and insinuations on this head shall not lose their effect. As his appetite for blood rises, he argues upon a lie, and a supposed confession of guilt, which Andocides had never made; and adduces as a mark of extreme impudence, what any unprejudiced person would consider as a proof of confidence and innocence. The travels to which necessity had subjected the wretched exile, are sometimes imputed to him as an ostentation of impiety, and sometimes as proofs of the divine vengeance by the miseries to which they subjected him. If ever a suspicion crosses the blood-thirsty pleader that his victim will escape him, he hangs over his head the eternal

memory memory of the gods, and comforts himself with the reflection^ that the sins of the father are sometimes visited upon the children, and that though Andocides may escape an earthly tribunal, the vengeance of heaven was yet in store for his guilt. We hasten through a speech glowing with all the fire of oratory to its conclusion. Having treated all the public contracts, which might stand in the way of retribution, with that sophistry or levity which this advocate of democracy usually displayed on such occasions;* and wakened the feelings of self-interest in his audience by declaring (what he knew to be a falsehood) that Andocides had never served the city as a soldier, had made no contribution in money, had brought the people no com, the pleader makes his strongest attack in his peroration. He throws himself at once upon the imaginations of his hearers; he calls upon the mind and the mind's eye to accompany him, while he dresses up Andocides in his sacerdotal robe, follows him into the very act of profanation, and mimics the form of attitude and voice with which he spoke ' the unutterable words.' The rest of the mummery is not forgotten. Once more the priests are swept across the stage in long procession, and the priestesses accompany them: they turn towards the setting sun, they shake their purple robes, and in the chaunt prescribed by law, and ancient rite, they devote this guilty wretch to misery and woe. At this distant age, when these customs have lost their effect, it is scarcely possible to read them without emotion—on Athenian susceptibility they had the influence of magic. A cold shudder ran through the court, the hairs of the audience stood erect; and the speaker had prepared them with the imprecations usual on such occurrences, and which he no doubt expected to find re-echoed to his ears—' the curse be upon him,' * let there be sin-offerings and expiations'—' away with such a wretch from the face of the earth!'

Had the defendant been a common person, the effect of this eloquence would have been to him inevitable death; but Lysias had a master in his own art to deal with; and we shall give at once the best idea of Andocides' skill as an orator by saying that on this occasion he took care to display no oratory at all. He had a simple tale wherewith to put down the accusation, and living witnesses were yet at hand to confirm his allegations; and in such a case the orator knows that the less there is of rhetorical flourish the better. In the speech of Lycurgus, which we last analysed, the circumstances are comparatively nothing, and the eloquence every thing: in the present case eloquence was almost unneces

* Contra Agoratum 507. contra Nicomachum 846. de Evandro 800. de Affectati Tyrannide 77T. 784.

sary, sary, for die whole interest lay iu the circumstances, and it was merely necessary to tell them simply and without pretension to command attention. And Andocides did so. No person, who wishes to make himself acquainted with ancient oratory, will leave this speech unread; and we may, perhaps, take a future opportunity of entering more fully into its contents. As concerns the orator in his private capacity, it is a most interesting tale, told in the most interesting manner; as it relates to public life, it is a deep tragedy, conceived in the two great sources of tragedy, pity and terror. Opposed by its very quietness to the vehemence of Lysias, it contrasts as strongly with the vigour displayed by Andocides, iu die oratory of his more youthful days. In the speech de Pace, (and only three specimens of the eloquence of Andocides have reached us,) there is every proof of sprightliness and life: in the two speeches on the Mysteries, the ' wiser and the sadder man' discovers himself at every turn. Both the speeches convey a most favourable impression of the defendant's liberal and generous mode of thinking; while the accuser himself is left in the guilt of corruption, cruelty, and perjury; in shocking profanity, and in incest of so complicated a form, that, of three wives possessed by Callias, his offspring, a boy, stood in the relations of son to the one, brother to the second, and uncle to the third!

Some of the most important subjects, which legal oratory could embrace, have now come successively under our notice, and specimens of the art have been produced, with which, to use the gendest terms, it would certainly be an effort of modern oratory to compete. We now come upon a branch, where the modern may undoubtedly claim the superiority; and those, who are versed in the eloquence of the English bar, will anticipate the branch to which we allude, viz. to that which connects itself with ' the sense of home' and ' the religion of the hearth.' Age has not yet so chilled our blood, that we profess to behold beauty with absolute indifference; but we are at least at that mature time of life, when, to borrow the passionate but somewhat frothy eloquence of Curran, woman appears in her greatest value, ' as she sits basking in a husband's love, with the blessing of heaven on her head and its purity iu her heart; when she sits among her family, and administers the morality of the paternal board.' If ever, however, she descended with less criminality from this high estate in one country more than another, that country was Greece. There is something peculiarly sad and revolting, according to the most philosophic of modern travellers, in those scenes of animated nature, where man is nothing. There is something still more revolting, the philosophic traveller might have learned, and that is, those scenes of animated nature, where man is every thing,

and and woman nothing. And such was the case in republican Athens. Women were literally the serfs of the family inheritance, whether that inheritance consisted in land or money. They Were made, with other property, a subject of # testamentary bequest; and whatever other delights heirship might convey to an Athenian lady, freedom of person or inclination was not in the number: single or wedded, she became, by the mere acquisition of property, at the mercy of the nearest male relation in succession: she could be brought from the dull solitude of the gynecaeilm to become an unwilling bride, or she could be torn from the object of her wedded affection, to form new ties with perhaps the most disagreeable of mankind. And if under any of these circumstances, nature became more powerful than virtue, life Was the penalty paid for the transgression; for adultery was met in Greece not by words, but deeds: the law put into the hands of the injured party the vengeance of his own dishonour, and it was only on some supposition of extra violence in the proceeding, that the law took cognizance of what was done. To some such supposition we owe the only speech now to be found among the Greek orators, which enters into the tenderest of domestic arrangements; and for this speech we are indebted to the pen of Lysias.

This orator has come before us so often and in such a variety. of capacities, that before we treat of the speech, a few words may not be misplaced respecting the speaker himself. He was the son of that old man, whose head peeps out of the ' Republic' of Plato with such an interesting effect; touched but not stricken by years, soft, venerable, mellow; and with that high polish of age about it, which is almost equivalent to the graces of youth. A Syracusan by birth, but a resident in Athens by choice, the wealth of Cephalus enabled him to improve the natural talents of his son by the most expensive of educations. We have no time to follow the son or parent farther: circumstances threw the former into tile democratical party, and the sufferings to which this addiction subjected both his feelings and his fortune from the adverse party, are detailed at lehgth in onei* of the most powerful and affecting of his orations. According to Plutarch, Lysias wrote no less than 425 speeches; persons with a less exaggerated way of talking than the worthy Boeotian have reduced the number to 230; and all these pleadings, with four or five exceptions, are said to have been successful. If we look to the jealous disposition of an Athenian audience, who would have dipt an angel's

* Demosth. 1. Orat. contra Aphobum. Id. contr. Stephanum, Orat. 1. f Contra Eratostlienem.

wings,

« AnteriorContinuar »