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should have done so little for an author, who yields to few writers either ancient or modern in both ihese qualifications.
More than three centuries have elapsed since the first edition of Aristophanes was printed; and during that period, the continent has produced a succession of commentators on his text: the Italians have made themselves masters of him by the translation (a very miserable one, we own) of the *Rositini, and the French by that of Poinsinet, while in England we have little more than the London edition of the Plutus and the Clouds, the Oxford edition of the Knights, the Acharnenses of Mr. Elmsley, enriched with the notes of Bentley, and different translations of one or other of the four plays, which are here collected. This is the more surprising, because the scholia on Aristophanes are reckoned among the most valuable of this spe cies of writing; the poet himself too, we should think, presented a most inviting harvest to the philologist and the commentator: there were many words to be traced to their roots, many customs to be elucidated, many difficulties to be explained; various passages to be restored, dialogues which had escaped from their right owner, to be returned ; verses out of number, which required the hand of a metrical Procrustes; and an abundance of those delicious passages, at which commentators are accused of running riot. Had no specimen of the Greek comedy come down to us, there are few things, we believe, which would have excited greater regret. The scenical representations of a nation present us with so lively and exact a picture of the people themselves, that we can scarcely bę said to possess data sufficient for forming a decided opinion upon the character of any nation, unless we have the exhibitions of their stage, both serious and comic, to assist our judgment.
The eagerness with which the octavo edition of Brunck, unsatisfactory as it is, has been purchased, is a sufficient proof, that it is not from a defect of taste in this country, that the works of Aristophanes have been so much more talked of than read, and so much more read than understood. That he will ever be very generally popular here, we cannot undertake to say. When the drama of a country is poor, they are frequently content to borrow amusement from their neighbour; the Roman was for a long time diverted with Athenian customs in Roman language, and the Frenchman laughed åt Spanish phrases and habits which he scarcely understood : but when their own literature affords dramatists of the highest excellence, few people will feel much indulgence for the elementary exhibi
* The editor of Terucci's Italian translation of the Plutus and the Clouds says that the Rositini made their translation from a wretched transfusion of Aristophanes into Latin, We have no doubt that this was the case, for the translation itself is utterly unlike the original. Terucci has succeeded better, and his translation is enriched with some excellent notes.
tions of a foreign nation. This locality, which belongs so particularly to comedy and satire, must necessarily abate the relish of the unlearned reader for the writings of Aristophanes ; and after every assistance, the difficulty of the original text must prove a great bar to all but finished scholars. Comic writers are the last authors, to whom the student of a foreign language has recourse.
There is necessarily so much idiom in them, the elliptic mode of speech is so continually recurring, and the transitions are so rapid, that the mind is startled at every turn, instead of sliding with ease into the subject, and catching the little niceties of the dialogue. A maxim in ethics does not lose its force, while we are consulting Hederic or Scapula. Even the sublimer emotions, excited by the writings of Euripides and Pindar, are not so likely to evaporate, while we pause to ascertain the precise meaning of a word, or a phrase, as the lighter shades of feeling excited by comedy. To be consulting the scholiast, when we ought to be carried away by the wit and spirit of the dialogue; to be searching in Bisetus, or Geraldus, whether we may laugh by authority, soon exhausts the patience and fatigues the imagination.
There is one thing, on which we are particularly anxious to put the reader upon his guard, who is not familiar with the Grecian stage, and that is, not to come to the perusal of these plays with English feelings and English ideas about him. If he come fresh from his own drama, and expect a similar exhibition in that of the Grecian poet; if he look for intricacy of plot, for gradual developement of character, for a leading story with a subordinate one attached to it, which at the same time shall help forward the main story and form a relief to it; above all, if he look for the delineation of that universal passion, whose innumerable varieties of tenderness and gaiety, of whim and caprice, it is the delight of modem comedy to exbibit, he will find himself sorely disappointed. He will meet with characters, marked, it is true, with strong humour, but exhibiting few lights and shades ; he will find a story that has no intricacies in it; and for love-he will see but little of it indeed, and that little he will wish to have expunged. The correct refinement of modern times, the considering of love as a sentiment and not as an appetite, with all the light badinage and amiable gallantry which this feeling engenders, the dolci durezze, e placide repulse,' were unknown to the ancients. Nothing, in fact, can be conceived more gross than the old comedy as exhibited in Aristophanes and the small remains of his contemporaries, which have come down to us. The worst of things are called by the worst of names; and the meanest of our appetites and grossest of our necessities are perpetually called in to make sport for the audience, who, if we are to judge of them by those exhibitions, (and they
certainly took a singular delight in them,) can have been little beta de post al ter than semibarbarians.* The plot of the Lysistrata turns upon a proposal so gross, that we shall not insult our readers with it, and though the effects of it upon the dramatis personæ are ludicrous in the extreme, the poet deserves no indulgence for his shameless and unparalleled effrontery. The marginal references of some of our old moralities, and even mysteries, are sufficiently significant; but they are purity itself when compared with the licentiousness of the
The grossness of the comic theatre of Greece forms a singularizada contrast with the gravity, the decorum, and the sustained elegance X t shell of the tragic poets of the same period; and we can scarcely conceive it possible that the same people who had listened with the warmest enthusiasm to the wild sublimities of Æschylus and the moral pathos of Euripides, could have not only endured, but en couraged and insisted upon the buffoonery and ribaldry of the comic writers. We can ascribe this depravity of taste to no cause somuch as the little intercourse which subsisted between the two sexes, and the partial exclusion of women, that is, women of virtue, (for intender the restriction did not extend to the profligate part of the sex,) from entertainments of the theatre. Mr. Dunster has suggested, that the grossness of Aristophanes was merely an artifice, and that it served him as a sort of battery for making his assaults upon the vices of his
countrymen with more effect. True, indeed, it is, that the higher the object which he has in view, and the greater the danger of bringing it before the audience, so much the lower frequently is the ribaldry to which he descends. When by the most ridiculous buffoonery he has put his audience entirely off their guard, then it is that he suddenly strikes the deadliest blow. To the better part of his audience his admonitions might have the ludicrous appearance of a Bacchus preaching sobriety from a tub; but to the vicious no reproof coines so home as that which they hear from persons who appear to tbink as little of virtue as themselves. After all, this post is scarcely tenable; the poet seems voluntarily to wallow in his filth; and if his muse is not an absolute prostitute, she at least seems always willing to meet the public half-way.
Besides the enibarrassments to which we have alluded, the unlearned reader will be encumbered with a new set of dramatis persona, called the chorus, whom he will find possessed of a most persevering attachment to the stage, never forsaking the performers, and diving into every thought, which is within the conception and intention of the actors. To add to this seeming absurdity, he will
We must not, however, conclude too generally. It is well known that the philosophers rarely frequented the comic theatres, and their example, no doubt, was followed by the more respectable part of the citizeus.
find this exalted post allotted to creatures of a very inferior situatum, an the comic poets; to Frogs, to Wasps, to Birds, and even to Clouds. We might enlarge upon this topic; but enough, we tbunk, has been premised to make it clear that Aristophanes was not a comic poet according to our ideas of that character : he may rather be termed a writer upon criticism, ethics and politics; and unless the reader come with these impressions to the perusal of him, he is not likely to make a fair estimate of his merits, or to imbibe tat relish for his writings, which all true scholars feel.
Having endeavoured to throw some light upon the character of the dramatist, we shall add a few words on the materials from which he had to draw his comic pictures. There is no source of humour s fertile as vanity; in other words, as the affectation of pretending to be what we are not, and assuming a part for wbich we are not kted either by fortune or nature. The endless subdivisions of emplacent in modern life must, from this cause, produce a never failin succession of fit subjects for the dramatist and the satirist. But in the earlier days of Greece, when Aristophanes wrote, this plentifulcrop of pretenders did not exist. The Athenians had, it is true, like other people, their artisans, their binds, and their merchants; but the collective character of the nation was that of soldiers and statesmen. They had no stapding army, for which they paid their quota, por a militia, for which they provided substitutes : every than was in his turn a soldier. Again, the Athenians did not expes their political opinions once in seven years, and then leave them to be promulgated by the mouth of a representative; but every man was called upon continually to give his voice in the deliberatre assembly bimself. Such were the two great and leading occupations of the Athenians; upon these would all their ideas mainly wn, and to these would the productions of the stage, which always felows the public feeling, be directed. Accordingly, we find the plays of Aristophanes perpetually turning upon one or other of these topics, and more particularly upon that part of their civil juTisprudence which allotted the judicial situation to all ranks indiscriminately, and paid them a certain salary for their trouble. After the feelings more immediately connected with these pursuits, the Athenians were distinguished by a predominant passion for the amusements of the stage. The bounty of nature had bestowed upon them a triumvirate of tragic poets, whom it has been the pride of modern times to own as their masters; and a crowd of comic writers, whose wit seems to have been as powerful in exciting the gayer feelings, as the pathos and sublimity of the foriner, in raising the grander emotions. These productions were got up with all the magnificence of which the age could boast. The whole expenses of the Peloponnesian war, it is said, did not cost more than the
exhibition of three of the tragedies of Sophocles. The emulation of the writers kept pace with the generosity of the managers. Plays were not then coutracted for, as at present, by the gross ; neither was the successful candidate rewarded merely by a benefit. The applauses and distinctions, which accompanied success, were so flattering, that some of their writers expired under them. Such were the people to whom the drama of Aristophanes was submitted, and we ought to have a proper idea of his audience, in order to judge of his merits. We are apt to view the Athenians, as they did themselves, through the magnifying glasses of Marathon and Platæa; but a more odious people, as to their internal economy, never existed. They were open to the grossest flattery; they were credulous, not like Englishmen, from an unsuspecting honesty, but like Frenchmen, to whom their character is very similar, from vanity and self-conceit. They were fickle and inconstant in their tempers, melting one night into tears over the tragedies of Euripides, and the next, dying with laughter at the parodies of his incessant persecutor, Aristophanes. Of a high-wrought susceptibility, they set a fine upon Phrynicus, because his dialogue was too pathetic, and starved Anaxandrides because his invectives were too severe. Too acute to bë insensible of high talents, and too envious to allow them their due sway, they persecuted the virtue which they could not but admire, and exalted the vice, which they ridiculed and contemned: the vilest tyrants where they dared, and that was chiefly with the meritorious and the virtuous; and the meanest slaves to the bullies and blockheads, who ruled them by consulting their tempers, and administering to their favourite passions--praise of themselves and abuse of others. Such are some of the traits of the incomprehensible Athenians; the people who deserted Alcibiades, in the midst of a grave oration, to run after a bird; who erected a monument to Cratinus for his talents, and recorded nothing upon it, but that he was a drunkard; who drove Aristides into banishment, because he was just, and rewarded the children of Choriphilus with the freedom of their city, because their father sold excellent salt-fish : the people, in short, who first listened with admiration to the precepts of Socrates, then allowed him to be made a public jest, then murdered, and last of all deified him. Such, we say, were the people whose amusements, morals, and politics, Aristophanes undertook to criticise, to amend and to direct. It was a hazardous task; but of this he seems well aware. To arraign them seriously and severely was dangerous ; to bend, and crouch before them scarcely less so. Whenever, therefore, he has any important object in view--a sophist to expose--a public defaulter to arraign--a war to condemn-a peace to recomprend, he generally commences with # scene of low buffoonery, or introduces some of their great people