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If the seven surviving dramas of Æschylus had followed into black night the other sixty-three, which we have lost, we should probably regard Edipus the King of Sophocles as the type of the pure drama. And, in the exquisite tenderness and nobility of soul of the Antigone and the Edipus at Colonus, Sophocles reaches a note of pathos, wherein Æschylus himself had inferior, and Shakespeare alone an equal, mastery.* So, too, in comedy, Aristophanes is the eternal type. Inexhaustible fancy, the wildest humor, the keenest wit, the subtlest eye for character, combine in him with perennial inventiveness and exquisite melody. Demagogy, Presumption, Pedantry, every phase of extravagance and affectation, pass in turns across a stage which reaches from boisterous farce to splendid lyric poetry. The Phallic license of this ungovernable jester—a license without limit and, in familiar literature, without a match—is less a
not so much in harmony with Æschylus as with Homer, he is quite at his best in the Agamemnon.
* Mr. E. D. A. Morshead has been as successful with the Edipus King of Sophocles as with the Trilogy of Æschylus. Professor Lewis Campbell's translation of Sophocles is most elegant, and, with the accuracy of a scholar, gives us something of the grace and lyric charm of Sophocles.
matter of vice or obscenity than of social, local, and even religious convention.
Greece gave us the model and eternal type of written language, not only in epic, tragic, and comic poetry, but in imaginative prose and in pure lyric. We come upon those marvellous fragments of Alcman, Alcæus, Sappho, and Tyrtæus, rescued for us by the diligent love of scholars, with the same sense of acute regret that we first see some head, trunk, or limb of the golden age of Greek sculpture unearthed from beneath a pile of rubbish. The history of mankind records few such irreparable losses as the lyrics of Greece, of which almost every line that is saved seems a faultless gem of art. It gives us a striking impression of the poetic fertility of Greece, when we remember that, from Homer to Longus, we have at least thirteen centuries of almost unbroken productive
* It is singular that of this poet, in many respects the most Shakespearean of all the ancients, some of the best translations exist. Together they undoubtedly enable us to enter into the true Aristophanic spirit. The free version of Hookham Frere is almost as good as any translation in verse of an untranslatable ancient can be. Those of Cumberland and T. Mitchell bave spirit, and the recent versions by B. B. Rogers have accuracy as well as spirit. Altogether we have an adequate rendering of some eight or nine of these masterpieces. One who will read the commentaries of Mitchell, Frere, Rogers, and the illustrations given us by Symonds and Mahaffy, will get a living idea of this, the older comedy, the most amazing avatar of the pure Attic genius.
No other literature has any continuous record so vast, nor any other language such an unbroken life.* Here, as elsewhere and so often, Mr. Symonds is an unerring guide; and they who will study with care his versions and illustrations may at least come to know how great is our loss in the disappearance of the works of which these are but the remnant and the fragments. One of the most perfect of all translations is the quaint version of the Daphnis and Chloe of Longus by old Amyot, improved by P. L. Courier. It is amongst the problems of history that this most Pagan, most Hellenic, and most romantic of pastorals was contemporary with the “City of God;" was composed at a time when Christianity had long been the official religion of Greece, when Christendom was torn into segments by rival heresies and sects, and when the warlike barbarians of the North had already plunged into chaos large portions of the Empire. The Hellenic genius of beauty, after twelve centuries of incessant energy, may be heard in this, its last song; unheeding revolutions and battles alike in thought, in society, and in life.
* Of Pindar and Theocritus we now possess prose versions as perfect, I believe, as any prose version of a poet can be. Mr. E. Myers' recent translation of Pindar, and Mr. Lang's translation of Theocritus, Bion, and Moschus, preserve for us something even of the form of the original. I am wont to look on Mr. Lang's Theocritus, in particular, as a tour-de force in translation at present without a rival, He has caught, although using prose, the music and lilt of the Greek verse. His version of the Pharmaceutria, of the Epithalamium, of the Adonis, suggests a metrical melody as plainly as does the English version of the Psalms. The excellent translation in verse by Mr. C. S. Calverley does not retain the music at all. Nor can I read patiently the verse translations of Pindar. There is no complete English version of the Poetæ Lyrici of Greece; but there are translations of some beautiful Fragments by Frere, Dean Milman, Lord Derby, J. A. Symonds (father and son), Professor Conington, and many others. Those of Milman can almost be read as poetry. The immortal Fragments of Sappho have exercised the art of a long line of translators from Catullus to Rossetti and Mr. Symonds—all, alas! in vain. The greatest recorded genius amongst women has left us those dazzling lines, which of all human poetry have been the most intensely searched, the most fondly remembered. But they remain essentially Greek; no other tongue can tell their fiery tale.
Chapman has given us Hesiod as well as Homer, and
Marlowe and Chapman a variation on Musæus. Frere has attempted to recall Theognis to life. But the metrical versions of these Greek lyrics, the most exquisitely artless, and yet the most magically graceful in the world, are little more, at the best, than scholarly exercises of a learned leisure.
Passing from Greece to Italy, there is a great poetic void. There is no Roman Homer. Such Iliad as Rome has must be sought for in Livy. The legends and lays which he built into the foundations of his resplendent story remain still traceable, just as, on the Capitol hill to this day, we see masses of peperino and red tufa, where the Tabularium serves as basement to the Renaissance Palace which Michael Angelo raised for the Senator. That great imperial race did not embody its life as a whole in any national poem. The Æneid of Virgil was the almost academic equivalent of a national epic. It bears to the Iliad some such relation as the Polyeucte of Corneille bears to the Agamemnon of Æschylus. Yet so touching are its episodes, so heroic its plan and conception, so consummate the form, so profound its influence over later generations of men, that it must forever hold a place in the eternal poetry of mankind.*
* The translation of Virgil is a problem even more perplexing than that of Homer. Glorious John treated his epic with even less regard for the original than Pope, and with far less grace and dignity. The Æneid is hardly tolerable in the racy couplets which give point to Absalom and Achitophel. Mr. Conington's attempt to turn the Æneid into the rhyme of Marmion is a sad waste of in