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gods. At these times we meet with such a display of sublime lyric poetry, that the passages may be transplanted into tragedy without any change or alteration whatever. There is, however, this deviation from the tragic model, that there are frequently, in the same comedy, several choruses which sometimes are present together, singing in response, or at other times come on alternately and drop off, without the least general reference to each other. The most remarkable peculiarity, however, of the comic chorus is the Parabasis, an address to the spectators by the chorus, in the name, and as the representative of the poet, but having no connexion with the subject of the piece. Sometimes he enlarges on his own merits, and ridicules the pretensions of his rivals; at other times, availing himself of his right as an Athenian citizen, to speak on public affairs in every assembly of the people, he brings forward serious or ludicrous motions for the common good. The Parabasis must, strictly speaking, be considered as incongruous with the essence of dramatic representation ; for in the drama the poet should always be behind his dramatic personages, who again ought to speak and act as if they were alone, and to take no perceptible notice of the spectators. Such intermixtures, therefore, destroy all tragic impression, but to the comic tone these intentional interruptions or intermezzos are welcome, even though they be in themselves more serious than the subject of the representation, because we are at such times unwilling to submit to the constraint of a mental occupation which must perforce be kept up, for then it would assume the appearance of a task or obligation. The Parabasis may partly have owed its invention to the circumstance of the comic poets not having such ample materials as the tragic, for filling up the intervals of the action when the stage was empty, by sympathising and enthusiastic odes. But it is, moreover, consistent with the essence of the Old Comedy, where not merely the subject, but the whole manner of treating it was sportive and jocular. The unlimited dominion of mirth and fun manifests itself even in this, that the dramatic form itself is not seriously adhered to, and that its laws are often suspended; just as in a droll disguise the masquerader sometimes ventures to lay aside the mask. The practice of throwing out allusions and hints to the pit is retained even in the comedy of the present

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AIM AND OBJECT OF TRAGEDY AND COMEDY.

day, and is often found to be attended with great success, although unconditionally reprobated by many critics. I shall afterwards examine how far, and in what departments of comedy, these allusions are admissible.

To sum up in a few words the aim and object of Tragedy and Comedy, we may observe, that as Tragedy, by painful emotions, elevates us to the most dignified views of humanity, being, in the words of Plato, “ the imitation of the most beautiful and most excellent life;" Comedy, on the other hand, by its jocose and depreciatory view of all things, calls forth the most petulant hilarity.

ARISTOPHANES : HIS CHARACTER AS AN ARTIST.

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LECTURE XII.

Aristophanes His Character as an Artist-Description and Character of

his remaining Works—A Scene, translated from the Acharna, by way

of Appendix. Op the Old Comedy but one writer has come down to us, and we cannot, therefore, in forming an estimate of his merits, enforce it by a comparison with other masters. Aristophanes had many predecessors, Magnes, Cratinus, Crates, and others; he was indeed one of the latest of this school, for he outlived the Old Comedy. We have no reason, however, to believe that we witness in him its decline, as we do that of Tragedy in the case of the last tragedian; in all probability the Old Comedy was still rising in perfection, and he himself one of its most finished authors. It was very different with the Cld Comedy and with Tragedy; the latter died a natural, and the former a violent death. Tragedy ceased to exist, because that species of poetry seemed to be exhausted, because it was abandoned, and because no one was now able to rise to the pitch of its elevation. Comedy was deprived by the hand of power of that unrestrained freedom which was necessary to its existence. Horace, in a few words, informs us of this catastrophe: “After these (Thespis and Æschylus) followed the Old Comedy, not without great merit; but its freedom degenerated into licentiousness, and into a violence which deserved to be checked by law. The law was enacted, and the Chorus sunk into disgraceful silence as soon as it was deprived of the right to injure*.” Towards the end of the Peloponnesian war, when a few individuals, in violation of the constitution, had assumed the supreme authority in Athens, a law was enacted, giving every person attacked by comio

Successit vetus his comedia, non sine multâ
Laude, sed in vitium libertas excidit, et vim
Dignam lege regi : lex est accepta : chorusque
Turpiter obticuit, sublato jure nocendi.

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ARISTOPHANES : MIDDLE COMEDY-ORIGIN.

poets a remedy by law. Moreover, the introduction of real persons on the stage, or the use of such masks as bore a resemblance to their features, &c., was prohibited. This gave rise to what is called the Middle Comedy. The form still continued much the same; and the representation, if not perfectly allegorical, was nevertheless a parody. But the essence was taken away, and this species must have become insipid when it could no longer be seasoned by the salt of personal ridicule. Its whole attraction consisted in idealizing jocularly the reality that came nearest home to every one of the spectators, that is, in representing it under the light of the most preposterous perversity; and how was it possible now to lash even the general mismanagement of the state-affairs, if no offence was to be given to individuals? I cannot, therefore, agree with Horace in his opinion that the abuse gave rise to the restriction. The Old Comedy flourished together with Athenian liberty; and both were oppressed under the same circumstances, and by the same persons. So far were the calumnies of Aristophanes from having been the occasion of the death of Socrates, as, without a knowledge of history, many persons have thought proper to assert (for the Clouds were composed a great number of years before), that it was the very same revolutionary despotisnu that reduced to silence alike the sportive censure of Aristophanes, and also punished with death the graver animadversions of the incorruptible Socrates. Neither do we see that the persecuting jokes of Aristophanes were in any way detrimental to Euripides: the free people of Athens beheld alike with admiration the tragedies of the one, and their parody by the other, represented on the same stage; they allowed every variety of talent to flourish undisturbed in the enjoyment of equal rights. Never did a sovereign, for such was the Athenian people, listen more good-humouredly to the most unwelcome truths, and even allow itself to be openly laughed at. And even if the abuses in the public administration were not by these means corrected, still it was a grand point that this unsparing exposure of them was tolerated. Besides, Aristophanes always shows himself a zealous patriot; the powerful demagogues whom he attacks are the same persons that the grave Thucydides describes as so pernicious. In the midst of civil war, which destroyed for ever the prosperity of Greece, he was

ARISTOPHANES : HIS REPULSIVENESS CONSIDERED.

155

ever counselling peace, and everywhere recommended the simplicity and austerity of the ancient manners. So much for the political import of the Old Comedy.

But Aristophanes, I hear it said, was an immoral buffoon. Yes, among other things, he was that also; and we are by no means disposed to justify the man who, with such great talents, could yet sink so very low, whether it was to gratify his own coarse propensities, or from a supposed necessity of winning the favour of the populace, that he might be able to tell them bold and unpleasant truths. We know at least that he boasts of having been much more sparing than his rivals in the use of obscene jests, to gain the laughter of the mob, and of having, in this respect, carried his art to perfection. Not to be unjust towards him, we must judge of all that appears so repulsive to us, not by modern ideas, but by the opinions of his own age and nation. On certain subjects the morals of the ancients were very different from ours, and of a much freer character. This arose from the very nature of their religion, which was a real worship of Nature, and had sanctioned many public customs grossly injurious to decency. Besides, from the very retired manner in which the women lived*, while the men were almost constantly together, the

* This brings us to the consideration of the question so much agitated by antiquaries, whether the Grecian women were present at the represen. tation of plays in general, and more especially of comedies. With respert to tragedy, I think the question must be answered in the affirmative, since the story about the Eumenides of Æschylus could not have been invented with any degree of propriety, had women never visited the theatre. More. over, there is a passage in Plato (De Leg., lib. ii. p. 658, D.), in which he mentions the predilection educated women evince for tragical composition. Lastly, Julius Pollux, among the technical expressions belonging to the theatre, mentions the Greek word for a spectatress. But in the case of the old comedy, I should be inclined to think that they were not present. However, its indecency alone does not appear to be a decisive proof. Even in the religious festivals the eyes of the women must have been exposed to sights of gross indecency. But in the numerous addresses of Aristophanes to the spectators, even where he distinguishes them according to their respective ages and otherwise, we never observe any mention of spectatresses, and the poet would hardly have omitted the opportunity which this afforded him for some witticism or joke. The only passage with which I am acquainted, whence any conclusion may be drawn in favour of the presence of women, is Pax, v. 963—967. But still it remains doubtful, and I recommend it to the consideration of the critic.--AUTHOR.

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