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TRAGIC AUTHORS OF A FORMER EPOCH.
accompanied him with his voice. Among the Greeks, in better times, the tragic singing, and the accompanying rhythmical gestures, were so simple, that a single person was able to do at the same time ample justice to both. The Romans, however, it would seem, preferred separate excellence to harmonious unity. Hence arose, at an after period, their fondness for pantomime, of which the art was carried to the greatest perfection in the time of Augustus. From the names of the most celebrated of the performers, Pylades, Bathyllus, &c., it would appear that it was Greeks that practised this mute eloquence in Rome; and the lyric pieces which were expressed by their dances were also delivered in Greek. Lastly, Roscias frequently played without a mask, and in this respect probably he did not stand alone; but, as far as we know, there never was any instance of it among the Greeks. The alteration in question might be favourable to the more brilliant display of his own skill, and the Romans, who were pleased with it, showed here also that they had a higher relish for the disproportionate and prominent talents of a virtuoso, than for the harmonious impression of a work of art considered as a whole.
In the tragic literature of the Romans, two epochs are to be distinguished: the first that of Livius Andronicus, Nævius, Ennius, and aiso Pacuvius and Attius, who both flourished somewhat later than Plautus and Terence; and the second, the refined epoch of the Augustan age. The former produced none but translators and remodellers of Greek works, but it is probable that they succeeded better in Tragedy than in Comedy. Elevation of expression is usually somewhat awkward in a language as yet imperfectly cultivated, but still its height may be attained by perseverance; but to hit off the negligent grace of social wit requires natural humour and refinement. Here, however, (as well as in the case of Plautus and Terence,) we do not possess a single fragment of any work whose Greek original is extant, to enable us to judge of the accuracy and general felicity of the copy; but a speech of considerable length from Attius' Prometheus Unbound, is in no respect unworthy of Æschylus, and the versification, also, is much more careful* than that of the Latin
* In what metres could these tragedians have translated the Greek choral odes ? Horace declares the imitation, in Latin, of Pindar, whose lyrical
THE AUGUSTAN AGE-ASINIUS POLLIO.
comic writers generally. This earlier style was carried to perfection by Pacuvius and Attius, whose pieces alone kept their place on the stage, and seem to have had many admirers down to the times of Cicero, and even still later. Horace directs his jealous criticism against these, as well as all the other old poets.
It was the ambition of the contemporaries of Augustus, to measure their powers with the Greeks in a more original manner; but their labours were not attended with equal success in every department. The number of amateurs who attempted to shine in Tragedy was particularly great; and works of this kind by the Emperor himself even are mentioned. Hence there is much in favour of the conjecture that Horace wrote his epistle to the Pisos, chiefly with the view of deterring these young men from so dangerous a career, being, in ali probability, infected by the universal passion, without possessing the requisite talents. One of the inost renowned tragic poets of this age was the famous Asinius Pollio, a man of a violently impassioned disposition, as Pliny informs us, and who was fond of whatever bore the same character in works of fine art. It was he who brought with him from Rhodes, and erected at Rome, the well-known group of the Farnese Bull. If his tragedies bore the same relation to those of Sophocles, which this bold, wild, but somewhat overwrought group does to the calm sublimity of the Niobe, we have every reason to regret their loss. But Pollio's political influence might easily blind his contemporaries to the true value of his poetical labours. Ovid, who trierl so many departments of poetry, also attempted Tragedy, ani? was the author of a vedea. To judge from the wordy anı! commonplace displays of passion in his Heroides, we might expect from him, in Tragedy, at most, a caricature of Euripides. Quinctilian, however, asserts that he proved here, for once, what he might have done, had he chosen to restrain
productions bear great resemblance to those of Tragedy, altogether impracticable. Probably they never ventured into the labyrinths of the choral strophes, which were neither calculated for the language nor for the ear of the Romans. Beyond the anapest, the tragedies of Seneca never ascend higher than a sapphic or choriambic verse, which, when monotonously repeated, is very disagreeable to the ear.
THE ROMAN AND GREEK RELIGION.
nimself instead of yielding to his natural propensity to diffuse
This, and all the other tragic attempts of the Augustan age, have perished. We cannot estimate with certainty the magnitude of the loss which we have here suffered, but from all appearances it is not extraordinarily great.–First of all the Grecian Tragedy had in Rome to struggle with all the disadvantages of a plant removed to a foreign soil; the Roman religion was in some degree akin to that of the Greeks, (though by no means so completely identical with it as many people suppose,) but at all events the heroic mythology of Greece was first introduced into Rome by the poets, and was in no wise interwoven with the national recollections, as was the case in so many ways with those of Greece. The ideal of a genuine Roman Tragedy floats before me dimly indeed, and in the background of ages, and with all the indistinctness which must surround an entity, which never issued out of the womb of possibility into reality. It would be altogether different in form and significance from that of the Greeks, and, in the old Roman sense, religious and patriotic. All truly creative poetry must proceed from the inward life of a people, and from religion, the root of that life. The spirit of the Roman religion was however originally, and before the substance of it was sacrificed to foreign ornament, quite different from that of the Grecian. The latter was yielding and flexible to the hand of art, the former immutable beneath the rigorous jealousy of priestcraft
. The Roman faith, and the customs founded on it, were more serious, more moral, and pious, displaying more insight into nature, and more magical and mysterious, than the Greek religion, at least than that part of it which was extrinsecal to the mysteries. As the Greek Tragedy represented the struggle of the free man with des tiny, a true Roman Tragedy would exhibit the subjection of human motives to the holy and bindling force of religion, and its visible presence in all earthly things. But this spirit had been long extinct, before the want of a cultivated poetry was first felt by them. The Patricians, originally an Etruscan sacerdotal school, bad become mere secular statesmen and warriors, who regarded their bereditary priesthood in no other light than that of a political form. Their sacred bocks, their Vedas, were become unintelligible to them, not so much
CHARACTER OF THE ROMANS.
from obsoleteness of character, as because they no longer possessed the higher knowledge which was the key to that sanctuary. Wbat the heroic tales of the Latins might have become under an earlier development, as well as their peculiar colouring, we may still see, from some traces in Virgil, Propertius, and Ovid, although even these poets did but handle them as matters of antiquity.
Moreover, desirous as the Romans were of becoming thorough L Hellenists, they wanted for it that milder humanity which is so distinctly traceable in Grecian history, poetry, and art, even in the time of Homer. From the most austere virtue, which buried every personal inclination, as Curtius did his life, in the bosom of father-land, they passed with fearful rapidity to a state of corruption, by avarice and luxury, equally without example. Never in their character did they belie the legend that their first founder was suckled, not at the breast of woman, but of a ravening she-wolf. They were the tragedians of the world's history, who exhibited inany a deep tragedy of kings led in chains and pining in dungeons; they were the iron necessity of all other nations; universal destroyers for the sake of raising at last, out of the ruins, the mausoleum of their own dignity and freedom, in the midst of the monotonous solitude of an obsequious world. To them it was not given to excite emotion by the tempered accents of mental suffering, and to touch with a light and delicate hand every note in the scale of feeling. They naturally sought also in Tragedy, by overleaping all intervening gradations, to reach at once the extreme, whether in the stoicism of heroic fortitude, or in the monstrous fury of criminal desire. Of all their ancient greatness nothing remained to them but the contempt of pain and death whenever an extravagant enjoyment of life must finally be exchanged for them. This seal, therefore, of their former grandeur they accordingly impressed on their tragic heroes with a self-satisfied and ostentatious profusion.
Finally, even in the age of cultivated literature, the dramatic poets were still in want of a poetical public among a people fond, even to a degree of madness, of shows and spectacles. In the triumphal processions, the fights of gladiators, and of wild beasts, all the magnificence of the worid, all the wonders of every clime, were brought before the eye of the
THE SENECA TRAGEDIES-MEDEA.
spectator, who was glutted with the most violent scenes of blood. On nerves so steeled what effect could the more refined gradations of tragic pathos produce? It was the ambition of the powerful to exhibit to the people in one day, on stages erected for the purpose, and immediately afterwards destroyed, the enormous spoils of foreign or civil war. The relation which Pliny gives of the architectural decoration of the stage erected by Scaurus, borders on the incredible. When magnificence could be carried no farther, they endeavoured to surprise by the novelty of mechanical contrivances. Thus, a Roman, at his father's funeral solemnity, caused two theatres to be constructed, with their backs resting against each other, and made moveable on a single pivot, so that at the end of the play. they were wheeled round with all the spectators within them, and formed into one circus, in which gladiator combats were exhibited. In the gratification of the eye that of the ear was altogether lost; rope-dancers and white elephants were preferred to every kind of dran tertainment; the embroidered purple robe of the actor was applauded, as we are told by Horace, and so far was the great body of the spectators from being attentive and quiet, that be compares their noise to that of the roar of the ocean, or of a mountain forest in a storm.
Only one sample of the tragical talent of the Romans has come down to us, from which, however, it would be unjust to form a judgment of the productions of better times; l'allude to the ten tragedies which pass under Seneca's name. Their claim to this title appears very doubtful; perhaps it is founded merely on a circumstance which would lead rather to a different conclusion; that, namely, in one of them, the Octavia, Seneca himself appears among
The opinions of the learned are very much divided on the subject; some ascribe them partly to Seneca the philosopher, and partly to his father the rhetorician; others, again, assume the existence of a Seneca, a tragedian, a different person from both. It is generally allowed that the several pieces are neither all from the same hand, nor were of the same age. For the honour of the Roman taste, one would be disposed to consider them the productions of a very late period of antiquity: but Quinctilian quotes a verse from the Medea of Seneca, which is found in the play of that name in our collection, and
the dramatic personages.