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LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
TYPES OF GREEK CAVALRY
Cover A group from the Forman Vase in the British
Museum, 5th century B.c. SOPHOCLES
Photogravure Frontispiece From a marble bust in the British Museum. The
original, of which this is an ancient copy,
was probably of the 5th century B.c. EDIPUS AND THE SPHINX
Museo Gregoriano in Rome. (The letters
are part of the riddle. TEIRESIAS BEFORE EDIPUS
From a vase formerly in Naples. 4th century B.c. FINDING OF EDIPUS BY EUPHORBOS
53 From a vase formerly in the Beugnot Collection,
5th century B.C. CONTEST OF ATHENA AND PoseidON FOR THE ATTIC LAND
89 From a vase in the Hermitage Museum, St. Peters
burg. 5th century B.c. Types of GREEK CAVALRY
104 A group from the Forman Vase in the British
Museum. 5th century B.c. THE SEVEN AGAINST THEBES
120 and 121 From a sarcophagus in the Villa Pamfili, show
ing the quarrel of Eteocles and Polynices,
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, in the British
Terra-cotta statuette in the British Museum,
STELE WITH EPITAPH OF (EdipuS .
4th century B.C.
EAGLE SEIZING A SNAKE
From a coin of Elis, of about 430 B.C.
Danaë (Photogravure) ·
4th century B.c.
LYCURGUS SMITTEN WITH MADNESS DESTROYING
180 and 181 On p. 180 are Apollo, Hermes, and (probably)
Lyssa (“Madness”); on p. 181 Lycurgus
189 From a vase in the British Museum. 4th cen.
“ BEEHIVE” TOMB
Museum. 4th century B.c.
I FIND no literary artist so difficult to seize in exact mental portraiture as Sophocles : Homer himself is hardly more impersonal. We praise the impersonal ; coldly, in obedience to critical convention; but the old Adam of curiosity hankers after the autobiographical touch of allusion, the literary egoism which brings our author down into refreshing contact with earth. Aeschylum laudo, Euripidem lego, said an English scholar of the eighteenth century. Aeschylus is impersonal in a sense; but I distinguish: Aeschylus is impersonal because he is too big for self-consciousness. Not with the impersonality of Sophocles. You can see the difference most clearly in this: that Aeschylus was an open field for parody, even to a satiric poet who loved and admired him. Aristophanes, nay, a much less skilled hand, could catch the external manner of Aeschylus, so that any one must laugh at the mimicry. You could parody Marlowe, but not Shakespeare: why?
Let me defer the answer for a moment, and go round to another line of approach.
There are few people who make Sophocles their favourite among the Triumvirs of Tragedy, few who can echo M. Arnold
But be his
Singer of sweet Colonus, and its child. Partly, perhaps, because we love authors no less for their faults than their virtues; we take an easy and satisfying grasp of prominent characteristics. Once familiar with an author, his mannerisms tickle the sense of initiation. Personality fascinates, even pressed in growths which tend towards the extravagant and the grotesque. Self hungers after its own mystery, and seeks for the Self in another communicated by artistic interpretation. And it is the self which eludes us in Sophocles.
But if most moderns (who care, or who are qualified to care, for any of them) prefer Aeschylus or Euripides, the Greeks themselves did not. His unequalled continuity of success on the stage proves the judgment of his
contemporaries; but even more significant for our purposes is the opinion of Greek posterity. I need not remind the reader that Sophocles' practice is repeatedly Aristotle's example of some canon in the formulation of dramatic technique. And he was not the favourite of the critics only. Look at Xenophon's testimony. He makes Socrates ask Aristodemus? who are his chief objects of admiration for artistic skill: Aristodemus replies,
“ Homer in Epic, Melanippides in Dithyramb, Sophocles in Tragedy, Polycleitus in Statuary, Zeuxis in Painting.”
It is the judgment of the man in the street -the street of Athens. Just so his modern analogue would answer Shakespeare'; only an exquisite could say “Marlowe.' Why?
Now we can artswer both questions at once : because he is the artistic embodiment of an age, of a national spirit in a given age, ofto clench it in a comprehensive term civilisation. By that word I mean the whole sum of expression of the passions, fancies, reasonings, principles, aspirations of a people. “A civilisation,” says a penetrating writer of the school of Taine, “ is a balance of qualities and defects." Again : “ There are five or six categories of
1 Mem. A., iv.
2 M. Barrès.