Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

The character of the Old Comedy (to which our observations are confined), as it is drawn by the invidious hand of Plutarch, might perhaps warrant the conclusion, that none but the oi todo1

who passed final sentence on a piece after it had lived its one day upon the stage, and assigned the prize of competition according to their pleasure), still there is no ground for supposing that the majority of the spectators were of that stamp, since the poet seems to specify them as an exception from the deguoi declav, copo Bertoo, opulator becau,--the usual terms in which he addresses or describes the body of his hearers. There is a singular degree of confusion in Mr Mitchell's reasoning on this point. He admits that the gentlemen' of Athens, -the ramovranados, probably attended at the representation of the Clouds, and assisted in its demolition ; and yet he would ascribe that demolition to the Athenian rabble's being cheated of their Baccha

nalian festivity,' and · passed off with a lecture, which, though o conveyed through the medium of two fighting-cocks, had yet some

thing in it too serious to be sufficiently piquant' for their palate. (Prelim. Discourse, p. cxv.) He goes on,- What was it to them

how the education of the higher classes was conducted ;'-(quite forgetting the admitted presence of the radoxoyabol);—' or what did

they care for the opinions of Protagoras or Polus, of Prodicus or « Gorgias ? The persons and the sentiments of these fashionable sophists would be equally unknown, it is most probable, to the greater

part of such an audience as generally filled the comic theatres at Athens.' (Ibid. p. cxvi.); and yet in another place he talks of such personal

knowledge' of a philosopher, as must have a necessarily happened ! in a town not of very considerable population, and whose customs

and manners brought all persons more into contact, than the habits

of modern society do.' (Ibid. p. cxxxvii.)—Leaving these inconsistencies to shift for themselves, we will not lengthen this Note further than to observe, that though we should not credit Ælian's account, that the audience received the Clouds with rapture, crying out that the victory belonged to Aristophanes, and ordering the judges to inscribe his name accordingly, (Var. Hist. buii. cap. 13.) yet it is to no want of wit, or even of farcical humour, in which it abounds almost as much as any of that author's compositions, that we are to ascribe its damnation. (Anglicè.) The fact seems to be, that the party of the Sophists, who were of course adverse to the play, was at that time extremely strong; and that Alcibiades (whose early intimacy with Socrates, Xenophon is very far from denying, as Mr M. would make him do), exerted his intriguing abilities to the utmost against an attack aimed at a philosopher whose political sentiments and prejudices so entirely coincided with his own. Whether the spectators, or the xeitor (as we rather incline to suppose), were the tools this crafty politician would use, we can easily imagine his machinations quite powerful enough to infame the one or to corrupt the other.

the lowest and meanest of the people, would endure to witness its exhibitions. The abuse which this most pleasing of biographers, but most blind and bigotted of moralists, and most unfair of critics, pours with such pitiless profusion, in his Symposiacs, * upon the Ancient Comedy, must however be considered as little better than a trick of composition. It is the foil and contrast to the high-flown praises of his adored Menan. der,--that Menander whom he esteems as indispensable as wine itself to the enjoyments of a drinking-bout; whose diction he declares as sweet and unambitious as his sentiments are precious and profound; whose erotic lucubrations (a commendation we should have rather expected from Timoxena than Plutarch) he extols as so peculiarly seasonable for revellers who are shortly to retire from the banquet to their spouses; † and whose panegyric he sums up in the enthusiastic sentence that as the painter, when his eyes are wearied out, turns for recreation to florid hues and verdant colours, so must the philosopher or laborious student find refreshment for his unremitted and intense exertions in the pages of a bard who laps the soul in an elysium' of his own,-a meadow rich in shade, prodigal of flowers, and haunted by the breeze. I In fact he proves too much for his own hypothesis. In spite of his declamation, and against his wish, he forces us to a conclusion that the Old Comedy, differing little from the New, ý except in coarser personalities and more grotesque buffoonery, could not be altogether without attractions for the philosophic mind, that explores the principles of human nature, or the cultivated taste, that delights in the triumphs of genius.-- The Halicarnassensian Dio. nysius, whose sound sense and exquisite acumen rank him high among the critics of antiquity, displays at once more judgment and more candour, where he talks of those beauties of style which characterized the Comedians in general. “They are,'

[ocr errors]

he says, ' in their thoughts both clear and perspicuous• terse and yet magnificent,-powerful and ethical. '* Qualities these, somewhat above the coarse apprehension of a mere mob, and fit to gain applause more precious than the unintellectual, roar of plebeian acclamation.

We must be allowed a few words further on this subject, as gar veneration for the Old Comedy, as far as its remains are embalmed in the writings of Aristophanes, will not suffer us to let it be imagined, that the Comic poet was no better than a holiday jester, or his audience on a level with the modern deities of the one-shilling gallery. We would ask Mr Mitchell, who seems to regard Aristophanes with the half-parental fondness of a translator,--whether he will be really content to let his author rank with the puppet-showman of a Venetian Carnival, looking for his guerdon to the obstreperous laughter of a rabble, and elevated but one degree above the wiremoved figures on his stage? Would the numerous and potent body of Athenian sophists have been so anxious to crush an opponent, whose blows indeed were heavy, but who could hope for no better witnesses and applauders of his gymnastic energies than a set of Bacchanalian rioters, sworn foes to everything but nonsense and buffoonery ? Would they have been so solicitous to close the theatres and banish the comedians, had they not known that the rich and the noble, the gifted as well as the gay, to whom they looked for pupils and admirers, would be found upon the benches, and crowded round the very statue of Bacchus ? + When Socrates himself was there, where were his disciples? Have we not the testimony of Aristophanes, as well as the voice of his contemporaries, to prove that he of all the Comic writers was incredibly honoured

* Των δε κωμωδων μιμείται τας λεκδικας αρείας απασας εισι γας και τους νοημμασι καθαροι, και σαφεις, και βραχεις, και μεγαλοπρεπεις, και 1 δεινοι, x 026 jbxob.Dion. Hal. de Vett. Script. Censura. We need scarcely add to this the testimony of another great Critic, Quinctilian,— An• tiqua comedia cum sinceram illam sermonis Attici gratiam prope

sola retinet, tum facundissimæ libertatis, etsi in insectandis vitiis

præcipua, plurimum tamen virium etiam in ceteris partibus habet. " Nam et grandis, et elegans, et venusta, et nescio an ulla, post Ho

merum tamen, quem, ut Achillem, semper excipi par est, aut si. milior sit oratoribus, aut ad oratores faciendos aptior. '-Quinctil. Institut. p. 897. Burman. Vide etiam Cic. de Offic. Lib. I. c. xxix. ad. Fac.

+ The best place in the Athenian comic theatre.

I Dionysius, who wrote an express treatise nego ons desvolntos ArtAcordsvõs, well understood the value of this epithet.

and run after,-- gdeus do fesyees, xote Tipendess, ais óvdels Twiol iv spese ta and was it not this very Aristophanes who scourged from the stage with an unrelenting hand the low provocatives of vulgar approbation ? # who lopped off so many off-shoots of luxuriant absurdity ? who reformed the indecent Cordax, s and tempered the obscenities in which his predecessors had indulge, ed? who breathed into the shape of Comedy,—the body he had chosen,-a new soul of sense, and feeling, and morality, poetic rapture, and declamatory grandeur ? Was not his very first production (the Dætaleis) received, to use Mr M.'s own words, with the most flattering attention ?' And was not a 6 comparison between the tenperate virtues of the good old

times, and the unrestrained and unexampled dissoluteness of « his own age,'-the very portion of the Clouds which Mr M. unfortunately selects as having caused, by its unseasonable gravity, the rejection of that play, the whole jet and object that this performance had in view ? Were the two fighting-cocks of the Nubes less welcome to a laughter-loving rabble than the ordinary characters of Sophron and Catapygon? or had the whole enlightened population of Athens been scared away by the sober horrors of the Dætaleis, abandoning sense and poetry to the mercy of the mob ?

We have said enough to vindicate the audience of the Athenian theatre from the aspersions of Mr Mitchell, and to show that its applause, instead of being a mere - ebullition of noisy jollity,' unworthy the ambition of a liberal mind, might weil rank with the prize,-the procession,--the banquet,--and all the other honours that stimulated the exertions, or rewarded the successes of the comic writer. Nor was it only an assembly, whose anticipated presence would enhance the vigour of his ef forts,but one on whom he might be sure, beforehand, that no effort would be wasted. Keen to observe, and quick to apprehend,no stroke of humour, no slyness of allusion, no fine etherial touch of subtlety, could be lost upon it. It was an atmosphere impregnated with the electricity of wit, that needed but a spark from the poet to inflame it. In every mixture, however, there must be dregs, and undoubtedly together with the better judges of poetical merit, there was blended a proportion of the lower orders, who, like our own imperious vulgar, were to be amused with pantomimic tricks and boorish jocularity. The smiles of the polite few were not enough for the comedian,-he must join to them the shouts of the million; and the variety of functions he had to discharge the diversified at

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

could any Archon! i Censors, he

tractions of the ancient comedy--gave him charms for both. For all tastes he had to cater; and all-provided he spared not for high seasoning, but made the most of his matériela.he was sure to please. As Public Satirist, an office with which he found himself virtually invested, he had to exercise a Censorship far more formidable than that of the Archon: there was no shift to elude his doxiparose: nor could any bribe persuade him to arrest the lash, when cnce his arm was raised for flagellation. * As State Journalist,--for no daily reams then issued from the press to pour a deluge of intelligence, and pall the appetite of curiosity itself, he had to chronicle the events of the passing year, to comment on the conduct of the ruling powers, to animate the patriotism, instruct the zeal, or direct the aversions of his countrymen. As Periodical Critic, he had to watch with a jealous eye the productions of contemporary writers, -as PrizeCompetitor, he had so to regulate, or so to humour the public taste, as to secure indulgence for his own. : In the last-mentioned capacity, Aristophanes boldly chose the nobler part; and made the caprices of even Athenians bend be fore his juster notions of the xentopor and ndu,—what should be at once beneficial and agreeable, in the line of composition he had pitched upon. « The strain they heard was of an higher mood' than they had been wont to listen to; but it came upon them recommended by such a richness of melody, and such a force of inspiration, that they could not turn a deaf ear to its enchantments. The chord he struck was new, but every bosom vibrated in answer to its tones. Not that in his hands Comedy forgot her broadest grins, though she acquired graces of a more majestic cast. Never was calumny so ungrounded as that monstrous position maintained by Plutarch, that Aristophanes

can neither please the multitude, nor be endured by the re

fined, but that his Muse, resembling a decayed courtesan « that imitates the dignity of a matron, is at once disgusting to o the many from her insolent assumptions, and abominated by • the graver few for her lewdness and malignity.'+ The literal reverse of this judgment might be stated as the true one. Compounding and concocting the utile and dulce,- with many a laughable jest, and many a serious appeal; § for the lively rab

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »