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Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Complete
by Edward Bulwer-Lytton
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The principal other sources whence the Athenian revenue was derived, it may be desirable here to state as briefly and as clearly as the nature of the subject will allow. By those who would search more deeply, the long and elaborate statistics of Boeckh must be carefully explored. Those sources of revenue were—

1st. Rents from corporate estates—such as pastures, forests, rivers, salt-works, houses, theatres, etc., and mines, let for terms of years, or on heritable leases.

2dly. Tolls, export and import duties, probably paid only by strangers, and amounting to two per cent., a market excise, and the twentieth part of all exports and imports levied in the dependant allied cities—the last a considerable item.

3dly. Tithes, levied only on lands held in usufruct, as estates belonging to temples.

4thly. A protection tax [277], paid by the settlers, or Metoeci, common to most of the Greek states, but peculiarly productive in Athens from the number of strangers that her trade, her festivals, and her renown attracted. The policy of Pericles could not fail to increase this source of revenue.

5thly. A slave tax of three obols per head. [278]

Most of these taxes appear to have been farmed out.

6thly. Judicial fees and fines. As we have seen that the allies in most important trials were compelled to seek justice in Athens, this, in the time of Pericles, was a profitable source of income. But it was one, the extent of which necessarily depended upon peace.

Fines were of many classes, but not, at least in this period, of very great value to the state. Sometimes (as in all private accusations) the fine fell to the plaintiff, sometimes a considerable proportion enriched the treasury of the tutelary goddess. The task of assessing the fines was odious, and negligently performed by the authorities, while it was easy for those interested to render a false account of their property.

Lastly. The state received the aid of annual contributions, or what were termed liturgies, from individuals for particular services.

The ordinary liturgies were, 1st. The Choregia, or duty of furnishing the chorus for the plays—tragic, comic, and satirical—of remunerating the leader of the singers and musicians—of maintaining the latter while trained—of supplying the dresses, the golden crowns and masks, and, indeed, the general decorations and equipments of the theatre. He on whom this burdensome honour fell was called Choregus; his name, and that of his tribe, was recorded on the tripod which commemorated the victory of the successful poet, whose performances were exhibited. [279]

2dly. The Gymnasiarchy, or charge of providing for the expense of the torch-race, celebrated in honour of the gods of fire, and some other sacred games. In later times the gymnasiarchy comprised the superintendence of the training schools, and the cost of ornamenting the arena.

3dly. The Architheoria, or task of maintaining the embassy to sacred games and festivals.

And, 4thly, the Hestiasis, or feasting of the tribes, a costly obligation incurred by some wealthy member of each tribe for entertaining the whole of the tribe at public, but not very luxurious, banquets. This last expense did not often occur. The hestiasis was intended for sacred objects, connected with the rites of hospitality, and served to confirm the friendly intercourse between the members of the tribe.

These three ordinary liturgies had all a religious character; they were compulsory on those possessed of property not less than three talents—they were discharged in turn by the tribes, except when volunteered by individuals.

VII. The expenses incurred for the defence or wants of the state were not regular, but extraordinary liturgies—such as the TRIERARCHY, or equipment of ships, which entailed also the obligation of personal service on those by whom the triremes were fitted out. Personal service was indeed the characteristic of all liturgies, a property-tax, which was not yet invented, alone excepted; and this, though bearing the name, has not the features, of a liturgy. Of the extraordinary liturgies, the trierarchy was the most important. It was of very early origin. Boeckh observes [280] that it was mentioned in the time of Hippias. At the period of which we treat each vessel had one trierarch. The vessel was given to the trierarch, sometimes ready equipped; he also received the public money for certain expenses; others fell on himself [281]. Occasionally, but rarely, an ambitious or patriotic trierarch defrayed the whole cost; but in any case he rendered strict account of the expenses incurred. The cost of a whole trierarchy was not less than forty minas, nor more than a talent.

VIII. Two liturgies could not be demanded simultaneously from any individual, nor was he liable to any one more often than every other year. He who served the trierarchies was exempted from all other contributions. Orphans were exempted till the year after they had obtained their majority, and a similar exemption was, in a very few instances, the reward of eminent public services. The nine archons were also exempted from the trierarchies.

IX. The moral defects of liturgies were the defects of a noble theory, which almost always terminates in practical abuses. Their principle was that of making it an honour to contribute to the public splendour or the national wants. Hence, in the earlier times, an emulation among the rich to purchase favour by a liberal, but often calculating and interested ostentation; hence, among the poor, actuated by an equal ambition, was created so great a necessity for riches as the means to power [282], that the mode by which they were to be acquired was often overlooked. What the theory designed as the munificence of patriotism, became in practice but a showy engine of corruption; and men vied with each other in the choregia or the trierarchy, not so much for the sake of service done to the state, as in the hope of influence acquired over the people. I may also observe, that in a merely fiscal point of view, the principle of liturgies was radically wrong; that principle went to tax the few instead of the many; its operation was therefore not more unequal in its assessments than it was unproductive to the state in proportion to its burden on individuals.

X. The various duties were farmed—a pernicious plan of finance common to most of the Greek states. The farmers gave sureties, and punctuality was rigorously exacted from them, on penalty of imprisonment, the doubling of the debt, the confiscation of their properties, the compulsory hold upon their sureties.

XI. Such were the main sources of the Athenian revenue. Opportunities will occur to fill up the brief outline and amplify each detail. This sketch is now presented to the reader as comprising a knowledge necessary to a clear insight into the policy of Pericles. A rapid glance over the preceding pages will suffice to show that it was on a rigid avoidance of all unnecessary war—above all, of distant and perilous enterprises, that the revenue of Athens rested. Her commercial duties—her tax on settlers—the harvest of judicial fees, obtained from the dependant allies—the chief profits from the mines— all rested upon the maintenance of peace: even the foreign tribute, the most productive of the Athenian resources, might fail at once, if the Athenian arms should sustain a single reverse, as indeed it did after the fatal battle of Aegospotamos [283]. This it was which might have shown to the great finance minister that peace with the Peloponnesus could scarce be too dearly purchased [284]. The surrender of a few towns and fortresses was nothing in comparison with the arrest and paralysis of all the springs of her wealth, which would be the necessary result of a long war upon her own soil. For this reason Pericles strenuously checked all the wild schemes of the Athenians for extended empire. Yet dazzled with the glories of Cimon, some entertained the hopes of recovering Egypt, some agitated the invasion of the Persian coasts; the fair and fatal Sicily already aroused the cupidity and ambition of others; and the vain enthusiasts of the Agora even dreamed of making that island the base and centre of a new and vast dominion, including Carthage on one hand and Etruria on the other [285]. Such schemes it was the great object of Pericles to oppose. He was not less ambitious for the greatness of Athens than the most daring of these visionaries; but he better understood on what foundations it should be built. His objects were to strengthen the possessions already acquired, to confine the Athenian energies within the frontiers of Greece, and to curb, as might better be done by peace than war, the Peloponnesian forces to their own rocky barriers. The means by which he sought to attain these objects were, 1st, by a maritime force; 2dly, by that inert and silent power which springs as it were from the moral dignity and renown of a nation; whatever, in this latter respect, could make Athens illustrious, made Athens formidable.

XII. Then rapidly progressed those glorious fabrics which seemed, as Plutarch gracefully expresses it, endowed with the bloom of a perennial youth. Still the houses of private citizens remained simple and unadorned; still were the streets narrow and irregular; and even centuries afterward, a stranger entering Athens would not at first have recognised the claims of the mistress of Grecian art. But to the homeliness of her common thoroughfares and private mansions, the magnificence of her public edifices now made a dazzling contrast. The Acropolis, that towered above the homes and thoroughfares of men—a spot too sacred for human habitation—became, to use a proverbial phrase, "a city of the gods." The citizen was everywhere to be reminded of the majesty of the STATE—his patriotism was to be increased by the pride in her beauty—his taste to be elevated by the spectacle of her splendour. Thus flocked to Athens all who throughout Greece were eminent in art. Sculptors and architects vied with each other in adorning the young empress of the seas [286]; then rose the masterpieces of Phidias, of Callicrates, of Mnesicles [287], which even, either in their broken remains, or in the feeble copies of imitators less inspired, still command so intense a wonder, and furnish models so immortal. And if, so to speak, their bones and relics excite our awe and envy, as testifying of a lovelier and grander race, which the deluge of time has swept away, what, in that day, must have been their brilliant effect—unmutilated in their fair proportions—fresh in all their lineaments and hues? For their beauty was not limited to the symmetry of arch and column, nor their materials confined to the marbles of Pentelicus and Paros. Even the exterior of the temples glowed with the richest harmony of colours, and was decorated with the purest gold; an atmosphere peculiarly favourable both to the display and the preservation of art, permitted to external pediments and friezes all the minuteness of ornament—all the brilliancy of colours; such as in the interior of Italian churches may yet be seen—vitiated, in the last, by a gaudy and barbarous taste. Nor did the Athenians spare any cost upon the works that were, like the tombs and tripods of their heroes, to be the monuments of a nation to distant ages, and to transmit the most irrefragable proof "that the power of ancient Greece was not an idle legend." [288] The whole democracy were animated with the passion of Pericles; and when Phidias recommended marble as a cheaper material than ivory for the great statue of Minerva, it was for that reason that ivory was preferred by the unanimous voice of the assembly. Thus, whether it were extravagance or magnificence, the blame in one case, the admiration in another, rests not more with the minister than the populace. It was, indeed, the great characteristic of those works, that they were entirely the creations of the people: without the people, Pericles could not have built a temple or engaged a sculptor. The miracles of that day resulted from the enthusiasm of a population yet young—full of the first ardour for the beautiful—dedicating to the state, as to a mistress, the trophies, honourably won or the treasures injuriously extorted—and uniting the resources of a nation with the energy of an individual, because the toil, the cost, were borne by those who succeeded to the enjoyment and arrogated the glory.

XIII. It was from two sources that Athens derived her chief political vices; 1st, Her empire of the seas and her exactions from her allies; 2dly, an unchecked, unmitigated democratic action, void of the two vents known in all modern commonwealths—the press, and a representative, instead of a popular, assembly. But from these sources she now drew all her greatness also, moral and intellectual. Before the Persian war, and even scarcely before the time of Cimon, Athens cannot be said to have eclipsed her neighbours in the arts and sciences. She became the centre and capital of the most polished communities of Greece, and she drew into a focus all the Grecian intellect; she obtained from her dependants the wealth to administer the arts, which universal traffic and intercourse taught her to appreciate; and thus the Odeon, and the Parthenon, and the Propylaea arose! During the same administration, the fortifications were completed, and a third wall, parallel [289] and near to that uniting Piraeus with Athens, consummated the works of Themistocles and Cimon, and preserved the communication between the twofold city, even should the outer walls fall into the hands of an enemy.

But honour and wealth alone would not have sufficed for the universal emulation, the universal devotion to all that could adorn or exalt the nation. It was the innovations of Aristides and Ephialtes that breathed into that abstract and cold formality, THE STATE, the breath and vigour of a pervading people, and made the meanest citizen struggle for Athens with that zeal with which an ambitious statesman struggles for himself [290]. These two causes united reveal to us the true secret why Athens obtained a pre-eminence in intellectual grandeur over the rest of Greece. Had Corinth obtained the command of the seas and the treasury of Delos—had Corinth established abroad a power equally arbitrary and extensive, and at home a democracy equally broad and pure—Corinth might have had her Pericles and Demosthenes, her Phidias, her Sophocles, her Aristophanes, her Plato—and posterity might not have allowed the claim of Athens to be the Hellas Hellados, "the Greece of Greece."

XIV. But the increase of wealth bounded not its effects to these magnificent works of art—they poured into and pervaded the whole domestic policy of Athens. We must recollect, that as the greatness of the state was that of the democracy, so its treasures were the property of the free population. It was the people who were rich; and according to all the notions of political economy in that day, the people desired practically to enjoy their own opulence. Thus was introduced the principal of payment for service, and thus was sanctioned and legalized the right of a common admission to spectacles, the principal cost of which was defrayed from common property. That such innovations would be the necessary and unavoidable result of an overflowing treasury in a state thus democratic is so obvious, that nothing can be more absurd than to lay the blame of the change upon Pericles. He only yielded to, and regulated the irresistible current of the general wish. And we may also observe, that most of those innovations, which were ultimately injurious to Athens, rested upon the acknowledged maxims of modern civilization; some were rather erroneous from details than principles; others, from the want of harmony between the new principles and the old constitution to which then were applied. Each of the elements might be healthful—amalgamated, they produced a poison.

XV. It is, for instance, an axiom in modern politics that judges should receive a salary [291]. During the administration of Pericles, this principle was applied to the dicasts in the popular courts of judicature. It seems probable that the vast accession of law business which ensued from the transfer of the courts in the allied states to the Athenian tribunal was the cause of this enactment. Lawsuits became so common, that it was impossible, without salaries, that the citizens could abandon their own business for that of others. Payment was, therefore, both equitable and unavoidable, and, doubtless, it would have seemed to the Athenians, as now to us, the best means, not only of securing the attention, but of strengthening the integrity, of the judges or the jurors. The principle of salaries was, therefore, right, but its results were evil, when applied to the peculiar constitution of the courts. The salary was small—the judges numerous, and mostly of the humblest class—the consequences I have before shown [292]. Had the salaries been high and the number of the judges small, the means of a good judicature would have been attained. But, then, according to the notions, not only of the Athenians, but of all the Hellenic democracies, the democracy itself, of which the popular courts were deemed the constitutional bulwark and the vital essence, would have been at an end. In this error, therefore, however fatal it might be, neither Pericles nor the Athenians, but the theories of the age, are to be blamed [293]. It is also a maxim formerly acted upon in England, to which many political philosophers now incline, and which is yet adopted in the practice of a great and enlightened portion of the world, that the members of the legislative assembly should receive salaries. This principle was now applied in Athens [294]. But there the people themselves were the legislative assembly, and thus a principle, perhaps sound in itself, became vitiated to the absurdity of the people as sovereign paying the people as legislative. Yet even this might have been necessary to the preservation of the constitution, as meetings became numerous and business complicated; for if the people had not been tempted and even driven to assemble in large masses, the business of the state would have been jobbed away by active minorities, and the life of a democracy been lost [295]. The payment was first one obolus— afterward increased to three. Nor must we suppose, as the ignorance or effrontery of certain modern historians has strangely asserted, that in the new system of payments the people were munificent only to themselves. The senate was paid—the public advocates and orators were paid—so were the ambassadors, the inspectors of the youths in the trading schools, the nomothetae or law-commissioners, the physicians, the singers, even the poets; all the servants of the different officers received salaries. And now, as is the inevitable consequence of that civilization in a commercial society which multiplies and strongly demarcates the divisions of labour, the safety of the state no longer rested solely upon the unpurchased arms and hearts of its citizens—but not only were the Athenians themselves who served as soldiers paid, but foreign mercenaries were engaged—a measure in consonance with the characteristic policy of Pericles, which was especially frugal of the lives of the citizens. But peculiar to the Athenians of all the Grecian states was the humane and beautiful provision for the poor, commenced under Solon or Pisistratus. At this happy and brilliant period few were in need of it—war and disaster, while they increased the number of the destitute, widened the charity of the state.

XVI. Thus, then, that general system of payment which grew up under Pericles, and produced many abuses under his successors, was, after all, but the necessary result of the increased civilization and opulence of the period. Nor can we wonder that the humbler or the middle orders, who, from their common stock, lavished generosity upon genius [296], and alone, of all contemporaneous states, gave relief to want—who maintained the children of all who died in war—who awarded remunerations for every service, should have deemed it no grasping exaction to require for their own attendance on offices forced on them by the constitution a compensation for the desertion of their private affairs, little exceeding that which was conferred upon the very paupers of the state. [297]

XVII. But there was another abuse which sprang out of the wealth of the people, and that love for spectacles and exhibitions which was natural to the lively Ionic imagination, and could not but increase as leisure and refinement became boons extended to the bulk of the population—an abuse trifling in itself—fatal in the precedent it set. While the theatre was of wood, free admissions were found to produce too vast a concourse for the stability of the building; and once, indeed, the seats gave way. It was, therefore, long before the present period, deemed advisable to limit the number of the audience by a small payment of two obols for each seat; and this continued after a stately edifice of stone replaced the wooden temple of the earlier drama.

But as riches flowed into the treasury, and as the drama became more and more the most splendid and popular of the national exhibitions, it seemed but just to return to the ancient mode of gratuitous admissions. It was found, however, convenient, partly, perhaps, for greater order and for the better allotment of the seats—partly, also, for the payment of several expenses which fell not on the state, but individuals—and partly, no doubt, to preserve the distinctions between the citizens and the strangers, to maintain the prices, but to allow to those whose names were enrolled in the book of the citizens the admittance money from the public treasury. This fund was called the THEORICON. But the example once set, Theorica were extended to other festivals besides those of the drama [298], and finally, under the plausible and popular pretext of admitting the poorer classes to those national or religious festivals, from which, as forming the bulk of the nation, it was against the theory of the constitution to exclude them, paved the way to lavish distributions of the public money, which at once tended to exhaust the wealth of the state, and to render effeminate and frivolous the spirit of the people. But these abuses were not yet visible: on the contrary, under Pericles, the results of the Theoricon were highly favourable to the manners and genius of the people. Art was thus rendered the universal right, and while refinement of taste became diffused, the patriotism of the citizens was increased by the consciousness that they were the common and legitimate arbiters of all which augmented the splendour and renown of Athens.

Thus, in fact, the after evils that resulted from the more popular part of the internal policy of Pericles, it was impossible to foresee; they originated not in a single statement, but in the very nature of civilization. And as in despotisms, a coarse and sensual luxury, once established, rots away the vigour and manhood of a conquering people, so in this intellectual republic it was the luxury of the intellect which gradually enervated the great spirit of the victor race of Marathon and Salamis, and called up generations of eloquent talkers and philosophical dreamers from the earlier age of active freemen, restless adventurers, and hardy warriors. The spirit of poetry, or the pampered indulgence of certain faculties to the prejudice of others, produced in a whole people what it never fails to produce in the individual: it unfitted them just as they grew up into a manhood exposed to severer struggles than their youth had undergone—for the stern and practical demands of life; and suffered the love of the beautiful to subjugate or soften away the common knowledge of the useful. Genius itself became a disease, and poetry assisted towards the euthanasia of the Athenians.

XVIII. As all the measures of Pericles were directed towards consolidating the Athenian empire, so under his administration was not omitted the politic expedient of colonization. Of late years, states having become confirmed and tribes settled, the Grecian migrations were far less frequent than of old; and one principal cause of colonization, in the violent feud of parties, and the expulsion of a considerable number of citizens, arose from the disasters of infant communities, and was no longer in force under the free but strong government of Athens. As with the liberties fell the commerce of Miletus and Ionia, so also another principal source of the old colonization became comparatively languid and inert. But now, under the name of Cleruchi [299], a new description of colonists arose— colonists by whom the mother country not only draughted off a redundant population, or rid herself of restless adventurers, but struck the roots of her empire in the various places that came under her control. In the classic as in the feudal age, conquest gave the right to the lands of the conquered country. Thus had arisen, and thus still existed, upon the plundered lands of Laconia, the commonwealth of Sparta—thus were maintained the wealthy and luxurious nobles of Thessaly—and thus, in fine, were created all the ancient Dorian oligarchies. After the return of the Heraclidae, this mode of consummating conquest fell into disuse, not from any moral conviction of its injustice, but because the wars between the various states rarely terminated in victories so complete as to permit the seizure of the land and the subjugation of the inhabitants. And it must be ever remembered, that the old Grecian tribes made war to procure a settlement, and not to increase dominion. The smallness of their population rendered human life too valuable to risk its waste in the expeditions that characterized the ambition of the leaders of oriental hordes. But previous to the Persian wars, the fertile meadows of Euboea presented to the Athenians a temptation it could scarcely be expected that victorious neighbours would have the abstinence to forego; and we have seen that they bestowed the lands of the Hippobotae on Athenian settlers. These colonists evacuated their possessions during the Persian war: the Hippobotae returned, and seem to have held quiet, but probably tributary, possession of their ancient estates, until after the recent retreat of the Peloponnesians. Pericles defeated and displaced them; their lands fell once more to Athenian colonists; and the north of Euboea was protected and garrisoned by the erection of Oreus, a new town that supplanted the old Histiaea. Territories in Scyros, Lemnos, and Imbros had been also bestowed on Athenian settlers during the earlier successes of the Athenian arms—and the precedent thus set, examples became more numerous, under the profound and systematic policy of Pericles. This mode of colonization, besides the ordinary advantages of all colonization, proffered two peculiar to itself. In the first place, it supplied the deficiency of land, which was one of the main inconveniences of Attica, and rewarded the meritorious or appeased the avaricious citizens, with estates which it did not impoverish the mother country to grant. 2dly. It secured the conquests of the state by planting garrisons which it cost little to maintain [300]. Thus were despatched by Pericles a thousand men to the valuable possessions in the Chersonese, two hundred and fifty to Andros, five hundred to Naxos, a thousand to Thrace. At another period, the date of which is uncertain, but probably shortly subsequent to the truce with the Peloponnesians, a large fleet, commanded by Pericles, swept the Euxine, in order to awe and impress the various states and nations along the adjacent coasts, whether Greek or barbarian, with the display of the Athenian power; and the city of Sinope, being at that time divided with contentions for and against its tyrant Timesilaus, the republican party applied to the head of the Greek democracies for aid. Lamachus, a warrior to whose gallant name, afterward distinguished in the Peloponnesian war, Aristophanes has accorded the equal honour of his ridicule and his praise, was intrusted with thirteen galleys and a competent force for the expulsion of the tyrant and his adherents. The object effected, the new government of Sinope rewarded six hundred Athenians with the freedom of the city and the estates of the defeated faction.

While thus Athens fixed her footing on remoter lands, gradually her grasp extended over the more near and necessary demesnes of Euboea, until the lands of more than two thirds of that island were in the possession of Athenians [301]. At a later period, new opportunities gave rise to new cleruchiae. [302]

XIX. Besides these cleruchiae, in the second year of the supreme administration of Pericles a colony, properly so called, was established in Western Italy—interesting alike from the great names of its early adventurers, the beauty of its site, and from the circumstance of its being, besides that at Amphipolis, the only pure and legitimate colony [303], in contradistinction to the cleruchiae, founded by Athens, since her ancient migrations to Ionia and the Cyclades. Two centuries before, some Achaeans, mingled with Troezenians, had established, in the fertile garden of Magna Graecia, the state of Sybaris. Placed between two rivers, the Crathis and the Sybaris—possessing extraordinary advantages of site and climate, this celebrated colony rose with unparalleled rapidity to eminence in war and luxury in peace. So great were its population and resources, that it is said by Diodorus to have brought at one time three hundred thousand men into the field—an army which doubled that which all Greece could assemble at Plataea! The exaggeration is evident; but it still attests the belief of a populousness and power which must have rested upon no fabulous foundation. The state of Sybaris had prospered for a time by the adoption of a principle which is ever apt to force civilization to premature development, and not unfrequently to end in the destruction of national character and internal stability—viz., it opened its arms to strangers of every tribe and class. Thronged by mercantile adventurers, its trade, like that of Agrigentum, doubtless derived its sources from the oil and wine which it poured into the harbours of Africa and Gaul. As with individuals, so with states, wealth easily obtained is prodigally spent, and the effeminate and voluptuous ostentation of Sybaris passed into a proverb more enduring than her prosperity. Her greatness, acquired by a tempered and active democracy, received a mortal blow by the usurpation of a tyrant named Telys, who, in 510 B. C., expelled five hundred of the principal citizens. Croton received the exiles, a war broke out, and in the same year, or shortly afterward, the Crotoniates, under Milo, defeated the Sybarites with prodigious slaughter, and the city was abandoned to pillage, and left desolate and ruined. Those who survived fled to Laos and Scidrus. Fifty-eight years afterward, aided by some Thessalians, the exiled Sybarites again sought possession of their former settlement, but were speedily expelled by the Crotoniates. It was now that they applied to Sparta and Athens for assistance. The former state had neither population to spare, nor commerce to strengthen, nor ambition to gratify, and rejected the overtures of the Sybarite envoys. But a different success awaited the exiles at Athens. Their proposition, timed in a period when it was acceptable to the Athenian policy (B. C. 443), was enforced by Pericles. Adventurers from all parts of Greece, but invited especially from the Peloponnesus, swelled the miscellaneous band: eminent among the rest were Lysias, afterward so celebrated as a rhetorician [304], and Herodotus, the historian.

As in the political code of Greece the religious character of the people made a prevailing principle, so in colonization the deity of the parent state transplanted his worship with his votaries, and the relation between the new and the old country was expressed and perpetuated by the touching symbol of taking fire from the Prytaneum of the native city. A renowned diviner, named Lampon [305], whose sacred pretensions did not preserve him from the ridicule of the comic poets [306], accompanied the emigrants (B. C. 440), and an oracle dictated the site of the new colony near the ancient city, and by the fountain of Thurium. The Sybarites, with the common vanity of men whose ancestors have been greater than themselves, increased their pretensions in proportion as they lost their power; they affected superiority over their companions, by whose swords alone they again existed as a people; claimed the exclusive monopoly of the principal offices of government, and the first choice of lands; and were finally cut off by the very allies whose aid they had sought, and whose resentment they provoked. New adventurers from Greece replaced the Sybarites, and the colonists of Thurium, divided into ten tribes (four, the representatives of the united Ionians, Euboeans, Islanders, and Athenians; three of the Peloponnesians; and three of the settlers from Northern Greece)—retained peaceable possession of their delightful territory, and harmonized their motley numbers by the adoption of the enlightened laws and tranquil institutions of Charondas. Such was the home of Herodotus, the historian.



CHAPTER III.

Revision of the Census.—Samian War.—Sketch of the Rise and Progress of the Athenian Comedy to the Time of Aristophanes.

I. In proportion as it had become matter of honourable pride and lucrative advantage to be a citizen of Athens, it was natural that the laws defining and limiting the freedom of the city should increase in strictness. Even before the time of Themistocles, those only were considered legitimate [307] who, on either side, derived parentage from Athenian citizens. But though illegitimate, they were not therefore deprived of the rights of citizenship; nor had the stain upon his birth been a serious obstacle to the career of Themistocles himself. Under Pericles, the law became more severe, and a decree was passed (apparently in the earlier period of his rising power), which excluded from the freedom of the city those whose parents were not both Athenian. In the very year in which he attained the supreme administration of affairs, occasion for enforcing the law occurred: Psammetichus, the pretender to the Egyptian throne, sent a present of corn to the Athenian people (B. C. 444); the claimants for a share in the gift underwent the ordeal of scrutiny as to their titles to citizenship, and no less than five thousand persons were convicted of having fraudulently foisted themselves into rights which were now tantamount to property; they were disfranchised [308]; and the whole list of the free citizens was reduced to little more than fourteen thousand. [309]

II. While under this brilliant and energetic administration Athens was daily more and more concentrating on herself the reluctant admiration and the growing fears of Greece, her policy towards her dependant allies involved her in a war which ultimately gave, if not a legal, at least an acknowledged, title to the pretensions she assumed. Hostilities between the new population of Miletus and the oligarchic government of Samos had been for some time carried on; the object of contention was the city of Priene—united, apparently, with rival claims upon Anaea, a town on the coast opposite Samos. The Milesians, unsuccessful in the war, applied to Athens for assistance. As the Samians were among the dependant allies, Pericles, in the name of the Athenian people, ordered them to refer to Athens the decision of the dispute; on their refusal an expedition of forty galleys was conducted against them by Pericles in person. A still more plausible colour than that of the right of dictation was given to this interference; for the prayer of the Milesians was backed and sanctioned by many of the Samians themselves, oppressed by the oligarchic government which presided over them. A ridiculous assertion was made by the libellers of the comic drama and the enemies of Pericles, that the war was undertaken at the instigation of Aspasia, with whom that minister had formed the closest connexion; but the expedition was the necessary and unavoidable result of the twofold policy by which the Athenian government invariably directed its actions; 1st, to enforce the right of ascendency over its allies; 2dly, to replace oligarchic by democratic institutions. Nor, on this occasion, could Athens have remained neutral or supine without materially weakening her hold upon all the states she aspired at once to democratize and to govern.

III. The fleet arrived at Samos—the oligarchic government was deposed—one hundred hostages (fifty men—fifty boys) from its partisans were taken and placed at Lemnos, and a garrison was left to secure the new constitution of the island. Some of the defeated faction took refuge on the Asiatic continent—entered into an intrigue with the Persian Pissuthnes, satrap of Sardis; and having, by continued correspondence with their friends at Samos, secured connivance at their attempt, they landed by night at Samos with a hired force of seven hundred soldiers, and succeeded in mastering the Athenian garrison, and securing the greater part of the chiefs of the new administration; while, by a secret and well-contrived plot, they regained their hostages left at Lemnos. They then openly proclaimed their independence—restored the oligarchy—and, as a formal proof of defiance, surrendered to Pissuthnes the Athenians they had captured. Byzantium hastened to join the revolt. Their alliance with Pissuthnes procured the Samians the promised aid of a Phoenician fleet, and they now deemed themselves sufficiently strong to renew their hostilities with Miletus. Their plans were well laid, and their boldness made a considerable impression on the states hostile to Athens. Among the Peloponnesian allies it was debated whether or not, despite the treaty, the Samians should be assisted: opinions were divided, but Corinth [310], perhaps, turned the scale, by insisting on the right of every state to deal with its dependants. Corinth had herself colonies over which she desired to preserve a dictatorial sway; and she was disposed to regard the Samian revolution less as the gallantry of freemen than the enterprise of rebels. It was fortunate, too, perhaps, for Athens, that the Samian insurgents had sought their ally in the Persian satrap; nor could the Peloponnesian states at that time have decorously assisted the Persian against the Athenian arms. But short time for deliberation was left by a government which procured for the Athenians the character to be not more quick to contrive than to execute—to be the only people who could simultaneously project and acquire—and who even considered a festival but as a day on which some necessary business could be accomplished [311]. With a fleet of sixty sail, Pericles made for Samos; some of the vessels were stationed on the Carian coast to watch the movements of the anticipated Phoenician re-enforcement; others were despatched to collect aid from Chios and Lesbos. Meanwhile, though thus reduced to forty-four sail, Pericles, near a small island called Tragia, engaged the Samian fleet returning from Miletus, consisting of seventy vessels, and gained a victory. Then, re-enforced by forty galleys from Athens, and twenty-five from Lesbos and Chios, he landed on the island, defeated the Samians in a pitched battle, drove them into their city, invested it with a triple line of ramparts, and simultaneously blockaded the city by sea. The besieged were not, however, too discouraged to sally out; and, under Melissus, who was at once a philosopher and a hero, they even obtained advantage in a seafight. But these efforts were sufficiently unimportant to permit Pericles to draw off sixty of his vessels, and steer along the Carian coast to meet the expected fleet of the Phoenicians. The besieged did not suffer the opportunity thus afforded them to escape—they surprised the naval blockading force, destroyed the guard-ships, and joining battle with the rest of the fleet, obtained a decisive victory (B. C. 440), which for fourteen days left them the mastery of the open sea, and enabled them to introduce supplies.

IV. While lying in wait for the Phoenician squadron, which did not, however, make its appearance, tidings of the Samian success were brought to Pericles. He hastened back and renewed the blockade—fresh forces were sent to his aid—from Athens, forty-eight ships, under three generals, Thucydides [312], Agnon, and Phormio; followed by twenty more under Tlepolemus and Anticles, while Chios and Lesbos supplied an additional squadron of thirty. Still the besieged were not disheartened; they ventured another engagement, which was but an ineffectual struggle, and then, shut up within their city, stood a siege of nine months.

With all the small Greek states it had ever been the policy of necessity to shun even victories attended with great loss. This policy was refined by Pericles into a scientific system. In the present instance, he avoided all assaults which might weaken his forces, and preferred the loss of time to the loss of life. The tedious length of the blockade occasioned some murmurs among the lively and impatient forces he commanded; but he is said to have diverted the time by the holyday devices, which in the middle ages often so graced and softened the rugged aspect of war. The army was divided into eight parts, and by lot it was decided which one of the eight divisions should, for the time, encounter the fatigues of actual service; the remaining seven passed the day in sports and feasting [313]. A concourse of women appear to have found their way to the encampment [314], and a Samian writer ascribes to their piety or their gratitude the subsequent erection of a temple to Venus. The siege, too, gave occasion to Pericles to make experiment of military engines, which, if invented before, probably now received mechanical improvement. Although, in the earlier contest, mutual animosities had been so keen that the prisoners on either side had been contumeliously branded [315], it was, perhaps, the festive and easy manner in which the siege was afterward carried on, that, mitigating the bitterness of prolonged hostilities, served to procure, at last, for the Samians articles of capitulation more than usually mild. They embraced the conditions of demolishing their fortifications, delivering up their ships, and paying by instalments a portion towards the cost of the siege [316]. Byzantium, which, commanding the entrance of the Euxine, was a most important possession to the Athenians [317], whether for ambition or for commerce, at the same time accepted, without resistance, the terms held out to it, and became once more subject to the Athenian empire.

V. On his return, Pericles was received with an enthusiasm which attested the sense entertained of the value of his conquest. He pronounced upon those who had fallen in the war a funeral oration. [318] When he descended from the rostrum, the women crowded round and showered fillets and chaplets on the eloquent victor. Elpinice, the sister of Cimon, alone shared not the general enthusiasm. "Are these actions," she said to Pericles, "worthy of chaplets and garlands? actions purchased by the loss of many gallant citizens—not won against the Phoenician and the Mede, like those of Cimon, but by the ruin of a city united with ourselves in amity and origin." The ready minister replied to the invective of Elpinice by a line from Archilochus, which, in alluding to the age and coquetry of the lady, probably answered the oratorical purpose of securing the laugh on his own side. [319]

While these events confirmed the authority of Athens and the Athenian government, a power had grown up within the city that assumed a right, the grave assertion of which without the walls would have been deeply felt and bitterly resented—a power that sat in severe and derisive judgment upon Athens herself, her laws, her liberties, her mighty generals, her learned statesmen, her poets, her sages, and her arrogant democracy—a power that has come down to foreign nations and distant ages as armed with irresistible weapons—which now is permitted to give testimony, not only against individuals, but nations themselves, but which, in that time, was not more effective in practical results than at this day a caricature in St. James's-street, or a squib in a weekly newspaper—a power which exposed to relentless ridicule, before the most susceptible and numerous tribunal, the loftiest names in rank, in wisdom, and in genius—and which could not have deprived a beggar of his obol or a scavenger of his office: THE POWER OF THE COMIC MUSE.

VI. We have seen that in the early village festivals, out of which grew the tragedy of Phrynichus and Aeschylus, there were, besides the Dithyramb and the Satyrs, the Phallic processions, which diversified the ceremony by the lowest jests mingled with the wildest satire. As her tragedy had its origin in the Dithyramb—as her satyric after-piece had its origin in the satyric buffooneries—so out of the Phallic processions rose the Comedy of Greece (B. C. 562) [320]. Susarion is asserted by some to have been a Megarian by origin; and while the democracy of Megara was yet in force, he appears to have roughly shaped the disorderly merriment of the procession into a rude farce, interspersed with the old choral songs. The close connexion between Megara and Athens soon served to communicate to the latter the improvements of Susarion; and these improvements obtained for the Megarian the title of inventer of comedy, with about the same justice as a similar degree of art conferred upon the later Thespis the distinction of the origin of tragedy. The study of Homer's epics had suggested its true province to tragedy; the study of the Margites, attributed also to Homer, seems to have defined and enlarged the domain of comedy. Eleven years after Phrynichus appeared, and just previous to the first effort of Aeschylus (B. C. 500), Epicharmus, who appears to have been a native of Cos [321], produced at Syracuse the earliest symmetrical and systematic form of comic dialogue and fable. All accounts prove him to have been a man of extraordinary genius, and of very thoughtful and accomplished mind. Perhaps the loss of his works is not the least to be lamented of those priceless treasures which time has destroyed. So uncertain, after all, is the great tribunal of posterity, which is often as little to be relied upon as the caprice of the passing day! We have the worthless Electra of Euripides—we have lost all, save the titles and a few sententious fragments, of thirty-five comedies of Epicharmus! Yet if Horace inform us rightly, that the poet of Syracuse was the model of Plautus, perhaps in the Amphitryon we can trace the vein and genius of the father of true comedy; and the thoughts and the plot of the lost Epicharmus may still exist, mutilated and disguised, in the humours of the greatest comic poet [322] of modern Europe.

VII. It was chiefly from the rich stores of mythology that Epicharmus drew his fables; but what was sublimity with the tragic poet, was burlesque with the comic. He parodied the august personages and venerable adventures of the gods of the Greek Pantheon. By a singular coincidence, like his contemporary Aeschylus [323], he was a Pythagorean, and it is wonderful to observe how rapidly and how powerfully the influence of the mysterious Samian operated on the most original intellects of the age. The familiar nature of the Hellenic religion sanctioned, even in the unphilosophical age of Homer, a treatment of celestial persons that to our modern notions would, at first glance, evince a disrespect for the religion itself. But wherever homage to "dead men" be admitted, we may, even in our own times, find that the most jocular legends are attached to names held in the most reverential awe. And he who has listened to an Irish or an Italian Catholic's familiar stories of some favourite saint, may form an adequate notion of the manner in which a pious Greek could jest upon Bacchus to-day and sacrifice to Bacchus to-morrow. With his mythological travesties the Pythagorean mingled, apparently, many earnest maxims of morality [324], and though not free, in the judgment of Aristotle, from a vice of style usually common only to ages the most refined [325]; he was yet proverbial, even in the most polished period of Grecian letters, for the graces of his diction and the happy choice of his expressions.

Phormis, a contemporary of Epicharmus, flourished also at Syracuse, and though sometimes classed with Epicharmus, and selecting his materials from the same source, his claims to reputation are immeasurably more equivocal. Dinolochus continued the Sicilian school, and was a contemporary of the first Athenian comic writer.

VIII. Hence it will be seen that the origin of comedy does not rest with the Athenians; that Megara, if the birthplace of Susarion, may fairly claim whatever merit belongs to the first rude improvement, and that Syracuse is entitled to the higher distinction of raising humour into art. So far is comedy the offspring of the Dorians—not the Dorians of a sullen oligarchy, with whom to vary an air of music was a crime—not the Dorians of Lacedaemon—but of Megara and Syracuse—of an energetic, though irregular democracy—of a splendid, though illegitimate monarchy. [326]

But the comedy of Epicharmus was not altogether the old comedy of Athens. The last, as bequeathed to us by Aristophanes, has features which bear little family resemblance to the philosophical parodies of the Pythagorean poet. It does not confine itself to mythological subjects—it avoids the sententious style—it does not preach, but ridicule philosophy—it plunges amid the great practical business of men—it breathes of the Agora and the Piraeus—it is not a laughing sage, but a bold, boisterous, gigantic demagogue, ever in the thickest mob of human interests, and wielding all the various humours of a democracy with a brilliant audacity, and that reckless ease which is the proof of its astonishing power.

IX. Chionides was the first Athenian comic writer. We find him before the public three years after the battle of Marathon (B. C. 487), when the final defeat of Hippias confirmed the stability of the republic; and when the improvements of Aeschylus in tragedy served to communicate new attractions to the comic stage. Magnes, a writer of great wit, and long popular, closely followed, and the titles of some of the plays of these writers confirm the belief that Attic comedy, from its commencement, took other ground than that occupied by the mythological burlesques of Epicharmus. So great was the impetus given to the new art, that a crowd of writers followed simultaneously, whose very names it is wearisome to mention. Of these the most eminent were Cratinus and Crates. The earliest recorded play of Cratinus, though he must have exhibited many before [327], appeared the year prior to the death of Cimon (the Archilochi, B. C. 448). Plutarch quotes some lines from this author, which allude to the liberality of Cimon with something of that patron-loving spirit which was rather the characteristic of a Roman than an Athenian poet. Though he himself, despite his age, was proverbially of no very abstemious or decorous habits, Cratinus was unsparing in his attacks upon others, and wherever he found or suspected vice, he saw a subject worthy of his genius. He was admired to late posterity, and by Roman critics, for the grace and even for the grandeur of his hardy verses; and Quintilian couples him with Eupolis and Aristophanes as models for the formation of orators. Crates appeared (B. C. 451) two years before the first recorded play of Cratinus. He had previously been an actor, and performed the principal characters in the plays of Cratinus. Aristophanes bestows on him the rare honour of his praise, while he sarcastically reminds the Athenian audience of the ill reception that so ingenious a poet often received at their hands. Yet, despite the excellence of the earlier comic writers, they had hitherto at Athens very sparingly adopted the artistical graces of Epicharmus. Crates, who did not write before the five years' truce with Sparta, is said by Aristotle not only to have been the first who abandoned the Iambic form of comedy, but the first Athenian who invented systematic fable or plot—a strong argument to show how little the Athenian borrowed from the Sicilian comedy, since, if the last had been its source of inspiration, the invented stories of Epicharmus (by half a century the predecessor of Crates) would naturally have been the most striking improvement to be imitated. The Athenian comedy did not receive the same distinctions conferred upon tragedy. So obscure was its rise to its later eminence, that even Aristotle could not determine when or by whom the various progressive improvements were made: and, regarded with jealous or indifferent eyes by the magistrature as an exhibition given by private competitors, nor calling for the protection of the state, which it often defied, it was long before its chorus was defrayed at the public cost.

Under Cratinus and Crates [328], however, in the year of the Samian war, the comic drama assumed a character either so personally scurrilous, or so politically dangerous, that a decree was passed interdicting its exhibitions (B. C. 440). The law was repealed three years afterward (B. C. 437) [329]. Viewing its temporary enforcement, and the date in which it was passed, it appears highly probable that the critical events of the Samian expedition may have been the cause of the decree. At such a time the opposition of the comic writers might have been considered dangerous. With the increased stability of the state, the law was, perhaps, deemed no longer necessary. And from the recommencement of the comic drama, we may probably date both the improvements of Crates and the special protection of the state; for when, for the first time, Comedy was formally authorized by the law, it was natural that the law should recognise the privileges it claimed in common with its sister Tragedy. There is no authority for supposing that Pericles, whose calm temper and long novitiate in the stormy career of public life seem to have rendered him callous to public abuse, was the author of this decree. It is highly probable, indeed, that he was absent at the siege of Samos [330] when it was passed; but he was the object of such virulent attacks by the comic poets that we might consider them actuated by some personal feeling of revenge and spleen, were it not evident that Cratinus at least (and probably Crates, his disciple) was attached to the memory of Cimon, and could not fail to be hostile to the principles and government of Cimon's successor. So far at this period had comedy advanced; but, in the background, obscure and undreamed of, was one, yet in childhood, destined to raise the comic to the rank of the tragic muse; one who, perhaps, from his earliest youth, was incited by the noisy fame of his predecessors, and the desire of that glorious, but often perverted power, so palpable and so exultant, which rides the stormy waves of popular applause [331]. About thirteen years after the brief prohibition of comedy appeared that wonderful genius, the elements and attributes of whose works it will be a pleasing, if arduous task, in due season, to analyze and define; matchless alike in delicacy and strength, in powers the most gigantic, in purpose the most daring—with the invention of Shakspeare—the playfulness of Rabelais—the malignity of Swift—need I add the name of Aristophanes?

X. But while comedy had thus progressed to its first invidious dignity, that of proscription, far different was the reward that awaited the present representative and master of the tragic school. In the year that the muse of Cratinus was silenced, Sophocles was appointed one of the colleagues with Pericles in the Samian war.



CHAPTER IV.

The Tragedies of Sophocles.

I. It was in the very nature of the Athenian drama, that, when once established, it should concentrate and absorb almost every variety of the poetical genius. The old lyrical poetry, never much cultivated in Athens, ceased in a great measure when tragedy arose, or rather tragedy was the complete development, the new and perfected consummation of the Dithyrambic ode. Lyrical poetry transmigrated into the choral song, as the epic merged into the dialogue and plot, of the drama. Thus, when we speak of Athenian poetry, we speak of dramatic poetry—they were one and the same. As Helvetius has so luminously shown [332], genius ever turns towards that quarter in which fame shines brightest, and hence, in every age, there will be a sympathetic connexion between the taste of the public and the direction of the talent.

Now in Athens, where audiences were numerous and readers few, every man who felt within himself the inspiration of the poet would necessarily desire to see his poetry put into action—assisted with all the pomp of spectacle and music, hallowed by the solemnity of a religious festival, and breathed by artists elaborately trained to heighten the eloquence of words into the reverent ear of assembled Greece.

Hence the multitude of dramatic poets, hence the mighty fertility of each; hence the life and activity of this—the comparative torpor and barrenness of every other—species of poetry. To add to the pre-eminence of the art, the applauses of the many were sanctioned by the critical canons of the few. The drama was not only the most alluring form which the Divine Spirit could assume—but it was also deemed the loftiest and the purest; and when Aristotle ranked [333] the tragic higher than even the epic muse, he probably did but explain the reasons for a preference which the generality of critics were disposed to accord to her. [334]

II. The career of the most majestic of the Greek poets was eminently felicitous. His birth was noble, his fortune affluent; his natural gifts were the rarest which nature bestows on man, genius and beauty. All the care which the age permitted was lavished on his education. For his feet even the ordinary obstacles in the path of distinction were smoothed away. He entered life under auspices the most propitious and poetical. At the age of sixteen he headed the youths who performed the triumphant paean round the trophy of Salamis. At twenty-five, when the bones of Theseus were borne back to Athens in the galley of the victorious Cimon, he exhibited his first play, and won the prize from Aeschylus. That haughty genius, whether indignant at the success of a younger rival, or at a trial for impiety before the Areopagus, to which (though acquitted) he was subjected, or at the rapid ascendency of a popular party, that he seems to have scorned with the disdain at once of an eupatrid and a Pythagorean, soon after retired from Athens to the Syracusan court; and though he thence sent some of his dramas to the Athenian stage [335], the absent veteran could not but excite less enthusiasm than the young aspirant, whose artful and polished genius was more in harmony with the reigning taste than the vast but rugged grandeur of Aeschylus, who, perhaps from the impossibility tangibly and visibly to body forth his shadowy Titans and obscure sublimity of design, does not appear to have obtained a popularity on the stage equal to his celebrity as a poet [336]. For three-and-sixty years did Sophocles continue to exhibit; twenty times he obtained the first prize, and he is said never to have been degraded to the third. The ordinary persecutions of envy itself seem to have spared this fortunate poet. Although his moral character was far from pure [337], and even in extreme old age he sought after the pleasures of his youth [339], yet his excesses apparently met with a remarkable indulgence from his contemporaries. To him were known neither the mortifications of Aeschylus nor the relentless mockery heaped upon Euripides. On his fair name the terrible Aristophanes himself affixes no brand [339]. The sweetness of his genius extended indeed to his temper, and personal popularity assisted his public triumphs. Nor does he appear to have keenly shared the party animosities of his day; his serenity, like that of Goethe, has in it something of enviable rather than honourable indifference. He owed his first distinction to Cimon, and he served afterward under Pericles; on his entrance into life, he led the youths that circled the trophy of Grecian freedom—and on the verge of death, we shall hereafter see him calmly assent to the surrender of Athenian liberties. In short, Aristophanes perhaps mingled more truth than usual with his wit, when even in the shades below he says of Sophocles, "He was contented here—he's contented there." A disposition thus facile, united with an admirable genius, will, not unoften, effect a miracle, and reconcile prosperity with fame. [340]

At the age of fifty-seven, Sophocles was appointed, as I before said [341], to a command, as one of the ten generals in the Samian war; but history is silent as to his military genius [342]. In later life we shall again have occasion to refer to him, condemned as he was to illustrate (after a career of unprecedented brilliancy—nor ever subjected to the caprice of the common public) the melancholy moral inculcated by himself [343], and so often obtruded upon us by the dramatists of his country, "never to deem a man happy till death itself denies the hazard of reverses." Out of the vast, though not accurately known, number of the dramas of Sophocles, seven remain.

III. A great error has been committed by those who class Aeschylus and Sophocles together as belonging to the same era, and refer both to the age of Pericles, because each was living while Pericles was in power. We may as well class Dr. Johnson and Lord Byron in the same age, because both lived in the reign of George III. The Athenian rivals were formed under the influences of very different generations; and if Aeschylus lived through a considerable portion of the career of the younger Sophocles, the accident of longevity by no means warrants us to consider then the children of the same age—the creatures of the same influences. Aeschylus belonged to the race and the period from which emerged Themistocles and Aristides—Sophocles to those which produced Phidias and Pericles. Sophocles indeed, in the calmness of his disposition, and the symmetry and stateliness of his genius, might almost be entitled the Pericles of poetry. And as the statesman was called the Olympian, not from the headlong vehemence, but the serene majesty of his strength; so of Sophocles also it may be said, that his power is visible in his repose, and his thunders roll from the depth of a clear sky.

IV. The age of Pericles is the age of art [344]. It was not Sophocles alone that was an artist in that time; he was but one of the many who, in every department, sought, in study and in science, the secrets of the wise or the beautiful. Pericles and Phidias were in their several paths of fame what Sophocles was in his. But it was not the art of an emasculate or effeminate period—it grew out of the example of a previous generation of men astonishingly great. It was art still fresh from the wells of nature. Art with a vast field yet unexplored, and in all its youthful vigour and maiden enthusiasm. There was, it is true, at a period a little later than that in which the genius of Sophocles was formed, one class of students among whom a false taste and a spurious refinement were already visible—the class of rhetoricians and philosophical speculators. For, in fact, the art which belongs to the imagination is often purest in an early age; but that which appertains to the reason and intellect is slow before it attains mature strength and manly judgment, Among these students was early trained and tutored the thoughtful mind of Euripides; and hence that art which in Sophocles was learned in more miscellaneous and active circles, and moulded by a more powerful imagination, in Euripides often sickens us with the tricks of a pleader, the quibbles of a schoolman, or the dullness of a moralizing declaimer. But as, in the peculiar attributes and character of his writings, Euripides somewhat forestalled his age—as his example had a very important influence upon his successors—as he did not exhibit till the fame of Sophocles was already confirmed—and as his name is intimately associated with the later age of Aristophanes and Socrates—it may be more convenient to confine our critical examination at present to the tragedies of Sophocles.

Although the three plays of the "Oedipus Tyrannus," the "Oedipus at Coloneus," and the "Antigone," were composed and exhibited at very wide intervals of time, yet, from their connexion with each other, they may almost be said to form one poem. The "Antigone," which concludes the story, was the one earliest written; and there are passages in either "Oedipus" which seem composed to lead up, as it were, to the catastrophe of the "Antigone," and form a harmonious link between the several dramas. These three plays constitute, on the whole, the greatest performance of Sophocles, though in detached parts they are equalled by passages in the "Ajax" and the "Philoctetes."

V. The "Oedipus Tyrannus" opens thus. An awful pestilence devastates Thebes. Oedipus, the king, is introduced to us, powerful and beloved; to him whose wisdom had placed him on the throne, look up the priest and the suppliants for a remedy even amid the terrors of the plague. Oedipus informs them that he has despatched Creon (the brother of his wife Jocasta) to the Pythian god to know by what expiatory deed the city might be delivered from its curse. Scarce has he concluded, when Creon himself enters, and announces "glad tidings" in the explicit answer of the oracle. The god has declared—that a pollution had been bred in the land, and must be expelled the city—that Laius, the former king, had been murdered—and that his blood must be avenged. Laius had left the city never to return; of his train but one man escaped to announce his death by assassins. Oedipus instantly resolves to prosecute the inquiry into the murder, and orders the people to be summoned. The suppliants arise from the altar, and a solemn chorus of the senators of Thebes (in one of the most splendid lyrics of Sophocles) chant the terrors of the plague—"that unarmed Mars"—and implore the protection of the divine averters of destruction. Oedipus then, addressing the chorus, demands their aid to discover the murderer, whom he solemnly excommunicates, and dooms, deprived of aid and intercourse, to waste slowly out a miserable existence; nay, if the assassin should have sought refuge in the royal halls, there too shall the vengeance be wreaked and the curse fall.

"For I," continued Oedipus,

"I, who the sceptre which he wielded wield; I, who have mounted to his marriage bed; I, in whose children (had he issue known) His would have claimed a common brotherhood; Now that the evil fate bath fallen o'er him— I am the heir of that dead king's revenge, Not less than if these lips had hailed him 'father!'"

A few more sentences introduce to us the old soothsayer Tiresias—for whom, at the instigation of Creon, Oedipus had sent. The seer answers the adjuration of the king with a thrilling and ominous burst—

"Wo—wo!—how fearful is the gift of wisdom, When to the wise it bears no blessing!—wo!"

The haughty spirit of Oedipus breaks forth at the gloomy and obscure warnings of the prophet. His remonstrances grow into threats. In his blindness he even accuses Tiresias himself of the murder of Laius—and out speaks the terrible diviner:

"Ay—is it so? Abide then by thy curse And solemn edict—never from this day Hold human commune with these men or me; Lo, where thou standest—lo, the land's polluter!"

A dialogue of great dramatic power ensues. Oedipus accuses Tiresias of abetting his kinsman, Creon, by whom he had been persuaded to send for the soothsayer, in a plot against his throne—and the seer, who explains nothing and threatens all things, departs with a dim and fearful prophecy.

After a song from the chorus, in which are imbodied the doubt, the trouble, the terror which the audience may begin to feel—and here it may be observed, that with Sophocles the chorus always carries on, not the physical, but the moral, progress of the drama [345]—Creon enters, informed of the suspicion against himself which Oedipus had expressed. Oedipus, whose whole spirit is disturbed by the weird and dark threats of Tiresias, repeats the accusation, but wildly and feebly. His vain worldly wisdom suggests to him that Creon would scarcely have asked him to consult Tiresias, nor Tiresias have ventured on denunciations so tremendous, had not the two conspired against him: yet a mysterious awe invades him—he presses questions on Creon relative to the murder of Laius, and seems more anxious to acquit himself than accuse another.

While the princes contend, the queen, Jocasta, enters. She chides their quarrel, learns from Oedipus that Tiresias had accused him of the murder of the deceased king, and, to convince him of the falseness of prophetic lore, reveals to him, that long since it was predicted that Laius should be murdered by his son joint offspring of Jocasta and himself. Yet, in order to frustrate the prophecy, the only son of Laius had been exposed to perish upon solitary and untrodden mountains, while, in after years, Laius himself had fallen, in a spot where three roads met, by the hand of a stranger; so that the prophecy had not come to pass.

At this declaration terror seizes upon Oedipus. He questions Jocasta eagerly and rapidly—the place where the murder happened, the time in which it occurred, the age and personal appearance of Laius—and when he learns all, his previous arrogant conviction of innocence deserts him; and as he utters a horrid exclamation, Jocasta fixes her eyes upon him, and "shudders as she gazes." [346] He inquires what train accompanied Laius—learns that there were five persons; that but one escaped; that on his return to Thebes, seeing Oedipus on the throne, the surviver had besought the favour to retire from the city. Oedipus orders this witness of the murder to be sent for, and then proceeds to relate his own history. He has been taught to believe that Polybus of Corinth and Merope of Doris were his parents. But once at a banquet he was charged with being a supposititious child; the insult galled him, and he went to Delphi to consult the oracle. It was predicted to him that he should commit incest with his mother, and that his father should fall by his hand. Appalled and horror-stricken, he resolves to fly the possible fulfilment of the prophecy, and return no more to Corinth. In his flight by the triple road described by Jocasta he meets an old man in a chariot, with a guide or herald, and other servitors. They attempt to thrust him from the road—a contest ensues—he slays the old man and his train. Could this be Laius? Can it be to the marriage couch of the man he slew that he has ascended? No, his fears are too credulous! he clings to a straw; the herdsman who had escaped the slaughter of Laius and his attendants may prove that it was not the king whom he encountered. Jocasta sustains this hope—she cannot believe a prophecy—for it had been foretold that Laius should fall by the hand of his son, and that son had long since perished on the mountains. The queen and Oedipus retire within their palace; the chorus resume their strains; after which, Jocasta reappears on her way to the temple of Apollo, to offer sacrifice and prayer. At this time a messenger arrives to announce to Oedipus the death of Polybus, and the wish of the Corinthians to elect Oedipus to the throne! At these tidings Jocasta is overjoyed.

"Predictions of the gods, where are ye now? Lest by the son's doomed hand the sire should fall, The son became a wanderer on the earth, Lo, not the son, but Nature, gives the blow!"

Oedipus, summoned to the messenger, learns the news of his supposed father's death! It is a dread and tragic thought, but the pious Oedipus is glad that his father is no more, since he himself is thus saved from parricide; yet the other part of the prediction haunts him. His mother!—she yet lives. He reveals to the messenger the prophecy and his terror. To cheer him, the messenger now informs him that he is not the son of Merope and Polybus. A babe had been found in the entangled forest-dells of Cithaeron by a herdsman and slave of Laius —he had given the infant to another—that other, the messenger who now tells the tale. Transferred to the care of Polybus and Merope, the babe became to them as a son, for they were childless. Jocasta hears—stunned and speechless—till Oedipus, yet unconscious of the horrors still to come, turns to demand of her if she knew the herdsman who had found the child. Then she gasps wildly out—

"Whom speaks he of? Be silent—heed it not— Blot it out from thy memory!—it is evil! Oedipus. It cannot be—the clew is here; and I Will trace it through that labyrinth—my birth. Jocasta. By all the gods I warn thee; for the sake Of thine own life beware; it is enough For me to hear and madden!"

Oedipus (suspecting only that the pride of his queen revolts from the thought of her husband's birth being proved base and servile) replies,

"Nay, nay, cheer thee! Were I through three descents threefold a slave, My shame would not touch thee. Jocasta. I do implore thee, This once obey me—this once. Oedipus I will not! To truth I grope my way. Jocasta. And yet what love Speaks in my voice! Thine ignorance is thy bliss. Oedipus. A bliss that tortures! Jocasta. Miserable man! Oh couldst thou never learn the thing thou art! Oedipus. Will no one quicken this slow herdsman's steps The unquestioned birthright of a royal name Let this proud queen possess! Jocasta. Wo! wo! thou wretch! Wo! my last word!—words are no more for me!"

With this Jocasta rushes from the scene. Still Oedipus misconstrues her warning; he ascribes her fears to the royalty of her spirit. For himself, Fortune was his mother, and had blessed him; nor could the accident of birth destroy his inheritance from nature. The chorus give way to their hopes! their wise, their glorious Oedipus might have been born a Theban! The herdsman enters: like Tiresias, he is loath to speak. The fiery king extorts his secret. Oedipus is the son of Laius and Jocasta—at his birth the terrible prophecies of the Pythian induced his own mother to expose him on the mountains—the compassion of the herdsman saved him—saved him to become the bridegroom of his mother, the assassin of his sire. The astonishing art with which, from step to step, the audience and the victim are led to the climax of the discovery, is productive of an interest of pathos and of terror which is not equalled by the greatest masterpieces of the modern stage [347], and possesses that species of anxious excitement which is wholly unparalleled in the ancient. The discovery is a true catastrophe—the physical denouement is but an adjunct to the moral one. Jocasta, on quitting the scene, had passed straight to the bridal-chamber, and there, by the couch from which had sprung a double and accursed progeny, perished by her own hands. Meanwhile, the predestined parricide, bursting into the chamber, beheld, as the last object on earth, the corpse of his wife and mother! Once more Oedipus reappears, barred for ever from the light of day. In the fury of his remorse, he "had smote the balls of his own eyes," and the wise baffler of the sphinx, Oedipus, the haughty, the insolent, the illustrious, is a forlorn and despairing outcast. But amid all the horror of the concluding scene, a beautiful and softening light breaks forth. Blind, powerless, excommunicated, Creon, whom Oedipus accused of murder, has now become his judge and his master. The great spirit, crushed beneath its intolerable woes, is humbled to the dust; and the "wisest of mankind" implores but two favours—to be thrust from the land an exile, and once more to embrace his children. Even in translation the exquisite tenderness of this passage cannot altogether fail of its effect.

"For my fate, let it pass! My children, Creon! My sons—nay, they the bitter wants of life May master—they are MEN?—my girls—my darlings— Why, never sat I at my household board Without their blessed looks—our very bread We brake together; thou'lt be kind to them For my sake, Creon—and (oh, latest prayer!) Let me but touch them—feel them with these hands, And pour such sorrow as may speak farewell O'er ills that must be theirs! By thy pure line— For thin is pure—do this, sweet prince. Methinks I should not miss these eyes, could I but touch them. What shall I say to move thee? Sobs! And do I, Oh do I hear my sweet ones? Hast thou sent, In mercy sent, my children to my arms? Speak—speak—I do not dream! Creon. They are thy children; I would not shut thee from the dear delight In the old time they gave thee. Oedipus. Blessings on thee For this one mercy mayst thou find above A kinder God than I have. Ye—where are ye? My children—come!—nearer and nearer yet," etc.

The pathos of this scene is continued to the end; and the very last words Oedipus utters as his children cling to him, implore that they at least may not be torn away.

It is in this concluding scene that the art of the play is consummated; the horrors of the catastrophe, which, if a last impression, would have left behind a too painful and gloomy feeling, are softened down by this beautiful resort to the tenderest and holiest sources of emotion. And the pathos is rendered doubly effective, not only from the immediate contrast of the terror that preceded it, but from the masterly skill with which all display of the softer features in the character of Oedipus is reserved to the close. In the breaking up of the strong mind and the daring spirit, when empire, honour, name, are all annihilated, the heart is seen, as it were, surviving the wrecks around it, and clinging for support to the affections.

VII. In the "Oedipus at Coloneus," the blind king is presented to us, after the lapse of years, a wanderer over the earth, unconsciously taking his refuge in the grove of the furies [348]—"the awful goddesses, daughters of Earth and Darkness." His young daughter, Antigone, one of the most lovely creations of poetry, is his companion and guide; he is afterward joined by his other daughter, Ismene, whose weak and selfish character is drawn in strong contrast to the heroism and devotion of Antigone. The ancient prophecies that foretold his woes had foretold also his release. His last shelter and resting-place were to be obtained from the dread deities, and a sign of thunder, or earthquake, or lightning was to announce his parting hour. Learning the spot to which his steps had been guided, Oedipus solemnly feels that his doom approaches: thus, at the very opening of the poem, he stands before us on the verge of a mysterious grave.

The sufferings which have bowed the parricide to a premature old age [349] have not crushed his spirit; the softness and self-humiliation which were the first results of his awful affliction are passed away. He is grown once more vehement and passionate, from the sense of wrong; remorse still visits him, but is alternated with the yet more human feeling of resentment at the unjust severity of his doom [350]. His sons, who, "by a word," might have saved him from the expulsion, penury, and wanderings he has undergone, had deserted his cause—had looked with indifferent eyes on his awful woes—had joined with Creon to expel him from the Theban land. They are the Goneril and Regan of the classic Lear, as Antigone is the Cordelia on whom he leans—a Cordelia he has never thrust from him. "When," says Oedipus, in stern bitterness of soul,

"When my soul boiled within me—when 'to die' Was all my prayer—and death was sweetness, yea, Had they but stoned me like a dog, I'd blessed them; Then no man rose against me—but when time Brought its slow comfort—when my wounds were scarred— All my griefs mellow'd, and remorse itself Judged my self-penance mightier than my sins, Thebes thrust me from her breast, and they, my sons, My blood, mine offspring, from their father shrunk: A word of theirs had saved me—one small word— They said it not—and lo! the wandering beggar!"

In the mean while, during the exile of Oedipus, strife had broken out between the brothers: Eteocles, here represented as the younger, drove out Polynices, and seized the throne; Polynices takes refuge at Argos, where he prepares war against the usurper: an oracle declares that success shall be with that party which Oedipus joins, and a mysterious blessing is pronounced on the land which contains his bones. Thus, the possession of this wild tool of fate—raised up in age to a dread and ghastly consequence—becomes the argument of the play, as his death must become the catastrophe. It is the deep and fierce revenge of Oedipus that makes the passion of the whole. According to a sublime conception, we see before us the physical Oedipus in the lowest state of destitution and misery—in rags, blindness, beggary, utter and abject impotence. But in the moral, Oedipus is all the majesty of a power still royal. The oracle has invested one, so fallen and so wretched in himself, with the power of a god—the power to confer victory on the cause he adopts, prosperity on the land that becomes his tomb. With all the revenge of age, all the grand malignity of hatred, he clings to this shadow and relic of a sceptre. Creon, aware of the oracle, comes to recall him to Thebes. The treacherous kinsman humbles himself before his victim—he is the suppliant of the beggar, who defies and spurns him. Creon avenges himself by seizing on Antigone and Ismene. Nothing can be more dramatically effective than the scene in which these last props of his age are torn from the desolate old man. They are ultimately restored to him by Theseus, whose amiable and lofty character is painted with all the partial glow of colouring which an Athenian poet would naturally lavish on the Athenian Alfred. We are next introduced to Polynices. He, like Creon, has sought Oedipus with the selfish motive of recovering his throne by means of an ally to whom the oracle promises victory. But there is in Polynices the appearance of a true penitence, and a mingled gentleness and majesty in his bearing which interests us in his fate despite his faults, and which were possibly intended by Sophocles to give a new interest to the plot of the "Antigone," composed and exhibited long before. Oedipus is persuaded by the benevolence of Theseus, and the sweet intercession of Antigone, to admit his son. After a chant from the chorus on the ills of old age [351], Polynices enters. He is struck with the wasted and miserable appearance of the old man, and bitterly reproaches his own desertion.

"But since," he says, with almost a Christian sentiment—

"Since o'er each deed, upon the Olympian throne, Mercy sits joint presider with great Jove, Let her, oh father, also take her stand Within thy soul—and judge me! The past sins Yet have their cure—ah, would they had recall! Why are you voiceless? Speak to me, my father? Turn not away—will you not answer me?" etc.

Oedipus retains his silence in spite of the prayers of his beloved Antigone, and Polynices proceeds to narrate the wrongs he has undergone from Eteocles, and, warming with a young warrior's ardour, paints the array that he has mustered on his behalf—promises to restore Oedipus to his palace—and, alluding to the oracle, throws himself on his father's pardon.

Then, at last, outspeaks Oedipus, and from reproach bursts into curses.

"And now you weep; you wept not at these woes Until you wept your own. But I—I weep not. These things are not for tears, but for Endurance. My son is like his sire—a parricide! Toil, exile, beggary—daily bread doled out From stranger hands—these are your gifts, my son! My nurses, guardians—they who share the want, Or earn the bread, are daughters; call them not Women, for they to me are men. Go to! Thou art not mine—I do disclaim such issue. Behold, the eyes of the avenging God Are o'er thee! but their ominous light delays To blast thee yet. March on—march on—to Thebes! Not—not for thee, the city and the throne; The earth shall first be reddened with thy blood— Thy blood and his, thy foe—thy brother! Curses! Not for the first time summoned to my wrongs— Curses! I call ye back, and make ye now Allies with this old man!

* * * * * *

Yea, curses shall possess thy seat and throne, If antique Justice o'er the laws of earth Reign with the thunder-god. March on to ruin! Spurned and disowned—the basest of the base— And with thee bear this burden: o'er thine head I pour a prophet's doom; nor throne nor home Waits on the sharpness of the levelled spear: Thy very land of refuge hath no welcome; Thine eyes have looked their last on hollow Argos. Death by a brother's hand—dark fratricide, Murdering thyself a brother—shall be thine. Yea, while I curse thee, on the murky deep Of the primeval hell I call! Prepare These men their home, dread Tartarus! Goddesses, Whose shrines are round me—ye avenging Furies! And thou, oh Lord of Battle, who hast stirred Hate in the souls of brethren, hear me—hear me!— And now, 'tis past!—enough!—depart and tell The Theban people, and thy fond allies, What blessings, from his refuge with the Furies, The blind old Oedipus awards his sons!" [352]

As is usual with Sophocles, the terrific strength of these execrations is immediately followed by a soft and pathetic scene between Antigone and her brother. Though crushed at first by the paternal curse, the spirit of Polynices so far recovers its native courage that he will not listen to the prayer of his sister to desist from the expedition to Thebes, and to turn his armies back to Argos. "What," he says,

"Lead back an army that could deem I trembled!"

Yet he feels the mournful persuasion that his death is doomed; and a glimpse of the plot of the "Antigone" is opened upon us by his prayer to his sister, that if he perish, they should lay him with due honours in the tomb. The exquisite loveliness of Antigone's character touches even Polynices, and he departs, saying,

"With the gods rests the balance of our fate; But thee, at least—oh never upon thee May evil fall! Thou art too good for sorrow!"

The chorus resume their strains, when suddenly thunder is heard, and Oedipus hails the sign that heralds him to the shades. Nothing can be conceived more appalling than this omen. It seems as if Oedipus had been spared but to curse his children and to die. He summons Theseus, tells him that his fate is at hand, and that without a guide he himself will point out the spot where he shall rest. Never may that spot be told—that secret and solemn grave shall be the charm of the land and a defence against its foes. Oedipus then turns round, and the instinct within guides him as he gropes along. His daughters and Theseus follow the blind man, amazed and awed. "Hither," he says,

"Hither—by this way come—for this way leads The unseen conductor of the dead [353]—and she Whom shadows call their queen! [354] Oh light, sweet light, Rayless to me—mine once, and even now I feel thee palpable, round this worn form, Clinging in last embrace—I go to shroud The waning life in the eternal Hades!"

Thus the stage is left to the chorus, and the mysterious fate of Oedipus is recited by the Nuntius, in verses which Longinus has not extolled too highly. Oedipus had led the way to a cavern, well known in legendary lore as the spot where Perithous and Theseus had pledged their faith, by the brazen steps which make one of the entrances to the infernal realms;

"Between which place and the Thorician stone— The hollow thorn, and the sepulchral pile He sat him down."

And when he had performed libations from the stream, and laved, and decked himself in the funeral robes, Jove thundered beneath the earth, and the old man's daughters, aghast with horror, fell at his knees with sobs and groans.

"Then o'er them as they wept, his hands he clasped, And 'Oh my children,' said he, 'from this day Ye have no more a father—all of me Withers away—the burden and the toil Of mine old age fall on ye nevermore. Sad travail have ye home for me, and yet Let one thought breathe a balm when I am gone— The thought that none upon the desolate world Loved you as I did; and in death I leave A happier life to you!'

Thus movingly, With clinging arms and passionate sobs, the three Wept out aloud, until the sorrow grew Into a deadly hush—nor cry nor wail Starts the drear silence of the solitude. Then suddenly a bodiless voice is heard And fear came cold on all. They shook with awe, And horror, like a wind, stirred up their hair. Again, the voice—again—'Ho! Oedipus, Why linger we so long? Come—hither—come.'"

Oedipus then solemnly consigns his children to Theseus, dismisses them, and Theseus alone is left with the old man.

"So groaning we depart—and when once more We turned our eyes to gaze, behold, the place Knew not the man! The king alone was there, Holding his spread hands o'er averted brows As if to shut from out the quailing gaze The horrid aspect of some ghastly thing That nature durst not look on. So we paused Until the king awakened from the terror, And to the mother Earth, and high Olympus, Seat of the gods, he breathed awe—stricken prayer But, how the old man perished, save the king, Mortal can ne'er divine; for bolt, nor levin, Nor blasting tempest from the ocean borne, Was heard or seen; but either was he rapt Aloft by wings divine, or else the shades, Whose darkness never looked upon the sun, Yawned in grim mercy, and the rent abyss Ingulf'd the wanderer from the living world."

Such, sublime in its wondrous power, its appalling mystery, its dim, religious terror, is the catastrophe of the "Oedipus at Coloneus." The lines that follow are devoted to the lamentations of the daughters, and appear wholly superfluous, unless we can consider that Sophocles desired to indicate the connexion of the "Oedipus" with the "Antigone," by informing us that the daughters of Oedipus are to be sent to Thebes at the request of Antigone herself, who hopes, in the tender courage of her nature, that she may perhaps prevent the predicted slaughter of her brothers.

VII. Coming now to the tragedy of "Antigone," we find the prophecy of Oedipus has been fulfilled—the brothers have fallen by the hand of each other—the Argive army has been defeated—Creon has obtained the tyranny, and interdicts, on the penalty of death, the burial of Polynices, whose corpse remains guarded and unhonoured. Antigone, mindful of her brother's request to her in their last interview, resolves to brave the edict, and perform those rites so indispensably sacred in the eyes of a Greek. She communicates her resolution to her sister Ismene, whose character, still feeble and commonplace, is a perpetual foil to the heroism of Antigone. She acts upon her resolutions, baffles the vigilant guards, buries the corpse. Creon, on learning that his edict has been secretly disobeyed, orders the remains to be disinterred, and in a second attempt Antigone is discovered, brought before him, and condemned to death. Haemon, the son of Creon, had been affianced to Antigone. On the news of her sentence he seeks Creon, and after a violent scene between the two, which has neither the power nor the dignity common to Sophocles, departs with vague menaces. A short but most exquisite invocation to love from the chorus succeeds, and in this, it may be observed, the chorus express much left not represented in the action—they serve to impress on the spectator all the irresistible effects of the passion which the modern artist would seek to represent in some moving scene between Antigone and Haemon. The heroine herself now passes across the stage on her way to her dreadful doom, which is that of living burial in "the cavern of a rock." She thus addresses the chorus—

"Ye, of the land wherein my fathers dwelt, Behold me journeying to my latest bourne! Time hath no morrow for these eyes. Black Orcus, Whose court hath room for all, leads my lone steps, E'en while I live, to shadows. Not for me The nuptial blessing or the marriage hymn: Acheron, receive thy bride! (Chorus.) Honoured and mourned Nor struck by slow disease or violent hand, Thy steps glide to the grave! Self-judged, like Freedom, [355] Thou, above mortals gifted, shalt descend All living to the shades. Antigone. Methinks I have heard— So legends go—how Phrygian Niobe (Poor stranger) on the heights of Sipylus Mournfully died. The hard rock, like the tendrils O' the ivy, clung and crept unto her heart— Her, nevermore, dissolving into showers, Pale snows desert; and from her sorrowful eyes, As from unfailing founts adown the cliffs, Fall the eternal dews. Like her, the god Lulls me to sleep, and into stone!"

Afterward she adds in her beautiful lament, "That she has one comfort —that she shall go to the grave dear to her parents and her brother."

The grief of Antigone is in perfect harmony with her character—it betrays no repentance, no weakness—it is but the natural sorrow, of youth and womanhood, going down to that grave which had so little of hope in the old Greek religion. In an Antigone on our stage we might have demanded more reference to her lover; but the Grecian heroine names him not, and alludes rather to the loss of the woman's lot of wedlock than the loss of the individual bridegroom. But it is not for that reason that we are to conclude, with M. Schlegel and others, that the Greek women knew not the sentiment of love. Such a notion, that has obtained an unaccountable belief, I shall hereafter show to be at variance with all the poetry of the Greeks—with their drama itself— with their modes of life—and with the very elements of that human nature, which is everywhere the same. But Sophocles, in the character of Antigone, personifies duty, not passion. It is to this, her leading individuality, that whatever might weaken the pure and statue-like effect of the creation is sacrificed. As she was to her father, so is she to her brother. The sorrows and calamities of her family have so endeared them to her heart that she has room for little else. "Formed," as she exquisitely says of herself, "to love, not to hate," [356] she lives but to devote affections the most sacred to sad and pious tasks, and the last fulfilled, she has done with earth.

When Antigone is borne away, an august personage is presented to us, whose very name to us, who usually read the Oedipus Tyrannus before the Antigone, is the foreteller of omen and doom. As in the Oedipus Tyrannus, Tiresias the soothsayer appears to announce all the terrors that ensue—so now, at the crowning desolation of that fated house, he, the solemn and mysterious surviver of such dark tragedies, is again brought upon the stage. The auguries have been evil—birds battle with each other in the air—the flame will not mount from the sacrificial victim—and the altars and hearths are full of birds and dogs, gathering to their feast on the corpse of Polynices. The soothsayer enjoins Creon not to war against the dead, and to accord the rites of burial to the prince's body. On the obstinate refusal of Creon, Tiresias utters prophetic maledictions and departs. Creon, whose vehemence of temper is combined with a feeble character, and strongly contrasts the mighty spirit of Oedipus, repents, and is persuaded by the chorus to release Antigone from her living prison, as well as to revoke the edict which denies sepulture to Polynices. He quits the stage for that purpose, and the chorus burst into one of their most picturesque odes, an Invocation to Bacchus, thus inadequately presented to the English reader.

"Oh thou, whom earth by many a title hails, Son of the thunder-god, and wild delight Of the wild Theban maid! Whether on far Italia's shores obey'd, Or where Eleusis joins thy solemn rites With the great mother's [357], in mysterious vales— Bacchus in Bacchic Thebes best known, Thy Thebes, who claims the Thyads as her daughters; Fast by the fields with warriors dragon-sown, And where Ismenus rolls his rapid waters. It saw thee, the smoke, On the horned height—[358] It saw thee, and broke With a leap into light; Where roam Corycian nymphs the glorious mountain, And all melodious flows the old Castalian fountain Vocal with echoes wildly glad, The Nysian steeps with ivy clad, And shores with vineyards greenly blooming, Proclaiming, steep to shore, That Bacchus evermore Is guardian of the race, Where he holds his dwelling-place With her [359], beneath the breath Of the thunder's glowing death, In the glare of her glory consuming.

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