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the severity of his fatire, or that his characters of depravity are in general overcharged, and his pictures of human nature more deformed than. their originals. As for the rest of the comic: fraternity, their fragments only can plead for them ; but they are fragments of such a nature, as prove them to have been moralists of the sublimest sort,' and they have been collected, translated, and applauded, by the gravest and. most fent-ntious of the Christian writers for many ages. I will venture to say, that in these. scattered reliques of the comic stage, more useful knowledge and good sense, better maxims for right conduct in life, and a more generous display of benevolence, justice, public spirit, and all the moral virtues of natural religion are to be found, than in all the writings of the philosophers, which are so much more entire.
Socrates, it is true, could hardly be prevailed upon to enter the comic theatre, but I infer very little against the poets on that account; Plato, I am aware, though an intimate of Aristophanes, banished the drama out of his visionary republic; but what is that more than to say, that if all men were virtuous there would be no need of satirists? The comic poets in return laihed the philosophers over the Atage, and they had what they merited, the
public applause on their fide; the schools and academies of sophists furnished an inexhaustible. fund for wholesome ridicule; their contradictory first principles, their dæmons and clouds, and water and fire, with all their idle systems and hypotheses, their fabulous conceits, dreams and devices to catch the vulgar, and the affectea rigour of their manners, whilft in secret they were addicted to the grosseft debauchery and impurity, were continual subjects of satire ; and if hypocrify is not the comic poet's lawful game, what is ? There is not a play of Aristophanes to be named, in which these fanctified finners have not their share in the ridicule; and amongst the fragments above mentioned, a very large proportion falls to their lot.
Aristotle, who had very little feeling for Plato and his academy, or indeed for practical philosophy in general (which he seems to have professed only in opposition to Xenocrates) concerned himself no further about the state of the stage, than to comment and remark upon the tragedies of the three chief writers above mentioned ; and it is humiliating enough to the pride of criticism to observe, that tragedy, after all his pains to hold it up to the standard of Sophocles and Euripides, funk with those authors, and was no more heard of; whilst co
medy, without his help, and in defiance of his neglect, rose in credit with the world, till it attained perfection under the auspices of Menander.
I have spoken of tragedy as a written poem before comedy of the fame description, because I think that Sularion did not write comedy, though he acted it so early as the fiftieth Olympiad; and I also think that Thespis did write tragedy in the fixty-first Olympiad, if not fooner ; in other words, although the complexion of the original drama was comic in the most extravagant degree, yet it appears probable that tragedy had the start in point of publication. The nature of the first comedy, compared with that of the first tragedy, seems to warrant this opinion ; for it is easy to suppose that the raillery and fatire of the village masques, which would pass off at a lawless festival, spoken off-hand and without the malice of premeditation, would not so readily have been committed to writing by the poet, as the tragic drama; which being composed in honour of deceased heroes, or on religious and grave subjects, not only called for greater deliberation on the part of the author, but would also be made public without danger or offence.
It now remains to enquire into the chronology of the written comedy,
I have already observed, that Aristotle afcribes the first written comedy to Epicharmus,
Both Aristotle and Horace call him a Sicilian, but in what particular place he was born is not agreed; some contend that he was a Syracusan, fome that he was a native of Craftum, others of Megara in Sicily: Diomedes the grammarian says he was born in Cos, and derives the word comedy from the name of that ifland, a derivation that sets afide his authority altogether. The father of Epicharmus was named Chimarus, or according to others Tityrus, and his mother Sicida. Cicero in his Tufculans calls him, acutum nec insulfum hominem : Demetrius Phaleræus celebrates him for the elegant and apposite choice of his epithets, on which account the Greeks gave the name of Epicharmion to his ftile, making it proverbial for its beauty and purity. It is difficult to fix the precise time when he began to write comedy, especially as he lived to the great age of ninetyfeven: It is certain however he was still writing in the reign of Hiero, in cr about Olymp. LXXIV. at which time Phormis also wrote comedy in Sicily ; and Chionides, Dinolo
chus and Magnes, comic poets, flourished at Athens.
Suidas's chronology does not agree with Aristotle's, for he makes Chionides antecedent to Epicharmus, and calls him the first writer of comedy ; adding, that Evetes, Euxenides and Mylus, all Athenians, were his contemporaries; he allows, however, that Epicharmus and Phormis were the first writers in the island of Sicily; but this is in the vague manner of his dates, and not to be relied upon : He takes no notice of Aristotle's express assertion, that Epicharmus was long senior to Chionides; and yet he might have recollected, that facts are so far in favour of Aristotle's chronology of these poets, that there is a title upon record of one of Chionides's plays called The Perfians, which must have been posterior to the Persian æra, when it is on all hands agreed that Epicharmus was living
Amongst the epigrams of Theocritus, published by Henry Stevens in 1579, there are fome lines upon Epicharmus, which appear to have been inscribed upon the pedestal of a statue of brass, which the Syracufans had set up in his honour as their fellow-citizen: It confifts of ten lines in the Doric dialect, which he used ; it settles the point of his birth, expressly