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galling to Plutarch, because it was naturalized on the Roman ftage, and, if it was ftill in representation, might give a handle to the wits of the time for a run upon his native country. But I perceive my zeal is carrying me into an unprofitable research, and I proceed with my fubject.
Ariftophanes has fometimes been reproached for his attacks upon Euripides; but this author was a fair subject for fatire in his literary character, and, though he was the friend of Socrates, his private morals were no lefs open to reproof. The voice of the heathen world has been fo loud in the praise of Socrates; he is so decidedly the hero of all the Ciceros and declaimers upon morality, that even now, after so many centuries of Christianity, it is with a kind of superftitious reverence we approach his character. His contemporaries, who faw him in the nearest light, treat him with the leaft refpect: Aristophanes (as Ben Jonfon exprefies it) hoifted him up with a pulley, and made him play the philofopher in a bafket; measure how many foot a flea could skip geometrically by a juft fcale, and edify the people from the engine.-Time and prejudice have fince caft a veil before him, that it would be a hardy. deed to attempt to withdraw.
This attack of Ariftophanes has doomed him
to almoft univerfal deteftation; the praife we give him is no more than his fuperior genius extorts, and it is paid grudgingly, like a tax, without cordiality or good-will: We admire him for his bold attacks upon Cleon, and we can find fome palliation for his ftrictures upon Euripides; the languid affectation of the poet, and the turbulent ferocity of the demagogue, juftify the fatirift; but when he affaults the facred character of Socrates, when he arraigns the unfpotted purity of the great master of morality, it is no longer fatire, it is facrilege. But is all this to pass without one word for the poet? Was he given up by his contemporaries for this atrocious act? was he given up by the friends and difciples of Socrates? By none; not even by Plato himself, who on the contrary caressed, admired and extolled him both in verfe and profe; he adopted his fentiments on the subject of Love, and engrafted them into his own Sympofium: He applauded him to Dionyfius of Syracufe, and put his comedies into his hands as the only pure and perfect model of Attic elegance: The tyrant read them, admired them and even rehearsed them by heart; nay he did more, he turned poet himself, and wrote a play for the Athenian stage, which of course was honoured with a prize. And now why should
we be more angry than Plato was? What have we discovered, which he did not know, that we fhould take the matter up so high? We have discovered that Ariftophanes took a bribe of Melitus and his faction to attack Socrates, and pave the way for their criminal charge, by which he fuffered; and this we take upon credit from Ælian's infinuations in an article of his Various Hiftory, which for its authority in this cafe is about as good an evidence, as any story out of the Incredibilia of Palæphatus Heraclitus. Ælian however does not hardily advance this as a fact, but hooks it in by way of question-Where is the abfurdity, he asks, of supposing that the poet, who was known to be needy, had taken a bribe? -This is a mere infinuation, by which he tries the credulity of his readers: If they will believe it, fo much the better for his purpose; if not, he has nothing elfe to offer; he has done his beft to blacken the character of Aristophanes in this cafe, as he did in that of his intemperance: He has accused him of writing plays when he was drunk, and now he accuses him of taking a bribe for writing them: The man who believes the one, may take the other into the bargain; for his own part, the improbability stares him fo fully in the face, that he immediately fubjoins to his infinuation above quoted-That for the
truth of this, it was best known to Aristophanes bimfelf.This can never pafs with any candid reader. As for the fuccefs of the attack, that he confeffes was beyond all example; the comedy was applauded to the skies; never did any poet receive fuch honours from the public, as Ariftophanes for this play of The Clouds.
As to the charge of the bribe, I need not obferve, that if it was not an eafy thing for any advocate of the poet to prove the negative in Hadrian's days, when lian threw it out, it cannot be lefs difficult now to do it, when more than two millenniums have interpofed between the fact and our examination of it: And yet we know that Ariflophanes, in a fhort time after the reprefentation of his Clouds, brought this very Melitus, who is fuppofed to have fuborned him by a bribe, before the audience, and expofed his vicious character with the most unfparing feverity. If this is not proving a negative, it is as near it as circumftance and prefumption can go.
But there is another part of Elian's charge which can be more clearly difproved than the above, and this is the affertion he advances, that this attack upon Socrates from the ftage was contrived by Anytus and Melitus as a prelude to their criminal accufation of him: This
Ælian expressly afferts, adding that the faction were afraid of his popularity, and therefore fet Ariftophanes upon him to feel the pulse of the people, before they ventured to bring their public charge against him. Here he flatly confutes himself; for had this been the proving attack, what experiment could anfwer more completely, when even by his own account all Athens was in raptures with the poet, and the comedy went off with more general applaufe than any was ever known to receive? nay, more than this, Socrates himself according to Ælian's own account was prefent in the theatre, and ftood up in view of the people all the while; yet in fpite of his prefence, in defiance of this bold appeal, the theatre rung with plaudits, and the philofopher only ftood up to be a more confpicuous mark of raillery and contempt. Why then did not the faction feize the opportunity and fecond the blow? Could any thing anfwer more fully to their wishes? or rather, could any event turn out more beyond their expectation? From Elian's account we are left to conclude that this was the cafe, and that this attack was literally a prelude to their charge; but this inference is alike difingenuous with all the reft, for we know from indubitable dates that The Clouds were acted at least eighteen years before