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galling to Plutarch, because it was naturalized on the Roman stage, and, if it was still 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.
Aristophanes has sometimes 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 less open to reproof. The voice of the heathen world has been so 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 superstitious reverence we approach his character. His contemporaries, who saw him in the nearest light, treat him with the least respect : Aristophanes (as Ben Jonson expresses it) hoisted him up with a pulley, and made him play the pbilosopher in a basket; measure how many foot a flea could skip geometrically by a just scale, and edify the people from the engine.--Time and prejudice have since cast a veil before him, that it would be a hardy deed to attempt to withdraw. This attack of Aristophanes has doomed him
to almost universal deteftation; the praise we give him is no more than his superior 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 some palliation for his ftrictures upon Euripides; the languid affectation of the poet, and the turbulent ferocity of the damagogue, justify the satirist; but when he assaults the facred character of Socrates, when he arraigns the unspotted purity of the great master of morality, it is no lon, er satire, 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 disciples of Socrates ? By none; not even by Plato himself, who on the contrary caressed, admired and extolled him both in verse and prose; he adopted his sentiments on the subject of Love, and engrafted them into his own Symposium: He applauded him to Dionysius of Syracuse, 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 ftage, 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 should take the matter up so high? We have discovered that Aristophanes took a bribe of Melitus and his faction to attack Socrates, and pave the way for their criminal charge, by which he suffered; and this we take upon credit from Ælian's insinuations in an article of his Various History, which for its authority in this case 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 absurdity, he asks, of suppofing that the poet, who was known to be needy, had taken a bribe? -This is a mere insinuation, by which he tries the credulity of his readers : If they will believe it, so much the better for his purpose; if not, he has nothing else to offer; he has done his best to blacken the character of Aristophanes in this case, 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 so fully in the face, that he immediately subjoins to his infinuation above quoted - That for the
truth of this, it was best known to Aristophanes bimself. This can never pass with any candid reader. As for the fuccefs of the attack, that he confesses was beyond all example, the comedy was applauded to the skies; never did any poet receive such honours from the public, as Aristophanes for this play of The Clouds.
As to the charge of the bribe, I need not observe, that if it was not an easy thing for any advocate of the poet to prove the negative in Hadrian's days, when Ælian threw it out, it cannot be less difficult now to do it, when more than two millenniums have interposed between the fact and our examination of it: And yet we know that Aristophanes, in a short time after the representation of his Clouds, brought this very Melitus, who is supposed to have suborned him by a bribe, before the audience, and exposed his vicious character with the most unsparing severity. If this is not proving a negative, it is as near it as circumstance and presumption can go.
But there is another part of Ælian's charge which can be more clearly disproved than the above, and this is the assertion he advances, that this attack upon Socrates from the stage was contrived by Anytus and Melitus as a preJude to their criminal accufation of him : This Ælian expressly afferts, adding that the faction were afraid of his popularity, and therefore set Aristophanes upon him to feel the pulse of the people, before they ventured to bring their public charge against him. Here he Aatly confutes himself; for had this been the proving attack, what experiment could answer more completely, when even by his own account all Athens was in raptures with the poet, and the comedy went off with more general applause than any was ever known to receive ? nay, more than this, Socrates himself according to Ælian's own account was present in the theatre, and
in view of the people all the while; yet in spite of his presence, in defiance of this bold appeal, the theatre rung with plaudits, and the philosopher only stood up to be a more conspicuous mark of raillery and contempt. Why then did not the faction - seize the opportunity and second the blow ? Could any thing answer more fully to their wishes ? or rather, could any event turn out more beyond their expectation? From Ælian's account we are left to conclude that this was the case, and that this attack was literally a prelude to their charge; but this inference is alike disingenuous with all the rest, for we know from indubitable dates that The Clouds were acted at least eighteen years