« السابقةمتابعة »
ble he has practical jokes, good-humoured merriment, interminable slang,—the puns of the Peiræus,' the proverbs of the Agora,' the ribaldry of the popular assembly, and the professional pleasantries of the courts of justice ;-while for souls of brighter mould he unveils the awful face of genuine Poesy, and bids the mighty mother smile upon her votaries. * The patriot learned from him to glow at the recollections of Marathon; † the poetical aspirant to invoke the shade of Homer; I the youth to shudder at the hideousness of vice; 5 and the aged to repose in the security of virtue. Ñ Though diffidence (for modesty was no stranger to the breast of Aristophanes) induced fiim to have his first play acted under the shelter of another's name, I the sentiments, we may safely conjecture, as well as the tendency of that composition, were conceived in a spirit all his own. We know that the subject was serious, and it would neither be weakened nor degraded by his treatment of it. The applause which crowned this effort taught him, that, even among such an audience as Democratic Athens afforded, however future Mitchells or Mitfords were to blacken at the notion,-there were some hearts that beat in perfect unison with his own, and many that, while they had chosen the wrong path, could yet discern the right, and had neither lost the sense to understand, nor the feeling to admire him.
We feel as if treading upon holy ground, in venturing to treat of a subject that has so lately been discussed and adorned by the labours of the Messrs Schlegels. We promise that our steps shall be as light and rapid as we can make them, but mixed with the gratitude we entertain towards those distinguished critics, for rescuing Aristophanes from the obloquies of ignorant contempt, and asserting with so much spirit his
proper place among the poets of antiquity,---there is a wish, for which our readers must hold us excused, to add our own homage, however insignificant, to theirs. In every light in which we can view the works of this extraordinary genius, there is an union of different qualities perceptible, singular and striking when contemplated separately, but utterly amazing when considered in the aggregate. As a patriot,' says Mons. Schlegel, • his principal merit consists in the fidelity with which he paints
* His own words are
Σμικρον υποθεσθαι τους κριταισι βελομαι"
Τοις γελωσι δήδεως, δια το γελων κρινειν έμε.-Ecclesiaz. V. 1154. f Vespæ, v. 1109.
Ranæ. v. 1061.
Ø Passim. Vespæ, v. 1054.
• all the corruptions of the state, and in the chastisement which • he inflicts on the pestilent demagogues who caused that cor
ruption, or profited by its effects. But to the tone of proud defiance and indignant eloquence in which, at all personal hazards to himself, he so discharged this patriotic duty, as to deserve the crown of sacred Olive from the hands of his countrymen, there is to be added that spirit of impartial scrutiny, preserved amid the rage of declamation, and that minuteness of historical detail, that caused even his adversary Plato to send his comedies to Dionysius in Sicily, as the most faithful record of Grecian affairs and politics for the period during which he wrote. In satire, though, when justice demands it, he can be severe, caustic, terrible,-yet the vein of brisk and sprightly raillery,—of lively and not illnatured quizzing, if we may use such an expression, in which he so often indulges, seems more congenial to his temper and dispositions. If he might have said with Junius, in his haughtier moments -- Vhat public ques• tion have I declined? What villain have I spared ?'-we suspect that in general he would have been more pleased to claim that facetious and civil way of jesting,' that Heinsius commends in Horace, and Scaliger means to describe where he talks of a poet's grinning merely to show his white teeth, without a thought of using them. There is sometimes, to be sure, a little butchering, -as when he falls foul of a Cleon or a Cleisthenes; but, for the most part, we have to admire that decisive criterion of a superior genius, the insinuated sarcasm, the delicate invective,-in Dryden's language the fineness of
the stroke that separates the head from the body, and leaves • it standing in its place.' ' Any man,' said the wife of a very useful though ignoble member of the commonwealth, any
man is capable of a plain piece of workma bare hanging ; but
to make a malefactor die sweetly,—-'tis only my Mr Ketch can do that!' Aristophanes has all this merit. He certainly executes with grace; and the very victim must have found it difficult to refrain from joining in the laughter raised at his expense.
But the prominent feature—the differential quality that distinguishes his satire from that of other poets, is neither its occasional vigour, nor its general facetiousness. Among the Latins, we have Juvenal his equal in the first respect, and Horace in the last. It is that unfailing fluency and copiousnessthat sort of active magnetism, by which one conception rising in his mind draws after it in full exuberance an endless train of corresponding thoughts and connected allusions--that magie power that conjures and compels into its service the most re
mote, refractory ideas, and surprises us at every turn, like unexpected light, with something that at once startles and delights the mind.--As the fabled touch of the Phrygian monarch transmiuted the meanest materials into gold,-or as the chemist extracts a spirit from a thousand seemingly unpromising substances,--the unwearied and prolific fancy of Aristophanes can find matter for his drollery or sarcasm, where a less fertile or less energetic genius would slumber or despair. A beard, *-a puff of smoke, a termination, I--the blunder of a clown, the lisp of Alcibiades, f-every thing and any thing is made subservient to his purposes of personal attack. Once let him be started, and it is vain to conjecture whither he will lead, or where please to stop. His restless wit flows on-sometimes sparkling in antithesis-sometimes pungent in a gibe-sometimes insipid in a pun, 1-but never for an instant failing him, or threatening his readers with a drought. Persius, tt--a satirist to whom Dry
* Ecclesiaz, v. 101.
+ Vespæ, v. 342. I Nubes, v. 642. || Ib. y. 213. s Vespæ, v. 45. I His
passion for puns might have made him, in later times, the pride and envy of a Cambridge common-room. Attic ears may have relished them well enough,—but we should pity the translator who could think it worth while to imitate them in his vernacular idiom.
++ A word in behalf of a favourite author, who is not near so much read or admired as he ought to be, must be allowed us.
We forget whose observation it is that the difficulty in Juvenal is to choose • a meaning in Persius to find one ;' in which there is much more quaintness than truth. His difSculties are much magnified through the self-created mists with which laziness surrounds him, and may generally be easily dispelled if we will but recollect the dramatic air he has studiously given to his compositions, and the extreme compression of thought at which he aims. His metre may be called i scabrous and hobbling ;' but it is at least as harmonious as that of Horace, and, for more important particulars, even Dryden acknowledges that he is never wanting to us in some profitable doctrine, • and in exposing the opposite vices to it;' nor can he stigmatize him for great indecency, except in one passage of his 4th Satire.--In some bursts of serious poetry he is wonderfully striking and sublime. There can be nothing finer than that apostrophe in the 3d Satire, . Magne pater Divûm !' &c., whence Milton has taken
Virtue in her shape how lovely ; saw, and pin’d
His loss ; and the magnificent close of the 2d, eulogized by Lord Chatham, which we trace in Milton's lines
O Spirit, that dost prefer
den by no means does justice, and whom no commentator except Casaubon seems to have thoroughly understood, is the only writer we can mention who comes at all near to Aristophanes in this quality of inexhaustible fertility. Perhaps the consciousness of such resemblance might heighten the enthusiasm with which that Roman hails him as the PRÆGRANDIS SENEX * of the Grecian comedy; but it is an epithet to which the “ audacious' Cratinus, or the angry? Eupolis himself, could hardly have objected.—The boast Aristophanes has put into the mouth of his Chorus in the Acharnians,
ουτω δ' αυτου περι της τολμης ήδη πορρω κλεος ήκει,
και των πολεμω πολυ νικησειν, τουτον ξυμβουλoν έχοντας + --may appear plausible enough to have been more than a 'mere jeu de théâtre,'' if our readers shall think that we are borne out by the reality in the praises we have bestowed upon the boldness of his patriotism, and the richness of his satire.
Language and versification are points of scarcely less importance, when we are considering the merits of a Poet; and in these, says Mons. Schlegel, his excellence is not barely acknowledged
it is such as to entitle him to take his place among the first • poets to whom Greece has given birth.'. He might have said still more:- Aristophanes is wholly without a competitor in these respects. The tripping lightness and airy grace of his trochaic metres, and the majestic swell of the anapæstic tetrameter that has taken its name from him, are fraught with mu
* Pers. Sat. I. v. 124.
that when Sparta to Persia sent mission,
question’d deep and with learned precision.
shew'd most prowess, commanding the ocean ;-
and his taunts stir offence and commotion. Who,” says he, “ most incline to that poet divine,
to his counsels of wisdom low bending ; In war shall that state most her fortunes make great and her morals at home best be mending.
Achar. v. 653. Trans. p. 88.
sic the most eloquent,' even under all the disadvantages of neglected accents and modern pronunciation : while a single glance at Suidas or Hesychius is sufficient to convince us how much of his native tongue owes its preservation to his writings, and how vast those treasures must be, from whose repositories the Grecian Lexicographers have drawn such overflowing stores. Had the flames of Omar reached the whole of his productions, posterity could never have rightly estimated the exhaustless power, the endless flexibility, the prodigal exuberance of the magnificent language in which they are embodied: -could never have tasted the true relish of that Attic Salt, which though sometimes harsh and acrid--the sales venenati of Seneca-might oftener seem to have been collected from that very wave which gave birth to Aphrodite * herself: --nor have traced to one maternal womb so many of what appear, on a suiperficial inspection, the idiomatic graces of other tongues.- If we allow the name of Plutarch once more to cross our pages, it is not for the purpose of confuting his ridiculous charges under this head, which even the zealous Frischlinus dismisses with a smile, t but merely to show how far the ardour of a thorough Platonist--(for Plutarch, as the devoted admirer of Socrates and Plato, had his own motives for endeavourring to depreciate Aristophanes)—could hurry him, in spite of the conviction of his very ears.
The following is his atrocious † criticism, as Frischlin justly terms it: • There is, sooth to say, in the structure of
his phraseology something tragi-comic, bombastic as well as pedestrian,—there is obscurity, -there is vulgarity,--there are
turgidity and pompous ostentation, together with a garrulity • and trifling that are enough to turn the stomach !' 1-Bona verba Plutarche !--we well may cry with honest Nicodemus. It is amusing enough to find such blasphemies as these in a writer, who reckons it one of the worst symptoms of malignity to use rough or violent expressions where milder phrases are at hand-ÉTIEREFSZWY Tugortwv), 4-and who would soften down the ferocious insanity of Cleon into the gentle reprobation of a futile levity! !
* The compliment of Plutarch to Menander.
++ Nicod. Frischlini defensio Aristophanis contra Plutarchi crimipationes. | 54 feer
ģy v τη κατασκευή των ονοματων αυτω το τραγικου, το κωμικου, το σοβαρον, το πεζον, ασαφεια, κοινοτης, όγκος και διαρμα, σπερμολογια και pavargste veutiwdns.—Plut. Aristoph. et Menandri Comp.
De Herodoti Malignitate Comment. | και θρασυτητα και μανιαν Κλεωνος μαλλον, ή κεφαλογιαν.---De Herodot. Malig. Comment, p. 395. edit. Xylan.