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It is an observation of Mons. Schlegel, that in many passages of serious and earnest poetry, which (thanks to the boundless 6 variety and lawless formation of the popular comedy of A• thens) he has here and there introduced, Aristophanes shows • himself to be a true poet, and capable, had he so chosen, of • reaching the highest eminence even in the more dignified de
partments of his art. '-This is in fact a very strong point in his poetical character,--and our applause is due, not only to the great intrinsic merit of the passages themselves, but to the extreme taste with which they are uniformly introduced. There is no false glare, that would be misplaced and unnatural if diffused over the surface of comic composition :-they are but the streaks of sunshine, that give variety and beauty to a landscape. We are never disagreeably reminded of the purpureus pannus,' -the purple rag botched in to shame the circumjacent meanness of a beggar's apparel. It is the “illusæ auro vestes, '--the garment tricked with gold, but not overloaded.--It always seems suited to the texture it adorns, -and truly the ground is rich enough to bear a little embroidery.–Aristophanes is no ostentatious coxcomb to drag down Poetry from her car of fire, and parade her in the common eye, merely for the vanity of displaying his acquaintance, ----yet he will sometimes fling the reins into her hands, and is not the man to balk her if she invite him to her side. There are a thousand places we could refer to, that bear the stamp of this communion high.'-We question whether the united genius of Pindar and Euripides,fond as the latter is of the nightingale,---could have produced any thing superior to that burst of lyric ecstacy * in which he calls on Philomela from her leafy yew' to challenge the minstrelsy of Heaven.--Nor will the descriptions of Ovid or of Milton, stand a competition with that tone of melancholy deur in which he opens the Parabasis of the “ Birds” and penetrates the mysteries of Chaos and · Old Night.' 7-Indeed we might safely stake the justice of our panegyric upon the whole conception and execution of that fascinating drama,—the most fantastic production of his fantastic genius,—that seems meant for fays alone to act in fairy-land ;—that Midsummer'sNight-Dream of the Grecian stage, of which it is not too much to say, that it is what Shakespeare, had he been an Athenian, would have written, or, had he read Greek, would have admired.
We have much too slender data to proceed upon, did we wish to institute a comparison, in this respect, between Aristo
* Ayes. v. 209.
+ Ibid. v. 685.
phanes and his precursors or contemporaries in the same line, of whose works nothing but the most meagre fragments have escaped the ravages of time. But with regard to his immediate rivals ;-the remains of Cratinus are by no means of a nature to justify the praises of Quinctilian ;-and the precocious talent of Eupolis #1 fails in competition, when we find it employed upon the same subject with the muse of Aristophanes.' That ces lebrated verse of the Acharnians, in which we seem yet to hear the eloquence of Pericles convulsing Greece,-that verse which Cicero † and Pliny, # Diodorus || and Lucian, s have alike appealed to as the best monument of the orator's fame,~if contrasted with the cold and laboured eulogy of Eupolis, will leave little doubt upon the mind, * that his superior vigour in the passages of serious poetry was one of the grounds upon which the title of Aristophanes to the acknowledged sovereignty of the ancient comedy was founded.
So many brilliant qualities almost required a foil; or at least may cover one transgression. It is the severity of impartial criticism that forces us to admit, that although Aristophanes undoubtedly moderated the spirit of unrestrained and profligate obscenity that wantoned in the old hags and drunkards of preceding bards, enough of it remains in his writings to form a foul blot upon a mind which, in the language of a well-known epigram, the Graces had selected for their peculiar portion. tt Those Powers of the Ce
#1 Eupolis is said to have written 17 comedies by the time that he had lived as many years. + Cic. in Oratore ad Brutum. Num. 29. Ed. Gronov. Plin. Sec. LI.
Κρατικος ούτος εγενετ’ άνθρωπων λεγεων"
de j' airs op Taxe
Το κεντρον εγκατέλιπε τους ακροωμενους. Εupolis o Δημους. 9 Vid. Nubes. v. 555. # This epigram is ascribed to Plato,-it runs thus, Ai χαριτες τεμενος τι λαβειν, όπερ ούχι πεσονται,
Ζητουσαι, ψυχην εύρον 'Αριστοφανούς. VOL. XXXIV. NO. 68.
phisían wave, 11-who plant their thrones at the right hand of Phæbus, and dispense to mortals the three best of heavenly gifts, --wisdom, beauty, and fame, 11-should have shrunk away from such contamination, or have expelled it from the chosen temple, that was never to fall. It is an unnatural coalition of ugliness with elegance,--a Caliban basking on the lap of an Ariel. Yet, without allowing the spirit of the Advocate to interfere with the calmer duties of the Judge, we may urge for Aristophanes, that his greatest grossness is always playful, and his longest indulgence in it comparatively short. It is a sop-and nothing more --for the Cerberus of the prevailing taste of the age. This at least is the case in eight out of the eleven of his plays that remain with posterity. It was certainly not the bent of his mind to be immoral,—though, like Swift, he might not care to wade through a little nastiness for the sake of a joke. There is no wallowing in the mud; no indecency that clings to its ground, or reluctantly gives way with many a longing, lingering look behind.' His most indelicate writing is generally introductory to some passage of exceeding spirit or poetical beauty, which his mind returns with an elastic impulse from having been forced out of its native inclination. Like Antæus he may grovel on the earth for a moment --but it is only to rise into the fresh air again with increased alacrity and renovated vigour. Springing from such sources as the Phallic Hymn and the Margeites of Homer, the Ancient Comedy could not be expect-ed, under any management, to become a perfect model of uninterrupted purity. We cannot be surprised to find some pollutions in the stream, when its fountain-heads were these,-nor offended at detecting those pollutions in the earlier part of its course, when we know that it had not left them all behind, even when filtered-through into the pages of Menander.
. Omnis Luxuria Interpres’ the character which Pliny bestows upon that poet,---is pretty intelligible testimony against him, although we had not Terence for a stronger and more substantial evidence.
We are persuaded that what we have advanced concerning the nature of the Old Comedy, and the merits of him who was its prince, however extravagant it may appear to superficial students or to timid reasoners, will be fully admitted by all that are thoroughly acquainted with the Aristophanic writings:-and we have the rather avoided any attempt at overstrained ingenuity,
11 Pindar. Olymp. XIV. v. 1.-9.-15. * Vide Ran. v. 236. Nubes. v. 975. Aves. v. 669, &c. &c.
and aimed at a perfect simplicity in our observations, that the complete sincerity of our own conviction might be made as manifest as possible. Aristophanes will of course continue to be underrated by all who choose to submit ancient subjects to the test of modern opinions: who cannot perceive any excellence in dramas that are composed upon rules entirely different from the only principles they can understand: or 'who are generously satisfied to draw decided inferences from what floats upon the surface, without the pains or perhaps without the power of diving into those depths which so often hide the gems of purest ray.' Justice to Mr Mitchell makes it now high time for us to hasten to the consideration of his work.
Shenstone-or some one who was as fond, as that very inconsiderable author, of turning commonplaces-has remarked, • that every original writer wonders no one ever thought of the • best possible subject before,-every translator-of the best pos• sible original.' –Though Aristophanes has undeniably been thought of before,—and by sundry aspirants --we still think that, in one respect at least, Mr Mitchell has hit upon the best • possible original, '-inasmuch as no translation has hitherto appeared by any means satisfactory. It has seemed as if his spirit could not be transfused, without losing all its raciness and flavour, into any other language than his native tongue: that we might almost write Dante's terrible inscription for the gates of hell upon his title-pages--and warn the most resolute interpreter to expect nothing for his portion but despair.-In Latin we have Bergler's translation of the Frogs, which is much too timorously literal, to afford any satisfaction to the reader of taste, or any illustration of obscure and doubtful passages to the scholar;-Plutus, the Clouds, the Frogs, the Knighis, and the Acharnians, by · Nicodemus Frischlin, are so intolerably full of the grossest blunders that we cannot conceive why Kuster should have printed this traduction in his otherwise excellent edition, except as a continual excuse for his own comments ;-and the Wasps, Peace, and Lysistrate, are rendered by Septimus Florus into such a strain of crabbed phraseology and obsolete diction, as makes his explanation far more difficult to comprehend than the original.-France has given us the “ Theatre of Aristophanes,' by Poinsinet de Sivry, written partly in prose and partly in verse,--2 work of no conspicuous merit; the Birds by Boivin the younger; and Plutus and the Clouds from the pen of Madame Dacier, -whose 200 perusals of the latter play have not saved her from falling into many strange mistakes. Wieland, the German translator of the Clouds, has the advantage of writing in a language, that alone of modern tongues may compete with the
rich melody and tuneful inflections of the Greek ;--but notwithstanding his extensive erudition and great impartiality, which Mr Mitchell gratefully acknowledges, --we cannot quote either that translation, nor his Demagogues, -as more than useful aids to a person engaged in a similar task.-The literature of England has not been enriched by any complete version of this Poet,--and the attempts that have been made, from time to time, to effect one, are not such as to make us regret that the labour has been reserved for the hands into which it has fallen at last.
White's translation of the Clouds and Plutus we have never seen ; but that of Theobald is taken, not from Aristophanes, whom he could not understand, but from the French of Madame Dacier, which he has servilely imitated. The Clouds of Cumberland is a well-written, high-sounding poem,--but it is not the Nsporas. He has not caught the tone, nor expressed the manner of the Athenian bard. He has made it too stiff, too pompous. It is Aristopbanes imprisoned in brocade, and mounted upon stilts into the bargain. The Frogs by Dunster has not only this fault, but is exceedingly dull and vapid besides; which cannot be affirmed with any truth of Cumberland's production. We believe we have enumerated all the versions that have been essayed in our own language, except it be the very stupid translation in prose of Plutus that disgraces the memories of Fielding and William Young; and a most impudent version of the Birds,-every second word an error,-published by an anonymous Member of one of the Universities,' in what he calls a comico-prosaic style, with this modest motio from Juvenal,
Haud facilè emergunt, quorum virtutibus obslat
Res angusta domi : which, as it has no conceivable reference to Aristophanes, must be
presumed to apply to the translator himself. Knowledge of Greek, or an ability for translation, are not to be reckoned among his virtues, whatever they may be. It is no great compliment to Mr Mitchell, after this, to say that his version, as far as the present volume carries it, is incomparably the best that has been given to the public. But when we add that we consider him, judging from his publication, to be a writer fully and admirably qualified to accomplish the difficult task he has undertaken, -and to present the literary world in this country with a translation of Aristophanes completely adequate to the merits of the great Original,-we esteem this as praise so exceedingly high, that it shall make us the less tender of expressing our dissatisfaction wherever he has fallen short-we will not say of our expectations--but of our wishes and his own