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scarce be expressed, connected nobility with the cast of Athens, wisdom with madness, rage for novelty with a bigotry for antiquity, the polite
were infected with licentiousness of imagination and corruption of principles. If the taste of antiquity allows us to preserve what time and barbarity have hitherto spared, religion and virtueness of a monarchy with the roughness of a at least oblige us not to spread it before the eyes of mankind. To end this work in a useful manner, let us examine in a few words the four particulars which are most striking in the eleven pieces of Aristophanes.
republic, refinement with coarseness, independence with slavery, haughtiness with servile compliance, severity of manners with debauchery, a kind of irreligion with piety. We shall do this in reading; as in travelling through different nations we make ourselves masters of their characters by combining their different appearances, and reflecting upon what we see.
Character of ancient Comedy.
II. The first is the character of the ancient comedy, which has no likeness to any thing in nature. Its genius is so wild and strange, that it scarce admits a definition. In what class of comedy must we place it? It appears to me to be a species of writing by itself. If we had Phrynicus, Plato, Eupolis, Cratinus, Ameipsias, and so many other celebrated rivals of Aristophanes, of whom all that we can find are a few fragments scattered in Plutarch, Athenæus, and Suidas, we might compare them with our poet, settle the general scheme, observe the minuter differences, and form a complete notion of their comic stage. But for want of all this we can fix only on Aristophanes, and it is true that he may be in some measure sufficient to furnish a tolerable judgment of the old comedy; for if we believe him, and who can be better credited? he was the most daring of all his brethren, the poets, who practised the same kind of writing. Upon this supposition we may conclude, that the comedy of those days consisted in an allegory drawn out and continued; an allegory never very regular, but often ingenious, and almost always carried beyond strict propriety, of satire keen and biting, but diversified, sprightly, and unexpected; so that the wound was given before it was perceived. Their points of satire were thunderbolts, and their wild figures, with their variety and quickness, had the effect of lightning. Their imitation was carried even to resemblance of persons, and their common entertainments were a parody of rival poets joined, if I may so express it, with a parody of manners and habits.
But it would be tedious to draw out to the reader that which he will already have perceived better than myself. I have no design to anticipate his reflections; and therefore shall only sketch the picture, which he must finish by himself: he will pursue the subject farther, and form to himself a view of the common and domestic life of the Athenians, of which this kind of comedy was a picture, with some aggravation of the features: he will bring within his view all the customs, manners, and vices, and the whole character of the people of Athens. By bringing all these together, he will fix in his mind an indelible idea of a people in whom so many contrarieties were united, and who, in a manner that can
The Government of the Athenians.
III. The government of Athens makes a fine part of the ancient comedy. In most states the mystery of government is confined within the walls of the cabinets; even in commonwealths it does not pass but through five or six heads, who rule those that think themselves the rulers. Oratory dares not touch it, and comedy still less. Cicero himself did not speak freely upon so nice a subject as the Roman commonwealth; but the Athenian eloquence was informed of the whole secret, and searches the recesses of the human mind, to fetch it out and expose it to the people. Demosthenes, and his contemporaries, speak with a freedom at which we are astonished, notwithstanding the notion we have of a popular government; yet at what time but this did comedy adventure to claim the same rights with civil eloquence? The Italian comedy of the last age, all daring as it was, could for its boldness come into no competition with the ancie.t. It was limited to general satire, which was sometimes carried so far, that the malignity was overlooked in an attention to the wild exaggeration, the unexpected strokes, the pungent wit, and the malignity concealed under such wild flights as became the character of Harlequin. But though it so far resembled Aristophanes, our age is yet at a great distance from his, and the Italian comedy from his scenes. But with respect to the liberty of censuring the government, there can be no comparison made of one age of comedy with another. Aristophanes is the only writer of this kind, and is for that reason of the highest value. A powerful state set at the head of Greece, is the subject of his merriment, and that merriment is allowed by the state itself. This appears to us an inconsistency; but it is true that it was the interest of the state to allow it, though not always without in conveniency. It was a restraint upon the anibition and tyranny of single men, a matter of great importance to a people so very jealous of their liberty. Cleon, Alcibiades, Lamachus, and many other generals and magistrates, were kept under by fear of the comic strokes of a poet so little cautious as Aristophanes. He was once indeed in danger of paying dear for his wit. He
professed, as he tells us himself, to be of greatness universally prevalent; and that Melanthius use by his writings to the state; and rated his says in Plutarch, the republic of Athens was merit so high as to complain that he was not continued only by the perpetual discord of those rewarded. But, under pretence of this public that managed its affairs. This remedied the spirit, he spared no part of the public conduct; dishonour by preserving the equilibrium, and neither was government, councils, revenues, was kept always in action by eloquence and popular assemblies, secret proceedings in judi- comedy. cature, choice of ministers, the government of the nobles, or that of the people, spared.
The "Acharnians," the "Peace," and the "Birds," are eternal monuments of the boldness of the poet, who was not afraid of censuring the government for the obstinate continuance of a ruinous war, for undertaking new ones, and feeding itself with wild imaginations, and running to destruction as it did for an idle point of honour.
This is what in general may be drawn from the reading Aristophanes. The sagacity of the readers will go farther: they will compare the different forms of government by which that tumultuous people endeavoured to regulate or increase the democracy, which forms were all fatal to the state, because they were not built upon lasting foundations, and had all in them the principles of destruction. A strange contrivance it was to perpetuate a state by changing the just proportion which Solon had wisely settled between the nobles and the people; and by opening a gate to the skilful ambition of those who had art or courage enough to force themselves into the government by means of the people, whom they flattered with protections that they might more certainly crush them.
Nothing can be more reproachful to the Athenians than his play of the " Knights," when he represents, under an allegory that may be easily seen through, the nation of the Athenians as an old doting fellow tricked by a new man, such as Cleon and his companions, who were of the same stamp.
A single glance upon "Lysistrata," and the "Female Orators," must raise astonishment when the Athenian policy is set below the schemes of women, whom the author makes ridiculous for no other reason than to bring contempt upon their husbands, who held the helm of government.
The Tragical Poets rallied.
The "Wasps," is written to expose the madness of people for lawsuits and litigations; and a multitude of iniquities are laid open.
It may easily be gathered, that notwithstanding the wise laws of Solon, which they still professed to follow, the government was falling into decay, for we are not to understand the jest of Aristophanes in the literal sense. It is plain that the corruption, though we should suppose It but half as much as we are told, was very great, for it ended in the destruction of Athens, which could scarce raise its head again, after it had been taken by Lysander. Though we consider Aristophanes as comic writer who deals in exaggeration, and bring down his stories to their true standard, we still find that the fundamentals of their government fail in almost all the essential points. That the people were inveigled by men of ambition; that all councils and decrees had their original .in factious combinations; that avarice and private interest animated all their policy to the hurt of the public; that their revenues were ill managed, their allies improperly treated; that their good citizens were sacrificed, and the bad put in places; that a mad eagerness for judicial litigation took up all their attention within, and that war was made without, not so much with wisdom and precaution, as with temerity and good luck; that the love of novelty and fashion in the manner of managing the public affairs, was a mad-odies upon them would naturally strike and
IV. Another part of the works of Aristophanes are his pleasant reflections upon the most celebrated poets: the shafts which he lets fly at the three heroes of tragedy, and particularly at Euripides, might incline the reader to believe that he had little esteem for those great men; and that probably the spectators that applauded him were of his opinion. This conclusion would not be just, as I have already shown by arguments, which, if I had not offered them, the reader might have discovered better than I. But that I may leave no room for objections, and prevent any shadow of captiousness, I shall venture to observe, that posterity will not consider Racine as less a master of the French stage because his plays were ridiculed by parodies. Parody always fixes upon the best pieces, and was more to the taste of the Greeks than to ours. At present, the high theatres give it up to stages of an inferior rank; but in Athens, the comic theatre considered parody as its principal ornament, for a reason which is worth examining. The ancient comedy was not like ours, a remote and delicate imitation; it was the art of gross mimicry, and would have been supposed to have missed its aim, had it not copied the mien, the walk, the dress, the motions of the face of those whom it exhibited. Now parody is an imitation of this kind; it is a change of serious to burlesque, by a slight variation of words, inflection of voice, or an imperceptible art of mimicry. Parody is to poetry as a mask to a face. As the tragedies of Eschylus, of Sophocles, and of Euripides, were much in fashion, and were known by memory to the people, the par
please, when they were accompanied by the
which Homer and other poets have invented
Frequent ridicule of the Gods.
V. The most troublesome difficulty, and that which, so far as I know, has not yet been cleared, to satisfaction, is the contemptuous manner in which Aristophanes treats the gods. Though I am persuaded in my own mind that I have found the true solution of this question, I am not sure that it will make more impression than that of M. Boivin, who contents himself with saying, that every thing was allowed to the comic poets; and that even Atheism was permitted to the licentiousness of the stage: that the Athenians applauded all that made them laugh; and believed that Jupiter himself laughed with them at the smart sayings of a poet. Mr. Collier, an Englishman, in his remarks upon their stage, attempts to prove that Aristophanes was an open Atheist. For my part, I am not satisfied with the account either of one or the other, and think it better to venture a new system, of which I have already dropt some hints in this work. The truth is, that the Athenians professed to be great laughers; always ready for merriment on whatever subject. But it cannot be conceived that Aristophanes should, without punishment, publish himself an Atheist, unless we suppose that Atheism was the opinion likewise of the spectators, and of the judges commissioned to examine the plays; and yet this cannot be suspected of those who boasted themselves the most religious nation, and naturally the most superstitious of all Greece. How can we suppose those to be Atheists who passed sentence upon Diagoras, Socrates, and Alcibiades, for impiety? These are glaring inconsistencies. To say like M. Boivin, for the sake of getting clear of the difficulty, that Alcibiades, Socrates, and Diagoras attacked religion seriously, and were therefore not allowed, but that Aristophanes did it in jest, or was authorised by cus
tom, would be to trifle with the difficulty, and not to clear it. Though the Athenians loved merriment, it is not likely that if Aristophanes had professed Atheism, they would have spared him more than Socrates, who had as much life and pleasantry in his discourses, as the poet in his comedies. The pungent raillery of Aristophanes, and the fondness of the Athenians for it, are therefore not the true reason why the poet was spared when Socrates was condemned. I shall now solve the question with great brevity.
The Pagans therefore had their fables, which they distinguished from their religion; for no one can be persuaded that Ovid intended his Metamorphoses as a true representation of the religion of the Romans. The poets were allowed their imaginations about their gods, as things which have no regard to the public worship. Upon this principle, I say, as I said before, there was amongst the Pagans two sorts of religion: one a poetical, and a real religion: one practical, the other theatrical: a mythology for the poets, a theology for use. They had fables, and a worship, which, though founded upon fable, was yet very different.
Diagoras, Socrates, Plato, and the philosophers of Athens, with Cicero, their admirer, and the other pretended wise men of Rome, are men by themselves. These were the Atheists with respect to the ancients. We must not therefore look into Plato, or into Cicero, for the real religion of the Pagans, as distinct from the fabulous. These two authors involve them
selves in the clouds, that their opinions may not | tion, they borrowed from comedy all its drollery, be discovered. They durst not openly attack the real religion; but destroyed it by attacking
wildness, grossness, and licentiousness. This amusement they added to their dances, and they produced what are now called farces, or burThese farces had not the regularity or delicacy of comedies; they were only a succession of single scenes contrived to raise laughter; formed or unravelled without order and without connection. They had no other end but to make the people laugh. Now and then there might be good sentences, like the sentences of P. Syrus, that are yet left us: but the ground work was low comedy; and any thing of greater dignity drops in by chance. We must however imagine, that this odd species of the drama rose at length to somewhat a higher character, since we are told that Plato the philosopher laid the Mimi of Sophron under his pillow, and they were found there after his death. But in general we may say with truth, that it always discovered the meanness of its original, like a false pretension to nobility, in which the cheat is always discovered through the concealment of fictitious splendour.
These Mimi were of two sorts, of which the length was different, but the purposes the same. The Mimi of one species was short; those of the other long, and not quite so grotesque. These two kinds were subdivided into many species, distinguished by the dresses and characters, such as show drunkards, physicians, men, and
To distinguish here with exactness the agree-lettas. ment or difference between fable and religion, is not at present my intention: it is not easy to show with exactness what was the Athenian notion of the nature of the gods whom they worshipped. Plutarch himself tells us, that this was a thing very difficult for the philosophers. It is sufficient for me that the mythology and theology of the ancients were different at the bottom; that the names of the gods continued the same; and that long custom gave up one to the caprices of the poets, without supposing the other affected by them. This being once settled upon the authority of the ancients themselves, I am no longer surprised to see Jupiter, Minerva, Neptune, Bacchus, appear upon the stage in the comedy of Aristophanes; and at the same time receiving incense in the temples of Athens. This is, in my opinion, the most reasonable account of a thing so obscure; and I am ready to give up my system to any other, by which the Athenians shall be made more consistent with themselves; those Athenians who sat laughing at the gods of Aristophanes, while they condemned Socrates for having appeared to despise the gods of his country.
The Mimi and Pantomimes.
Thus far of the Greeks. The Romans having borrowed of them the more noble shows of tra
VI. A word is now to be spoken of the Mimi, which had some relation to comedy. This appel-gedy and comedy, were not content till they had lation was, by the Greeks and Romans, given to their rhapsodies. They had their Planipedes, certain dramatic performances, and to the actors who played with flat soles, that they might have that played them. The denomination sufficiently the more agility; and their Sannions, whose heads shows, that their art consisted in imitation and were shaved, that they might box the better. buffoonery. Of their works, nothing, or very There is no need of naming here all who had little, is remaining: so that they can only be con- a name for these diversions among the Greeks sidered by the help of some passages in authors: and Romans. I have said enough, and perhaps from which little is to be learned that deserves too much, of this abortion of comedy, which drew consideration. I shall extract the substance, as upon itself the contempt of good men, the cenI did with respect to the chorus, without losing sures of the magistrates, and the indignation of time, by defining all the different species, or pro- the fathers of the church. ducing all the quotations, which would give the reader more trouble than instruction. He that desires fuller instructions may read Vossius, Valois, Saumaises, and Gataker, of whose compilations, however learned, I should think it shame to be the author.
The Mimi had their original from comedy, of which at its first appearance they made a part; for their mimic actors always played and exhibited grotesque dances in the comedies. The jealousy of rivalship afterwards broke them off from the comic actors, and made them a company by themselves. But to secure their recep
See St. Paul upon the subject of the Ignato Deo.
Another set of players were called Pantomimes; these were at least so far preferable to the former, that they gave no offence to the ears. They spoke only to the eyes: but with such art of expression, that without the utterance of a single word, they represented, as we are told, a complete tragedy or comedy, in the same manner as dumb Harlequin is exhibited on our theatres. These Pantomimes among the Greeks
It is the licentiousness of the Mimi and Pantomimes, against which the censure of the Holy Fathers particularly breaks out, as against a thing irregular and indecent, without supposing it much connected with the cause of religion.
GENERAL CONCLUSION TO
first mingled singing with their dances; after- | course of the drama. The chorus was first a wards, about the time of Livius Andronicus, hymn to Bacchus, produced by accident; art the songs were performed by one part, and the brought it to perfection, and delight made it a dances by another. Afterwards, in the time of public diversion. Thespis made a single actor Augustus, when they were sent for to Rome, play before the people; this was the beginning for the diversions of the people, whom he had of theatrical shows. Eschylus, taking the idea | enslaved, they played comedies without songs of the Iliad and Odyssey, animated, if I may or vocal utterance; but by the sprightliness, so express it, the epic poem, and gave a dialogue activity, and efficacy of their gestures; or, as in place of simple recitation; puts the whole Sidonius Apollinaris, expresses it, clausis fauci- into action, and sets it before the eyes, as if it bus, et loquente gestu, they not only exhibited was a present and real transaction: he gives the things and passions, but even the most delicate chorus* an interest in the scenes, contrives habdistinctions of passions, and the slightest cir- its of dignity and theatrical decorations. In a cumstances of facts. We must not however word, he gives birth to tragedy; or, more proimagine, at least in my opinion, that the Panto-perly, draws it from the bosom of the epic poem. mimes did literally represent regular tragedies or She made her appearance sparkling with graces, comedies by the mere motions of their bodies. We and displayed such majesty as gained every heart may justly determine, notwithstanding all their at the first view. Sophocles considers her more agility, that their representations would at last nearly, with the eyes of a critic, and finds that be very incomplete: yet we may suppose, with she has something still about her rough and good reason, that their action was very lively; swelling: he divests her of her false ornaments, and that the art of imitation went great lengths, teaches her a more regular walk, and more since it raised the admiration of the wisest men, familiar dignity. Euripides was of opinion, and made the people mad with eagerness. that she ought to receive still more softness and when we read that one Hylus, the pupil of one tenderness; he teaches her the new art of pleasPylades, in the time of Augustus, divided the ing by simplicity, and gives her the charms of applauses of the people with his master, when graceful negligence; so that he makes her stand they represented Edipus, or when Juvenal tells in suspense, whether she appears most to advanus, that Bathillus played Leda, and other things tage in the dress of Sophocles sparkling with of the same kind, it is not easy to believe that a gems, or in that of Euripides, which is more single man, without speaking a word, could simple and modest. Both indeed are elegant; exhibit tragedies or comedies, and make starts but the elegance is of different kinds, between and bounds supply the place of vocal articulation. which no judgment as yet has decided the prize Notwithstanding the obscurity of this whole of superiority. matter, one may know what to admit as certain, or how far a representation could be carried by dance, posture, and grimace. Among these artificial dances, of which we know nothing but the names, there was as early as the time of Aristophanes some extremely indecent. These were continued in Italy from the time of Augustus, long after the emperors. It was a public mischief, which contributed in some measure to the decay and ruin of the Roman empire. To have a due detestation of those licentious entertainments, there is no need of any recourse to the fathers; the wiser Pagans tell us very plainly what they thought of them. I have made this mention of the Mimi and Pantomimes, only to show how the most noble of public spectacles were corrupted and abused, and to conduct the reader to the end through every road, and through all the by-paths of human wit, from Homer and Eschylus to our own time. Wanderings of the human mind in the birth and
We can now trace it no farther; its progress amongst the Greeks is out of sight. We must pass at once to the time of Augustus, when Apollo and the Muses quitted their ancient residence in Greece, to fix their abode in Italy. But it is vain to ask questions of Melpomene; she is obstinately silent, and we only know from strangers her power amongst the Romans. Seneca endeavours to make her speak; but the gaudy show with which he rather loads than adorns her, makes us think that he took some phantom of Melpomene for the Muse herself.
Another flight, equally rapid with that to Rome, must carry us through thousands of years, X from Rome to France. There in the time of Lewis XIV. we see the mind of man giving birth to tragedy a second time, as if the Greek tragedy had been utterly forgot. In the place of Eschylus, we have our Rotrou. In Corneille
progress of theatrical representations. VII. That we may conclude this work by applying the principles laid down at the beginning, and extend it through the whole, I desire the reader to recur to that point where I have represented the human mind as beginning the Siswi
Eschylus, in my opinion, as well as the other poets his contemporaries, retained the chorus, not merely because it was the fashion, but because examining tragedy to the bottom, they found it not
rational to conceive, that an action great and splendid, like the revolution of a state, could pass without witnesses.