were infected with licentiousness of imagination scarce be expressed, connected nobility with the and corruption of principles. If the taste of an- cast of Athens, wisdom with madness, rage for tiquity allows us to preserve what time and bar- novelty with a bigotry for antiquity, the politebarity have hitherto spared, religion and virtue ness of a monarchy with the roughness of a at least oblige us pot to spread it before the eyes republic, refinement with coarseness, indepenof mankind. To end this work in a useful man- dence with slavery, haughtiness with servile ner, let us examine in a few words the four par- compliance, severity of manners with deticulars which are most striking in the eleven bauchery, a kind of irreligion with piety. We pieces of Aristophanes.

shall do this in reading; as in travelling through

different nations we make ourselves masters of Character of ancient Comedy.

their characters by combining their different

appearances, and reflecting upon what we see. II. The first is the character of the ancient comedy, which has no likeness to any thing in

The Government of the Athenians. nature. Its genius is so wild and strange, that it scarce admits a definition. In what class of III. The government of Athens makes a fine comedy must we place it? It appears to me to part of the ancient comedy. In most states the be a species of writing by itself. If we had mystery of government is confined within the Phrynicus, Plato, Eupolis, Cratinus, Ameipsias, walls of the cabinets; even in commonwealths and so many other celebrated rivals of Aristo- it does not pass but through five or six heads, phanes, of whom all that we can find are a few who rule those that think themselves the rulers. fragments scattered in Plutarch, Athenæus, and Oratory dares not touch it, and comedy still Suidas, we might compare them with our poet, less. Cicero himself did not speak freely upon settle the general scheme, observe the minuter so nice a subject as the Roman commonwealth ; differences, and form a complete notion of their but the Athenian eloquence was informed of the comic stage. But for want of all this we can whole secret, and searches the recesses of the hufix only on Aristophanes, and it is true that he man mind, to fetch it out and expose it to the may be in some measure sufficient to furnish a people. Demosthenes, and bis contemporaries, tolerable judgment of the old comedy; for if we speak with a freedom at which we are astonished, believe him, and who can be better credited ? he notwithstanding the notion we bave of a popuwas the most daring of all his brethren, the poets, lar government; yet at what time but this did who practised the same kind of writing. Upon comedy adventure to claim the same rights with this supposition we may conclude, that the civil eloquence? The Italian comedy of the last comedy of those days consisted in an allegory age, all daring as it was, could for its boldness drawn out and continued ; an allegory never come into no competition with the ancient. It very regular, but often ingenious, and almost al-was limited to general satire, which was someways carried beyond strict propriety, of satire times carried so far, that the malignity was keen and biting, but diversified, sprightly, and overlooked in an attention to the wild exaggeraunexpected ; so that the wound was given before tion, the unexpected strokes, the pungent wit, it was perceived. Their points of satire were and the malignity concealed under such wild thunderbolts, and their wild figures, with their flights as became the character of Harlequin. variety and quickness, bad the effect of light. But though it so far resembled Aristopbanes, ning. Their imitation was carried even to re- our age is yet at a great distance from his, and semblance of persons, and their common enter- the Italian comedy from his scenes. But with tainments were a parody of rival poets joined, if respect to the liberty of censuring the governI may so express it, with a parody of manners ment, there can be no comparison made of one and habits.

age of comedy with another. Aristophanes is But it would be tedious to draw out to the the only writer of this kind, and is for that reareader that which he will already have perceived son of the highest value. A powerful state set better than myself. I have no design to antici- at the head of Greece, is the subject of his merpate his reflections; and therefore shall only riment, and that merriment is allowed by the sketch the picture, which he must finish by him- state itself. This appears to us an inconsistenself: he will pursue the subject farther, and form cy; but it is true that it was the interest of the to himself a view of the common and domestic state to allow it, though not always without in life of the Athenians, of which this kind of co- conveniency. It was a restraint upon the anımedy was a picture, with some aggravation of the bition and tyranny of single men, a matter of features : he will bring within his view all the great importance to a people so very jealous of customs, manners, and vices, and the whole cha- their liberty. Cleon, Alcibiades, Lamachus, racter of the people of Athens. By bringing all and many other generals and magistrates, were these together, he will fix in his mind an indelible kept under by fear of the comic strokes of a poet idea of a people in whom so many contrarieties so little cautious as Aristophanes. He was once were united, and who, in a manner that can ! indeed in danger of paying dear for bis wit. llu professed, as he tells us himself, to be of greatness universally prevalent; and that Melanthius use by bis writings to the state; and rated his says in Platarch, 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 This is what in general may be drawn from the nobles, or that of the people, spared. the reading Aristophanes. The sagacity of the

The “ Acharnians,” the “ Peace,” and the readers will go farther : they will compare the “ Birds,” are eternal monuments of the boldness different forms of government by which that of the poet, who was not afraid of censuring the tumultuous people endeavoured to regulate or government for the obstinate continuance of a increase the democracy, which forms were all ruinous war, for undertaking new ones, and fatal to the state, because they were not' built feeding itself with wild imaginations, and run. upon lasting foundations, and had all in them ning to destruction as it did for an idle point of the principles of destruction. A strange conhonour.

trivance it was to perpetuate a state by changing Nothing can be more reproachful to the the just proportion which Solon had wisely setAthenians than his play of the “ Knights,” tled between the nobles and the people; and by when he represents, under an allegory that may opening a gate to the skilful ambition of those be easily seen through, the nation of the who had art or courage enough to force themAthenians as an old doting fellow tricked by a selves into the government by means of the peonew man, such as Cleon and his companions, ple, whom they flattered with protections that who were of the same stamp.

they might more certainly crush them. A single glance upon “ Lysistrata,” and the « Female Orators," must raise astonishment

The Tragical Poets rallied. when the Athenian policy is set below the IV. Another part of the works of Aristoschemes of women, whom the author makes phapes are his pleasant reflections upon the ridiculous for no other reason than to bring most celebrated poets: the shafts which he lets contempt upon their husbands, who held the fly at the three heroes of tragedy, and particuhelm of government.

larly at Euripides, might incline the reader to The “ Wasps,” is written to expose the mad- believe that he had little esteem for those great ness of people for lawsuits and litigations; and men; and that probably the spectators that apa multitude of iniquities are laid open.

plauded him were of his opinion. This concluIt may easily be gathered, that notwithstand-sion would not be just, as I have already shown ing the wise laws of Solon, which they still by arguments, which, if I had not offered them, professed to follow, the government was falling the reader might have discovered better than I. into decay, for we are not to understand the jest But that I may leave no room for objections, of Aristophanes in the literal sense. It is plain and prevent any shadow of captiousness, I shall that the corruption, though we should suppose venture to observe, that posterity will not conIt but half as much as we are told, was very sider Racine as less a master of the French stage great, for it ended in the destruction of Athens, because his plays were ridiculed by parodies. which could scarce raise its bead again, after it Parody always fixes upon the best pieces, and had been taken by Lysander. Though we con- was more to the taste of the Greeks than to ours. sider Aristophanes as a comic writer who deals At present, the high theatres give it up to stages in exaggeration, and bring down his stories to of an inferior rank ; but in Athens, the comic their true standard, we still find that the funda- theatre considered parody as its principal ornamentals of their government fail in almost all ment, for a reason which is worth examining. the essential points. That the people were in-The ancient comedy was not like ours, a remote veigled by men of ambition ; that all councils and delicate imitation; it was the art of gross and decrees had their original .in factious com- mimicry, and would have been supposed to binations; that avarice and private interest ani- have missed its aim, had it not copied the mien, mated all their policy to the hurt of the publis; the walk, the dress, the motions of the face of that their revenues were ill managed, their al- those whom it exbibited. Now parody is an lies improperly treated; that their good citizens imitation of this kind; it is a change of serious were sacrificed, and the bad put in places ; that to burlesque, by a slight variation of words, ina mad eagerness for judicial litigation took up flection of voice, or an imperceptible art of all their attention within, and that war was mimicry. Parody is to poetry as a inask to a made without, not so much with wisdom and face. As the tragedies of Eschylus, of Sophocles, precaution, as with temerity and good luck; and of Euripides, were much in fashion, and that the love of novelty and fashion in the man- were known by memory to the people, the parner of managing the public affairs, was a mad- odies upon them would naturally strike and 1

please, when they were accompanied by the tom, would be to trifle with the difficulty, and
grimaces of a good comedian, who mimicked not to clear it. Though the Athenians loved
with archness a serious character. Such is the merriment, it is not likely that if Aristophanes
malignity of human nature; we love to laugh had professed Atheism, they would have spared
at those whom we esteem most, and by this him more than Socrates, who had as much life
make ourselves some recompense for the unwill- and pleasantry in his discourses, as the poet in
ing homage which we pay to merit. The paro- his comedies. The pungent raillery of Aristo-
dies upon these poets made by Aristophanes, phanes, and the fondness of the Athenians for
ought to be considered rather as encomiums than it, are therefore not the true reason why the
satires. They give us occasion to examine poet was spared when Socrates was condemned.
whether the criticisms are just or not in them- | I shall now solve the question with great bre-
selves : but what is more important, they affordvity.
no proof that Euripides or his predecessors The true answer to this question is given by
wanted the esteem of Aristophanes or his age. Plutarch in his treatise of reading of the poets.
The statues raised to their honour, the respect Plutarch attempts to prove that youth is not to
paid by the Athenians to their writings, and the be prohibited the reading of the poets; but to
careful preservation of those writings them- be cautioned against such parts as may have bad
selves, are immortal testimonies in their favour, effects. They are first to be prepossessed with
and make it unnecessary for me to stop any this leading principle, that poetry is false and fa-
longer upon so plausible a solution of so frivo- bulous. He then enumerates at length the fables
lous an objection.

which Homer and other poets have invented

about their deities; and concludes thus: “ When Frequent ridicule of the Gods.

therefore there is found in poetical compositions V. The most troublesome difficulty, and that any thing strange and shocking, with respect to which, so far as I know, has not yet been cleared, gods, or demigods, or concerning the virtue of to satisfaction, is the contemptuous manner in any excellent and renowned characters, he that which Aristophanes treats the gods. Though I should receive these fictions as truth, would be am persuaded in my own mind that I have found corrupted by an erroneous opinion : but he that the true solution of this question, I am not sure always keeps in his mind the fables and alluthat it will make more impression than that of sions which it is the business of poetry to conM. Boivin, who contents himself with saying, trive, will not be injured by these stories, nor that every thing was allowed to the comic poets ; receive any ill impressions upon his thoughts, and that even Atheism was permitted to the li- but will be ready to censure himself, if at any centiousness of the stage : that the Athenians time he happens to be afraid, lest Neptune in his applauded all that made them laugh; and be- rage should split the earth, and lay open the inlieved that Jupiter himself laughed with them fernal regions.” Some pages afterwards, he at the smart sayings of a poet. Mr. Collier, an tells us, “ That religion is a thing difficult of Englishman, in his remarks upon their stage, comprehension, and above the understanding of attempts to prove that Aristophanes was an open poets; which it is,” says he,“ necessary to have Atheist. For my part, I am not satisfied with in mind when we read their fables.” the account either of one or the other, and think The Pagans therefore had their fables, which it better to venture a new system, of which I they distinguished from their religion ; for no have already dropt some hints in this work.

one can be persuaded that Ovid intended his The truth is, that the Athenians professed to be Metamorphoses as a true representation of the great laughers; always ready for merriment on religion of the Romans. The poets were alwhatever subject. But it cannot be conceived lowed their imaginations about their gods, as that Aristophanes should, without punishment, things which have no regard to the public worpublish himself an Atheist, unless we suppose ship. Upon this principle, I say, as I said bethat Atheism was the opinion likewise of the fore, there was amongst the Pagans two sorts of spectators, and of the judges commissioned to religion : one a poetical, and a real religion : examine the plays; and yet this cannot be one practical, the other theatrical : a mythology suspected of those who boasted themselves the for the poets, a theology for use. They had famost religious nation, and naturally the most bles, and a worship, which, though founded superstitious of all Greece. How can we sup- upon fable, was yet very different. pose those to be Atheists who passed sentence Diagoras, Socrates, Plato, and the philosoupon Diagoras, Socrates, and Alcibiades, for phers of Athens, with Cicero, their admirer, impiety? These are glaring inconsistencies. and the other pretended wise men of Rome, are To say like M. Boivin, for the sake of getting men by themselves. These were the Atheists clear of the difficulty, that Alcibiades, Socrates, with respect to the ancients. We must not and Diagoras attacked religion seriously, and therefore look into Plato, or into Cicero, for the were therefore not allowed, but that Aristo-real religion of the Pagans, as distinct from the pbanes did it in jest, or was authorised by cus- fabulous. These two authors involve thein

belves in the clouds, that their opinions may not, tion, they borrowed from comedy all its drollery, be discovered. They durst not openly attack wildness, grossness, and licentiousness. This the real religion ; but destroyed it by attacking amusement they added to their dances, and they fable.

produced what are now called farces, or burTo distinguish here with exactness the agree-lettas. These farces had not the regularity or ment or difference between fable and religion, is delicacy of comedies ; they were only a succession not at present my intention : it is not easy * to of single scenes contrived to raise laughter; show with exactness what was the Athenian po- formed or unravelled without order and without tion of the nature of the gods whom they wor connection. They had no other end but to make shipped. Plutarch himself tells us, that this the people laugh. Now and then there might be was a thing very difficult for the philosophers. good sentences, like the sentences of P. Syrus, It is sufficient for me that the mythology and that are yet left us : but the ground work was theology of the ancients were different at the low comedy; and any thing of greater dignity bottom; that the names of the gods continued drops in by cbance. We must however imagine, the same ; and that long custom gave up one to that this odd species of the drama rose at length the caprices of the poets, without supposing the to somewhat a higher character, since we are told other affected by them. This being once settled that Plato the philosopher Jaid the Mimi of So. upon the authority of the ancients themselves, I phron under his pillow, and they were found am no longer surprised to see Jupiter, Minerva, there after his death. But in general we may Neptune, Bacchus, appear upon the stage in the say with truth, that it always discovered the comedy of Aristophanes ; and at the same time meanness of its original, like a false pretension receiving incense in the temples of Athens. This to nobility, in which the cheat is always discois, in my opinion, the most reasonable account of vered through the concealment of fictitious a thing so obscure ; and I am ready to give up splendour. my system to any other, by which the Athenians These Mimi were of two sorts, of which the shall be made more consistent with themselves ; length was different, but the purposes the same. those Athenians who sat laughing at the gods of The Mimi of one species was short; those of Aristophanes, while they condemned Socrates the other long, and not quite so grotesque. for having appeared to despise the gods of his These two kinds were subdivided into many specountry.

cies, distinguished by the dresses and characters,

such as show drunkards, physicians, men, and The Mimi and Pantomimes.


Thus far of the Greeks. The Romans having VI. A word is now to be spoken of the Mimi, borrowed of them the more noble shows of trawhich 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 fat 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 Another set of players were called Pantoreader more trouble than instruction. He that mimes; these were at least so far preferable to desires fuller instructions may read Vossius, Va- the former, that they gave no offence to the ears. lois, Saumaises, and Gataker, of whose compi. They spoke only to the eyes : but with such art lations, however learned, I should think it shame of expression, that without the utterance of a to be the author.

single word, they represented, as we are told, a The Mimi had their original from comedy, of complete tragedy or comedy, in the same manwhich at its first appearance they made a part; ner as dumb Harlequin is exhibited on our thefor their mimic actors always played and exhi- atres. These Pantomimes among the Greeks bited 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

* 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 See St. Paul upon the subject of the Ignato Deo. religion.

* Colusid, (Tulis tine a vetem was to

chiar in these ter unters



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 pro-: imagine, at least in my opinion, that the Panto- perly, draws it from the bosom of the epic poem. mines 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 roagh and good reason, that their action was very lively; swelling: he divests ber 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. Yet 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, We can now trace it no farther ; its progrsss or how far a representation could be carried by amongst the Greeks is out of sight. We must dance, posture, and grimace. Among these ar- pass at once to the time of Augustus, when tificial dances, of which we know nothing but Apollo and the Muses quitted their ancient resithe names, there was as early as the time of dence in Greece, to fix their abode in Italy. Aristophanes some extremely indecent. These But it is vain to ask questions of Melpomene; were continued in Italy from the time of Au- she is obstinately silent, and we only know from gustus, long after the emperors. It was a pub- strangers her power amongst the Romans. lic mischief, which contributed in some measure Seneca endeavours to make her speak; but the to the decay and ruin of the Roman empire. To gaudy show with which he rather loads than have a due detestation of those licentious enter-adorns her, makes us think that he took some tainments, there is no need of any recourse to phantom of Melpomene for the Muse herself. the fathers ; the wiser Pagans tell us very plain- Another flight, equally rapid with that to ly what they thought of them. I have made Rome, must carry us through thousands of years, X this mention of the Mimi and Pantomimes, from Rome to France. There in the time of only to show how the most noble of public spec- Lewis XIV. we see the mind of man giving tacles were corrupted and abused, and to con- birth to tragedy a second time, as if the Greek duct the reader to the end through every road, tragedy had been utterly forgot. In the place and through all the by-paths of human wit, of Eschylus, we have our Rotrou. In Corneille from Homer and Eschylus to onr own time. Wanderings of the human mind in the birth and progress of theatrical representalions.

Eschylus, in my opinion, as well as the other VII. That we may conclude this work by poets his contemporaries, retained the chorus, not applying the principles laid down at the begin merely because it was the fashion, but because exning, and extend it through the whole, I desire amining tragedy to the bottom, they found it not

rational to conceive, that an action great and splen. the reader to recur to that point wbere I have did, like the revolution of a state, could pass without represented the human mind as beginning the witnesses. J.:, 1414! became


[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« ElőzőTovább »