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The book of Job, viewed as a drama, contains, it is true, but little action ;—quite as much, however, as the Prometheus Vinctus of Eschylus, during the whole episode of which the sufferer remains bound and motionless, while the visits of the Oceanides, Oceanus, Io and Mercury, form the only vicissitudes of the piece, the whole dialogue of which consists of their respective consolations or reproaches with the replies of Prometheus. In fact, several of the best Greek tragedies contain but a single incident—and the art and power of those great masters is principally displayed in substituting the vicissitude and progress of thought and passion for that of external incident.

The three varieties of dramatic composition among the ancient Greeks were tragedy, comedy, and satyrs. Of these the earliest was comedy, though brought to its perfection at a later period than tragedy. In describing its origin, we shall, at the same time, describe the common origin of all the forms of the drama. The dramatic art "took its birth in the bosom of tumultuous pleasures and the extravagancies of intoxication. In the festivals of Bacchus hymns were sung which were the offspring of the true or feigned ecstasies of a poetical delirium. These hymns while they described the fabulous conquests of Bacchus, gradually became imitative-and, in the contests of the Pythian games, the players on the flute who entered into competition, were enjoined by an express law to represent successively the circumstances which preceded, accompanied and followed the victory of Apollo over Typhon."* In this early stage of the art, Susarion, and shortly after, Thespis appeared; the former enacting his rude and disconnected comedies on a kind of stage, the latter, making the first attempts at tragic representation on a cart

Dicitur et plaustris vexisse poëmata Thespis.

Such was the basis of the drama. Its first materials were the wild effusions of the intoxicated votaries of Bacchus ;—and as it took its rise in connection with the festivals of Bacchus, it retained this connection throughout the subsequent ages of Grecian history. In this rude state, it was tolerated only in the country; being excluded from the city, alike by the taste and the laws; to the former of which its rustic coarseness was offensive, while by the latter, its unbounded license was condemned as injurious to the public morals.

* Barthelemy.

After a long infancy, this species of the drama presented itself in a new and highly improved form in Sicily. Instead of a succession of scenes, without connection or tendency, the philosopher Epicharmus introduced an action, all the parts of which had a dependence on each other, and conducted his subject, without wandering from it, through a just extent, to a determinate end. Comedy was soon after introduced to the Athenians, and was received by that lively and ingenious, but licentious people, "with the same transports which they would have testified at the news of a victory." Though an exotic, its rapid development soon proved how congenial was the soil to which it had been transplanted, and that Attic genius and taste were alike requisite to execute and appreciate it in its highest perfection. It soon became an object of attention and competition to the poets of Athens, and some of them speedily attained a distinction in it which threw into the shade all previous attempts. Such were, among the more ancient, Magnes, Cratinus, Crates, Pherecrates, Eupolis and Aristophanes; all of whom flourished in the age of Pericles.

But in its moral character and tendency, comedy never underwent any material improvement. Divested of its grossness, that it might adapt itself to the advanced and polished condition of Athenian society, it was rendered the more dangerous by this refinement. It soon became idolized by a population, equally distinguished by its vivacity and licentiousness; and, attracting all classes to its representation, its corrupting influence was the more extensive and irresistible. The comic writers of Athens were regarded by all wise and good men as the pests of society. This remark, indeed, is not to be received without limitation. Sometimes, undoubtedly, the lash of satire was inflicted on the vices and follies of the time; on the insolent pride and vulgar ostentation of those who had suddenly risen to fortune and power. In a community like that of Athens, where all things were under the immediate and unchecked control of the capricious multitude, whose favors were much oftener won by popular arts and concessions than by real merit, yet whose vivacity rendered them willing to bear the keenest rebuke, provided it only excited their mirth while it exposed their follies, the political influence of comedy was doubtless wholesome and necessary. The comedians attacked the powerful demagogues of their day with astonishing intrepidity, and their wit and ridicule were often irresistible, where wisdom and eloquence would

have reasoned and thundered in vain. Aristophanes, in his comedy of the knights, attacked and completely overthrew the mob-tyrant Cleon, while in the very height of his power. So universally dreaded was this man, that no actor could be induced to personate him, and no artist to model a mask after his likeness. Aristophanes, however, not to be discouraged, brought forward his piece and personated the formidable demagogue himself. The same part in his comedy entitled, "the Peace," happily exposes the absurd and self-destroying passion of his countrymen for war. Nor is it to be denied that the comic poets of Greece, in common with the most licentious writers in all ages, could appreciate and extol the charms of virtue as an abstract conception. We meet with detached passages, especially, in the choral odes, of exquisite beauty, the moral effect of which is purely good. But occasional effusions of this sort will neither counteract nor atone for the influence of a work, the general character and tendency of which is licentious. And that such was the case with the comic drama of Athens is equally evident from the testimony of contemporaneous writers and from the comedies themselves which have descended to our times. To judge from some of the comedies of Aristophanes (the only originals we possess,) or from the Eunuchus of Terence or the Asinasia of Plautus, (both translated from Greek poets, the first, from Menander, the second, from Demophilus,) we can form but one opinion of the auditory which could be pleased with such disgusting indecencies, or of the poet who could pander to an appetite so abominable. "Paucas reperiunt poetae comoedias, ubi boni meliores fiant," "Poets have composed few comedies by which good men are made better." Such is the concession of one who had before him the whole range of ancient comedy, and was, therefore, incomparably better fitted to judge of its moral spirit than we can possibly be, and who was, himself, in fact, one of its greatest masters. The same poet, while he invites the audience to applaud the chastity of his comedy of "the Captives" and its freedom from all indecent allusions, holds it up as an exception to the general immorality of comedy.*

Profecto expediet, fabulae huic operam dare;

Non pertractate facta est, neque item ut ceterae ;

* See the Prologue and Catena to the Captives of Plautus, SECOND SERIES, VOL. 1. NO. II.


Neque spurcidici insunt versus innumerabiles;
Hic neque perjurus leno est, nec meretrix mala;
Spectatores, ad pudicos mores facta haec fabula est.

"It will be

To your advantage to attend this play;
For 'tis not in the common style, nor yet,
Like other plays; here are no ribald lines,
Unfit to be remembered; here you'll find
No infamous abandoned courtezan.

"O no. This play is founded on chaste manner,

Few of that sort of plays our poets find."-Thornton.

The fragments which we possess of ancient comedy convince us that the concession of Plautus is equally candid and true. "If we peruse these pieces, we shall be convinced that the sole object of their authors was to please the multitude; and that, to obtain this end, they considered all means as indifferent; and employed, by turns, parody, allegory and satire, abounding in images and language the most gross and obscene." They were, also, a kind of legalized slanderers ;-or rather, slanderers beyond the reach and power of the law, being protected by the enthusiastic attachment of the lower classes in "that fierce democracy." The shafts of their ridicule were as often levelled at errors as at vices," and the most illustrious reputations were not unfrequently made their peace-offerings to the malignity of the multitude. Thus it happened that Socrates, whose pure and benevolent life could have excited, even in a bad mind, no other evil passion than that of envy, was held up to ridicule in "the Clouds" of Aristophanes; and Euripides, was, through his whole life, and even after his death, an object of persecution to the same poet.

The laws, and the most intelligent and virtuous citizens strenuously opposed these disorders, but in vain. Successive decrees were passed for the regulation of comedy; one forbidding personalities; another, interference in public affairs; a third, entirely prohibiting the acting of comedy. But these laws were soon either repealed or disregarded, as all laws must be which are not sustained by public opinion. Though the chorus and the mask were laid aside from the alarm and dissatisfaction of the wealthier citizens, who refused to contribute the means of these decorations, and thus, a temporary check was given to

the abuses of the stage; yet comedy went on in its downward course, till in common with all the other arts, it shared the ruin which it had accelerated.

The historic classification of comedy is into the old, the middle and the new comedy; the period of the old extending from the first invention of the art to 386 B. C.; that of the middle to the age of Alexander; all that follows belongs to the era of the new comedy, which terminated with Posidippus, in the year 289 before the christian era.

Of the innumerable works produced by all the writers who figured during the three periods of comedy, and many of whom multiplied their productions with that marvellous fertility which was peculiar to the Greek genius, time has spared, in their original form, only eleven comedies of Aristophanes. Exuberance of wit and humor and comic vigor in all its manifestations, as well as profound knowledge of the heart and of the world, have never been denied to this poet. His comedies also, discover a masterly acquaintance with the constitution of his country, and their representation exerted a powerful influence (as we have seen above) on the political events of his time. The Athenians, on one occasion, voted him an olive crown for the service he had done his country by rectifying abuses in its government. The force and boldness of his satire are highly commended by Horace and Persius, who make it the excuse of their own freedom and severity in remarking on the vices of their age. The grace and sprightliness of his language rendered him a great favorite with Chrysostom. His wit, however, appears to have been under no kind of restraint, either from respect for virtue, dignity of station, or religious reverence. The philosophers, the magistrates, the tragedians were all doomed, alternately, to feel the lash of his powerful satire. Admired passages in the serious poets are presented in his pieces in the most ludicrous parodies. The histories and oracles of the gods, and the gods themselves, are treated with the same freedom. His gross indecency often surpasses even the license of ancient comedy, and the persevering malignity with which he persecuted individuals whom all accounts represent as worthy and virtuous men, throws a dark shade over his character as a man, and his many and brilliant excellencies as a poet.

Menander was the most distinguished name of the new comedy. Plutarch, who drew an elaborate parallel between him and Aristophanes, considers him even superior to the prince of

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