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- Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book V. - 25/25 -

[359] His mother, Semele.

[360] Aristotle finds fault with the incident of the son attempting to strike his father, as being shocking, yet not tragic--that is, the violent action is episodical, since it is not carried into effect; yet, if we might connect the plot of the "Antigone" with the former plays of either "Oedipus," there is something of retribution in the attempted parricide when we remember the hypocritical and cruel severity of Creon to the involuntary parricide of Oedipus. The whole description of the son in that living tomb, glaring on his father with his drawn sword, the dead form of his betrothed, with the subsequent picture of the lovers joined in death, constitutes one of the most masterly combinations of pathos and terror in ancient or modern poetry.

[361] This is not the only passage in which Sophocles expresses feminine wo by silence. In the Trachiniae, Deianira vanishes in the same dumb abruptness when she hears from her son the effect of the centaur's gift upon her husband.

[362] According to that most profound maxim of Aristotle, that in tragedy a very bad man should never be selected as the object of chastisement, since his fate is not calculated to excite our sympathies.

[363] Electra, I. 250-300.

[364] When (line 614) Clytemnestra reproaches Electra for using insulting epithets to a mother--and "Electra, too, at such a time of life"--I am surprised that some of the critics should deem it doubtful whether Clytemnestra meant to allude to her being too young or too mature for such unfilial vehemence. Not only does the age of Orestes, so much the junior to Electra, prove the latter signification to be the indisputable one, but the very words of Electra herself to her younger sister, Chrysothemis, when she tells her that she is "growing old, unwedded."

Estos'onde tou chronou alektra gaearskousan anumegaia te.

Brunck has a judicious note on Electra's age, line 614.

[365] Macbeth, act i., scene 5.

[366] See Note [376].

[367] Sophocles skilfully avoids treading the ground consecrated to Aeschylus. He does not bring the murder before us with the struggles and resolve of Orestes.

[368] This is very characteristic of Sophocles; he is especially fond of employing what may be called "a crisis in life" as a source of immediate interest to the audience. So in the "Oedipus at Coloneus," Oedipus no sooner finds he is in the grove of the Furies than he knows his hour is approaching; so, also, in the "Ajax," the Nuncius announces from the soothsayer, that if Ajax can survive the one day which makes the crisis of his life, the anger of the goddess will cease. This characteristic of the peculiar style of Sophocles might be considered as one of the proofs (were any wanting) of the authenticity of the "Trachiniae."

[369] M. Schlegel rather wantonly accuses Deianira of "levity"--all her motives, on the contrary, are pure and high, though tender and affectionate.

[370] Observe the violation of the unity which Sophocles, the most artistical of all the Greek tragedians, does not hesitate to commit whenever he thinks it necessary. Hyllus, at the beginning of the play, went to Cenaeum; he has been already there and back--viz., a distance from Mount Oeta to a promontory in Euboea, during the time about seven hundred and thirty lines have taken up in recital! Nor is this all: just before the last chorus--only about one hundred lines back--Lichas set out to Cenaeum; and yet sufficient time is supposed to have elapsed for him to have arrived there--been present at a sacrifice--been killed by Hercules--and after all this, for Hyllus, who tells the tale, to have performed the journey back to Trachin.

[371] Even Ulysses, the successful rival of Ajax, exhibits a reluctance to face the madman which is not without humour.

[372] Potter says, in common with some other authorities, that "we may be assured that the political enmity of the Athenians to the Spartans and Argives was the cause of this odious representation of Menelaus and Agamemnon." But the Athenians had, at that time, no political enmity with the Argives, who were notoriously jealous of the Spartans; and as for the Spartans, Agamemnon and Menelaus were not their heroes and countrymen. On the contrary, it was the thrones of Menelaus and Agamemnon which the Spartans overthrew. The royal brothers were probably sacrificed by the poet, not the patriot. The dramatic effects required that they should be made the foils to the manly fervour of Teucer and the calm magnanimity of Ulysses.

[373] That the catastrophe should be unhappy! Aristot., Poet., xiii.

In the same chapter Aristotle properly places in the second rank of fable those tragedies which attempt the trite and puerile moral of punishing the bad and rewarding the good.

[374] When Aristophanes (in the character of Aeschylus) ridicules Euripides for the vulgarity of deriving pathos from the rags, etc., of his heroes, he ought not to have omitted all censure of the rags and sores of the favourite hero of Sophocles. And if the Telephus of the first is represented as a beggar, so also is the Oedipus at Coloneus of the latter. Euripides has great faults, but he has been unfairly treated both by ancient and modern hypercriticism.

[375] The single effects, not the plots.

[376] "Polus, celebrated," says Gellius, "throughout all Greece, a scientific actor of the noblest tragedies." Gellius relates of him an anecdote, that when acting the Electra of Sophocles, in that scene where she is represented with the urn supposed to contain her brother's remains, he brought on the stage the urn and the relics of his own son, so that his lamentations were those of real emotion. Poles acted the hero in the plays of Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus at Coloneus.--Arrian. ap. Stob., xcvii., 28. The actors were no less important personages on the ancient than they are on the modern stage. Aristotle laments that good poets were betrayed into episodes, or unnecessarily prolonging and adorning parts not wanted in the plot, so as to suit the rival performers.--Arist. de Poet., ix. Precisely what is complained of in the present day. The Attic performers were the best in Greece--all the other states were anxious to engage them, but they were liable to severe penalties if they were absent at the time of the Athenian festivals. (Plut. in Alex.) They were very highly remunerated. Polus could earn no less than a talent in two days (Plut. in Rhet. vit.), a much larger sum (considering the relative values of money) than any English actor could now obtain for a proportionate period of service. Though in the time of Aristotle actors as a body were not highly respectable, there was nothing highly derogatory in the profession itself. The high birth of Sophocles and Aeschylus did not prevent their performing in their own plays. Actors often took a prominent part in public affairs; and Aristodemus, the player, was sent ambassador to King Philip. So great, indeed, was the importance attached to this actor, that the state took on itself to send ambassadors in his behalf to all the cities in which he had engagements.--Aeschin. de Fals. Legat., p. 30-203, ed. Reiske.

[377] The Minerva Promachus. Hae megalae Athaena.

[378] Zosimus, v., p. 294.

[379] Oedip. Colon., 671, etc.

[380] Oedip. Colon., 691.


Athens: Its Rise and Fall, Book V. - 25/25

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