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OLYMPIAS, sister of Alexander, King of Epirus, married Philip King of Macedonia, and was the mother of Alexander the Great. After the death of her son, she formed the design to possess herself of a part of his dominions; and caused Philip Aridæus and his wife Eurydice to be put to death, with Nicanor, brother of Cassander, and a hundred of the principle people in Macedonia, who were attached to the party of that prince. A general insurrection soon after obliged Olympias to secrete herself in the fortress of Pydna, with Roxana, the wife of Alexander, her son, and Thessalonica, sister of the Macedonean hero.
Besieged by Cassander, Olympias supported, with extraordinary bravery, the horrors of famine; but having lost all hopes of assistance, she was compelled to surrender. Cassander then induced the relatives of the officers, whom the queen had ordered to be destroyed, to accuse her before the assembly of the Macedoneans. She entreated permission to defend herself, which was refused; and was privately condemned to lose her life. Cassander, who was apprehensive that the recollection of the exploits of Philip and Alexander would excite the Macedoneans to revoke the sentence, sent, with the utmost expedition, fifty soldiers to carry it into effect. But the noble and imposing aspect of Olympias dissuading them from their purpose, Cassander was compelled to
have recourse to the relations of those who had been sacrificed to the ambition of that princess. These, with much eagerness, rushed forward to gratify at once their particular revenge, and the wishes of their employer.
The author of this picture, Mons. Taillasson, (whose compositions have long been justly esteemed) has very happily conceived and treated his subject. All the personages contribute to the principal action. With one hand the Queen exposes her bosom, with the other points to the statue of Alexander. This idea is truly happy, and adds much to the pathos of the scene. The young Thessalonica deprecates the mercy of the assassins: Roxana flies for shelter to the statue of her husband; towards which, her son, though a child, elevates his little arms. The warrior, who is excited by Cassander to kill Olympias, displays by his attitude, considerable irresolution. Another soldier, struck with the majestic firmness of the queen, turns away his head, and drops his sword. But Olympias has still much to fear. The relatives of those whom she destroyed, enter sword in hand, and the fury depicted in their countenances, announce they are alike deaf to pity and respect.
Such are the principle traits of this celebrated picture, in which the expressions are just and pathetic, and which, on its exhibition, received the most unqualified praise.