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to judge of the dramatic pieces, that were acted by the public authority several times a year, especially at the feasts of Bacchus, when the tragic and comic poets disputed for the prize. The former used to present four of their pieces at a time; except Sophocles, who did not think fit to continue so laborious an exercise, and confined himself to one performance, when he disputed the prize. The state appointed judges, to determine upon
the merit of the tragic or comic pieces, before they were represented in the festivals. They were acted before them in the presence of the people; but undoubtedly with no great preparation. The judges gave their suffrages, and that performance which had the most voices, was declared victorious, received the crown as such, and was received with all possible pomp at the expense of the republic. This did not, however, exclude such pieces as were only in the second or third class. The best had not always the preference: for what times were exempted from party caprice, ignorance, and prejudice ? 'Elian is very angry with the judges, who, in one of these disputes, gave only the second place to Euripides. He accuses them of judging either without capacity, or of giving their voices for hire. It is easy to conceive the warmth and emulation which these disputes and public rewards excited amongst the poets, and how much they contributed to the perfection to which Greece carried dramatic performances.
The dramatic poem introduces the persons themselves, speaking and acting upon the stage. In the
1 Elian. I. ï. c. &
epic, on the contrary, only the poet relates the different adventures of his characters. It is natural to be delighted with fine descriptions of events, in which illustrious persons and whole nations are interested; and hence the epic poem had its origin. But we are quite differently affected with hearing those persons themselves, with being confidants of their most secret sentiments, and auditors and spectators of their resolutions, enterprises and the happy or unhappy events attending them. To read, and see an action, are quite different things; we are infinitely more moved with what is acted than with what we read. The spectator, agreeably deceived by an imitation so nearly approaching life, mistakes the picture for the original, and thinks the object real. This gave birth to dramatic poetry, which includes tragedy and comedy.
To these may be added the satyric poem, which derives its name from the satyrs, rural gods, who were the chief characters in it; and not from the satire, a kind of abusive poetry, which has no resemblance to this, and is of a much later date. The satyric poem was neither tragedy nor comedy, but something between both, participating of the character of each. The poets, who disputed the prize, generally added one of these pieces to their tragedies, to allay the grave and solemn of the one, with the mirth and pleasantry of the other. There is but one example of this ancient poem come down to us, which is the Cyclops of Euripides.
I shall confine myself upon this head to tragedy and comedy; which had both their origin among the Greeks, who looked upon them as fruits of their own
growth, of which they could never have enough. Athens was remarkable for an extraordinary appetite of this kind. These two poems, which were a long time comprised under the general name of tragedy, received there by degrees such improvements as at length raised them to their last perfection.
THE ORIGIN AND PROGRESS OF TRAGEDY.
Poets who excelled in it at Athens ; Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. There had been many tragic and comic poets before Thespis; but as they had altered nothing in the original rude form of this poem, and Thespis was the first that made any improvement in it, he was generally esteemed its inventor. Before him, tragedy was no more than a jumble of buffoon tales in the comic style, intermixed with the singing of a chorus in praise of Bacchus; for it is to the feasts of that god, celebrated at the time of the vintage, that tragedy owes its birth.
Thespis made several alterations in it, which Horace describes after Aristotle, in his art of poetry. The first was to carry his actors about in a cart, whereas before they used to sing in the streets, wherever chance led them. Another was to have their faces smeared over with wine lees, instead of acting without disguise as at first. He also introduced a character among the chorus, who, to give the actors time to rest themselves and to take breath, repeated the adventures of some illustrious person; which recital, at length, gave place to the subjects of tragedy.
* Ignotum tragicæ genus invenisse Camenæ Dicitur, et plaustris vexisse poemata Thespis, Qui canerent agerentque, peruncti fæcibus ora. Hor. de Art. Poet.
* Thespis lived in the time of Solon. That wise legislator, upon seeing his pieces performed, expressed his dislike, by striking his staff against the ground; apprehending that these poetical fictions, and idle stories, from mere theatrical representations, would soon become matters of importance, and have too great a share in all public and private affairs.
It is not so easy to invent, as to improve the inventions of others. The alterations Thespis made in tragedy, gave room for Eschylus to make new and more considerable of his own. He was born at Athens, in the first year of the sixtieth Olympiad. He took upon him the profession of arms, at a time when the Athenians reckoned almost as many heroes as citizens. He was at the battles of Marathon, Salamis, and Platea, where he did his duty. But his disposition called him elsewhere, and put him upon entering into another course, where no less glory was to be acquired, and where he was soon without any competitors. As a superior genius, he took upon him to reform, or rather to create tragedy anew; of which he has, in consequence, been always acknowl. edged the inventor and father. Father Brumoi, in a dissertation which abounds with wit and good sense, explains the manner in which Eschylus conceived the true idea of tragedy from Homer's epic poems. That poet himself used to say, that his works were only copies in relievo of Homer's draughts in the Iliad and Odyssey.
• Plut. in Solon. p. 95. A. M. 3440. Ant. J. C. 564. * A. M. 3464. Ant. J. C. 540. PA. M. 3514. Ante J. C. 498.
Tragedy therefore took a new form under him. He gave masks to his actors, adorned them with robes and trains, and made them wear buskins. Instead of a cart, he erected a theatre of a moderate extent, and entirely changed their style; which from being merry and burlesque, as at first, became majestic and serious.
But that was only the external part or body of tragedy. Its soul, which was the most important and essential addition of Eschylus, consisted in the vivacity and spirit of the action, sustained by the dialogue of the persons of the drama introduced by him; in the artful working up of the greater passions, especially of terror and pity, that, by alternately afflicting and agitating the soul with mournful or terrible objects, produce a grateful pleasure and delight from that very trouble and emotion; in the choice of a subject great, noble, affecting, and contained within the due bounds of time, place, and action: in fine, it is the conduct and disposition of the whole piece, which, by the order and harmony of its parts, and the happy connection of its incidents and intrigues, holds the mind of the spectator in suspense till the catastrophe, and then restores him his tranquillity, and dismisses him with satisfaction.
The chorus had been established before Eschylus, as it composed alone, or next to alone, what was then called tragedy. He did not therefore exclude it, but, on the contrary, thought fit to incorporate it, to sing as chorus between the acts. Thus it supplied the
4 Post hunc personæ pallæque repertor honestä Eschylus, et modicis instravit pulpita tignis, Et docuit magnumque loqui, nitique cothurno. Hor. de Art. Poet.