« FöregåendeFortsätt »
because no workman could be found, that would venture to make a mask resembling Cleon, as was usual when persons were brought upon the stage. In this piece he reproaches him with embezzling the public treasures, with a violent passion for bribes and presents, with craft in seducing the people, and denies him the glory of the action at Sphacteria, which he attributes chiefly to the share his colleague had in it.
In the Acharnians, he accuses Lamachus of having been made general, rather by bribery than merit. He imputes to him his youth, inexperience, and idleness; at the same time that he, and many others, convert to their own use the rewards due only to valour and real services. He reproaches the republic with their preference of the younger citizens to the elder in the government of the state, and the command of armies. He tells them plainly, that when the peace shall be concluded, neither Cleonymus, Hyperbolus, nor many other such knaves, all mentioned by name, shall have any share in the public affairs; they being always ready to accuse their fellowcitizens of crimes, and to enrich themselves by such informations.
In his comedy called the Wasps, imitated by Racine tim his Plaideurs, he exposes the mad passion of the people for prosecutions and trials at law, and the lenormous injustice frequently committed in passing sentence and giving judgment. · The poet,k concerned to see the republic obstinately bent upon the unhappy expedition to Sicily, endeavQurs to excite in the people a final disgust for so ruinous a waxand to inspire them with a desire of a peace, as much the interest of the victors as the vanquished, after a war of several years duration, equally pernicious to each party, and capable of involving all Greece in ruin.
k The Peace.
None of Aristophanes's pieces explains better his boldness, in speaking upon the most delicate affairs of the state in the crowded theatre, than his comedy called Lysistrata. One of the principal magistrates of Athens had a wife of that name, who is supposed to have taken it into her head to compel Greece to conclude a peace. She relates, how, during the war, the women inquiring of their husbands the result of their counsels, and whether they had not resolved to make peace with Sparta, received no answers but imperious looks, and orders to meddle with their own affairs: that, however, they perceived plainly to what a low condition the government was declined: that they took the liberty to remonstrate mildly to their husbands upon the rashness of their counsels ; but that their humble representations had no other effect than to offend and enrage them: that, in fine, being confirmed by the general opinion of all Attica, that there were no longer any men in the state, nor heads for the administration of affairs, their patience being quite exhausted, the women had thought it proper and adviseable to take the government upon themselves, and preserve Greece, whether it would or no, from the folly and madness of its resolves: “For her part, she declares, thạt she has taken possession of the city and treasury, in order,” says she, "to prevent Pisander and his confederates, the four hundred administrators, from exciting troubles according to their custom, and
from robbing the public as usual.” Was ever any thing so bold? She goes on with proving, that the women only are capable of retrieving affairs, by this burlesque argument; that, admitting things to be in such a state of perplexity and confusion, the sex, accustomed to untangling their threads, were the only persons to set them right again, as being best qualified with the necessary address, temper, and moderation. The Athenian politics are thus made inferior to the abilities of the women, which are only represented in a ridiculous light, to turn the derision upon their husbands in the administration of the government.
These extracts from Aristophanes, taken almost word for word from Father Brumoi, seemed to me very proper for a right understanding at once of that poet's character, and the genius of the ancient comedy, which was, as we see, a true satire of the most poignant and severe kind, that had assumed to itself an independency from respect to persons, and to which nothing was sacred. It is no wonder that Cicero condemns so licentious and excessive a liberty. 'It might, he says, have been tolerable, had it only attacked bad citizens, and seditious orators, who endeavoured to raise commotions in that state, such as Cleon, Cleophon, and Hyperbolus; but when a Pericles, who for many years had governed the commonwealth both in war and peace, with equal wisdom
I Quem illa non attigit, vel potius quem non vexavit ? Esto, populares homines, improbus, in remp. seditiosos, Cleoncm, Cleophontem, Hyper. bolum læsit: patiamur. Sed Periclem, cum jam suæ civitati maxima auctoritate plurimos annos domi et belli præfuisset, violari versibus, et eos agi in scena, non plus decuit, quam si Plautus noster voluisset, ant Nævius P. et Cn. Scipioni, aut Cæcilius M. Catoni maledicere. Ex fragm. Cic. de Rep. lib. iv.
and authority, he might have added, and a Socrates, declared by Apollo the wisest of mankind, are brought upon the stage to be laughed at by the public, it is as if our Plautus, or Nevius, had fallen upon the Scipios, or Cecilius reviled Marcus Cato in his writings.
That liberty is still more offensive to us, who are born in, and live under a monarchical government, which is far from being favourable to licence. But without intending to justify the conduct of Aristo. phanes, which, to judge properly of it, is inexcusable, I think it would be necessary to lay aside the prejudices of nature, nations, and times, and to imagine we live in those remote ages in a state purely democratical. We must not fancy Aristophanes to have been a person of little consequence in his republic, as the comic writers generally are in our days. The king of Persia had a very different idea of him. mIt is a known story, that in an audience of the Greek ambassadors, his first inquiry was after a certain comic poet, meaning Aristophanes, that put all Greece in motion, and gave such effectual counsels against him. Aristophanes did that upon the stage, which Demosthenes did afterwards in the public assemblies. The poet's reproaches were no less animated than the orator's. His comedies spoke a language that became the counsels of the republic. It was addressed to the same people, upon the same occasions of the state, the same means to success, and the same obstacles to their
In Athens the whole people were the sovereign, and each of them had an equal share in the supreme authority. Upon this they were continually
Aristoph. in Acharm
intent, were fond of discoursing themselves, and of hearing the sentiments of others. The public affairs were the business of every individual ; in which they were desirous of being fully informed, that they might know how to conduct themselves on every occasion of war or peace, which frequently offered, and to distinguish upon their own, as well as upon the destiny of their allies, or enemies. Hence rose the liberty, taken by the comic poets, of introducing the affairs of the state into their performances. The people were so far from being offended at it, or at the manner in which those writers treated the principal persons of the state, that they conceived their liberty in some measure to consist in it.
Three" persons particularly excelled in the ancient comedy; Eupolis, Cratinus, and Aristophanes. The last is the only one of them whose pieces have come entire down to us; and, out of the great number of those, eleven are all that remain. He flourished in an age when Greece abounded with great men, and was cotemporary with Socrates and Euripides, whom he survived. During the Peloponnesian war, he made his greatest figure ; less as a writer to amuse the people with his comedies, than as a censor of the government, retained to reform the state, and to be almost the arbiter of his country.
He is admired for an elegance, poignancy, and happiness of expression, or, in a word, that attic salt
- Eupolis, atque Cratinus, Aristophanesque poëtæ,
HoR. Sat. IV.I. La