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and spirit, to which the Roman language could never attain, and for which • Aristophanes is more remarkable than any other of the Greek authors. His particulat excellence was raillery. None ever touched the ridicule in characters with such success, or knew better how to convey it in all its full force to others. But it were necessary to have lived in his times for å right taste of his works. The subtile salt and spirit of the ancient raillery, according to Mr. Brumoi, is evaporated through length of time, and what remains of it is become flat and insipid to us; though the sharpest part will retain its vigor throughout all ages.
Two considerable defects are justly imputed to this poet, which very much obscure, if not entirely efface his glory. These are, low buffoonery, and gross obscenity ; which objections have been opposed to no purpose, from the character of his audience; the bulk of which generally consisted of the poor, the ignorant, and dregs of the people, whom however it was as necessary to please, as the learned and the rich. The depravity of the inferior people's taste, which once banished Cratinus and his company, because his scenes were not grossly comic enough for them, is no excuse for Aristophanes, as Menander could find out the art of changing that groveling taste, by introducing a species of comedy, not altogether so modest as Plutarch seems to insinuate, yet much chaster than any before his time. TES
gross obscenities with which all Aristophanes's comedies abound, have no excuse; they only denote
Antiqua comedia sinceram illam sermonis Attici gratiam prope sola retinet. Quintil.
in the poet.
an excessive libertinism in the spectators, and depravity
The utmost salt that could have been bestowed upon them, which, however, is not the case, would not have atoned for laughing himself, or for making others laugh, at the expense of decency and good manners. And in this case it may well be said, that it were better to have no wit at all, than to make so ill a use of it. Mr. Brumoi is very much to be commended for his having taken care, in giving a general idea of Aristophanes's writings, to throw a veil over those parts of them that might have given offence to modesty. Though such behaviour be the indispensable rule of religion, it is not always observed by those who pique themselves most on their erudition, and sometimes prefer the title of Scholar to that of Christian.
The ancient comedy subsisted till Lysander's time, who, upon having made himself master of Athens, changed the form of the government, and put it into the hands of thirty of the principal citizens. The satirical liberty of the theatre was offensive to them, and therefore they thought fit to put a stop to it. The reason of this alteration is evident, and makes good the reflection made before upon the privilege of the poets, to criticise with impunity upon the persons at the head of the state. The whole authority of Athens was then invested in tyrants. The democracy was abolished. The people had no longer any share in the government. They were no more the prince; their sovereignty had expired. The right of giving their opinions and suffrages upon affairs of state was at an end; nor dared they, either in their own persons or by the poets, presume to censure the sentiments and conduct of their masters. The calling persons by their names upon the stage was prohibited : but the poetical spirit soon found the secret to elude the intention of the law, and to make itself amends for the restraint it suffered in the necessity of using feigned names. It then applied to the discovery of the ridicule in known characters, which it copied to the life, and from thence acquired the double advantage of gratifying the vanity of the poets, and the malice of the audience, in a more refined manner : the one had the delicate pleasure of putting the spectators upon guessing their meaning, and the other of not being mistaken in their suppositions, and of affixing the right name to the characters represented. Such was the comedy, since called the Middle Comedy, of which there are some instances in Aristophanes.
P Nimium risus pretium est, si probitatis impendio constat.
Quinte 1. vi. c, iii.
4 Non pejus duxerim tardi ingenii esse quam mali. Quintil, lib. i.
It continued till the time of Alexander the Great, who, having entirely assured himself of the empire of Greece by the defeat of the Thebans, occasioned the putting a check upon the licence of the poets, which increased daily. From thence the New Comedy took its birth, which was only an imitation of private life, and brought nothing upon the stage with feigned names, and supposititious adventures.
This may properly be called fine comedy, and is that of Menander. Of one hundred and eighty, or rather eighty, according to Suidas, composed by him, all of which Terence is said to have translated, there remains only a few fragments. The merit of the originals
may be judged from the excellence of their copy. Quintilian, in speaking of Menander, is not afraid to say, that with the beauty of his works, and the height of his reputation, he obscured, or rather obliterated the fame of all the writers in the same way.
He observes, in another passage, that his own times were not so just to his merit as they ought to have been, which has been the fate of many others; but that he was sufficiently made amends by the favourable opinion of posterity. And indeed Philemon, a comic poet of the same age, though prior to him, was preferred before him.
The Theatre of the Ancients described. I have already observed, that Eschylus was the first founder of a fixed and durable theatre, adorned with suitable decorations. It was at first, as well as the amphithe. atres, composed of wooden planks; but those breaking down, by having too great a weight upon them, the Athenians, excessively enamoured of dramatic representations, were induced by that accident to erect those superb structures, which were imitated afterwards with so much splendor by the Roman magnificence. What I shall say of them, has almost as much relation to the Roman, as to the Athenian theatres; and is extracted entirely from Mr. Boindin's learned dissertation upon the theatre of the ancients, who has treated the subject in all its extent.
The theatre of the ancients was divided into three principal parts ; each of which had its peculiar appellation. The division for the actors was called in
Quidam, sicut Menander, justiora posterorum, quam suz ætatis, judicia sunt consecuti. Quintil. lib. iii. c. 6.
Memoirs of the Acad. of Inscript. &c, vol. I. p. 136, &c.
general the scene, or stage ; that for the spectators was particularly termed the theatre, which must have been of vast extent,' as at Athens it was capable of containing above thirty thousand persons; and the orchestra, which amongst the Greeks was the place assigned for the pantomimes and dancers, though at Rome it was appropriated to the senators and vestal virgins.
The theatre was of a semicircular form on one side, and square on the other. The space contained within the semicircle was allotted to the spectators, and had seats placed one above another to the top of the building. The square part, in the front of it, was the actors' division; and in the interval between both; was the orchestra.
The great theatres had three rows of porticos, raised one upon another, which formed the body of the edifice, and at the same time three different stories for the seats. From the highest of those porticos the women saw the representation, covered from the weather. The rest of the theatre was uncovered, and all the business of the stage was performed in the open air.
Each of these stories consisted of nine rows of seats, including the landingplace, which divided them from each other, and served as a passage from side to side. But as this landingplace and passage took up the space of two benches, there were only seven to sit upon, and consequently in each story there were seven rows of seats. They were from fifteen to eighteen inches in height, and twice as much in breadth ; so that the spectators had room to sit with their legs extended,