Page images
PDF
EPUB

6. 7. How prince Prettyman fell in love, and how Miss Airy killed herself for the man she never spoke to.

8. 9. How Jack, who for a long while said nothing, said his prayers, went out, and was knocked on the head.

CLASSICAL DISQUISITIONS.

THE TRAGIC WRITERS, PRATINAS, PHRYNICHUS, AND ESCHYLUS.

The account which is commonly given of the origin of the Greek drama from the Chorus of Bacchus, is in itself sufficiently probable, and sufficiently supported by external evidence, to justify our acquiescence in it. Many other questions may be proposed relative to the Greek theatre, which afford scope for much disquisition, as the celebration of the Dionysia, the construction and scenery of the theatre, the mode of recitation, the employment of music, the office and use of the Chorus, with others of a similar nature. Omitting the consideration of these till some future occasion, we shall for the present proceed in giving a brief account of the principal tragic writers and their remaining works. Those previous to Eschylus will require but little notice, both because their performances are lost, and the accounts which remain of them are brief and obscure. The chief whose names are mentioned are Pratinas, Phrynichus, Chærilus, and Melanippides.

Pratinas was the son of Pyrrhonidas or Encomius, and was born at Phlius, in Peloponnesus. He repaired to Athens for the purpose of representing dramatic performances, and in the LXX. Olympiad contended with Eschylus and Chærilus. Though he wrote fifty tragedies, he had the bad fortune of gaining only one prize. Many of his pieces were satyrical, and he is indeed said by Suidas to have been the author of this species of dramatic composition.*

An accident which happened at the performance of one of his plays, is said to have given the first occasion for the construction of a regular and durable theatre. The scaffolds on which the spectators were placed gave way, and by the mischief which ensued the Athenians were induced to guard against the future occurrence of a similar misfortune, by erecting a theatre of more substantial materials.

Phrynichus appears to have been a much more considerable writer. He is ranked by Plutarch with Eschylus as being the first to introduce the fables of mythology, and the sufferings of heroes, on the stage. Before them we must therefore suppose tragedy to have been altogeVOL. IV. 2 G ther.

*An anonymous and corrupt fragment in Athenæus, xiv. 622, is corrected. and claimed for this poet by Mr. Porson, in his late edition of the Hecuba, P. 3.

ther irregular and grotesque. Phrynichus introduced some change in the versification of the drama, and is said to have been the first who exhibited female characters.

A singular circumstance is recorded with respect to one of his performances, which strongly displays the inconsistent and capricious character of the Athenians. Miletus, the capital of Ionia, and an ancient colony of the Athenians, a city eminent for its riches and splendour, and the illustrious characters to whom it had given birth, had been recently sacked by the Persian troops. On this calamity Phrynichus founded his tragedy, entitled the "Taking of Miletus.' The audience honoured its representation by the testimony of their tears; and so powerful was the impression which it produced, that the representation of this calamitous event was forbidden by a public edict, and a fine of a thousand drachmas was imposed upon the author.*

[ocr errors]

Phrynichus is said to have been the scholar of Thespis. He wrote a tragedy called Phænissæ, on the subject of the Persian war, of which the author of the argument prefixed to the Persæ of Eschylus gives the following account. Glaucus, in his treatise on the fables of Eschylus, says, that his Persæ was borrowed from the Phænissæ of Phrynichus. He quotes this verse as the beginning of the play:

Ταδ' εστι Περσων των παλαι βεβηκότων.

An eunuch was introduced, bringing the intelligence of the defeat of Xerxes, and preparing seats for the chiefs of the Persians. Phrynichus is also said to have represented a tragedy at Athens, by which he obtained the victory, Themistocles bearing the charge of the scenery and Chorus; in memory of which an inscription to the following effect is recorded by Plutarch. "Themistocles, of the district of Phreari, bore the charge, Phrynichus made the tragedy, and Adimantus was Archon." Bentley conjectures this play to have been the Phænissæ just mentioned, since no subject could be so gratifying to Themistocles as the defeat of Xerxes, in which he had borne so great a share.

A passage of Suidas has given occasion to the supposition that there were two tragic poets of the name of Phrynichus. This lexicographer first speaks of Phrynichus, the son of Polyphradmon, or Minyras, or Chorocles, the scholar of Thespis, enumerating some of his tragedies; and in another article, of Phrynichus, the son of Melanthas, an Athenian tragedian, the titles of some of whose plays differing from the former he likewise mentions. The latter passage is taken from the scholiast of Aristophanes, who adds, that this Phrynichus also wrote the "Taking of Miletus." But this single authority. is of little moment. The different names assigned in the first article to the father of Phrynichus shew his history to have been uncertain; and the plays ascribed to two writers, were in all probability the work of one. For all the writers, who are very numerous, who speak of the play entitled the "Taking of Miletus," style the author of it

* Herodotus, vi. 21.

simply

simply Phrynichus, the tragedian, without any mark of distinction derived from age or any other circumstance, from any other supposed author of the same name. The scholiast of Aristophanes also, and Suidas, in enumerating various persons who bore the name of Phrynichus, make mention of only one as a tragic poet.

Charilus is said to have been the author of 150 plays, and to have gained thirteen prizes. Melanippides was his contemporary, and besides other poems, wrote Dithyrambi and tragedies. Some fragments are cited from him by ancient authors.

These writers, perhaps, contributed in a considerable degree to the refinement of dramatic poetry from the meanness of its original state. The change was not, however, accomplished without opposition from the admirers of the ancient performances. The Chorus* used at first to sing a Dithyramb to the honour of Bacchus, but in time the poets relinquished it, and made the Giants and Centaurs the subjects of their plays; upon which the spectators mocked them, and said, "that was nothing to Bacchus," which gradually became a proverbial phrase. The poets, therefore, sometimes introduced the Satyrs, that they might not seem entirely to forget the god of the festival. Yet tragedy was in all probability left by these poets in a very imperfect state. The Chorus seems still to have remained the predominant part of the drama. This may be concluded from various authorities, and particularly from a passage of Aristotle, quoted and corrected by Bentley. He advances the following question as a problem. "Why did Phrynichus write more lyric songs than any modern poet?" In solution of which he says, "Was it because the songs of the Chorus were much more numerous than the verses spoken by the actors?"

It was, therefore, from the genius of Eschylus that both the decorations of the stage and the construction of the drama received their most material improvements.

Personæ pallæque repertor honestæ,

Eschylus et modicis instravit pulpita tignis,

Et docuit magnumque loqui, nitique cothurno.

Eschylus was the son of Euphorion. The time of his birth is somewhat uncertain, but is commonly placed by critics in the sixty-third Olympiad, the epoch of the Arundelian marble. He was sprung from a noble family. He is commonly supposed to have been an Athenian citizen of Eleusis. By others, with less authority, he is thought to have been a native of Decelia. He was present in the battles of Marathon, Salamis, and Platea, in which his valour was distinguished. He had three brothers, Aminias, Euphorion, and Cynægirus, who likewise signalized themselves by military exploits. In the naval battle of Salamis, Aminias lost an arm, and was honoured with the first prize of valour.+ A remarkable circumstance is mentioned in the battle of Marathon, respecting Cynægirus, another of the brothers. As the Persians were flying in confusion to their ships,

* Zenobius and Suidas ap. Bentley, 243.

+ Ælian, v. 19.

ships, Cynægirus seized one of the vessels, which he continued to hold till his hand was cut off. Such is the circumstance as told by Herodotus. It is related with some marvellous additions by the later writers. It was at an early age that Eschylus applied himself to the cultivation of tragic poetry. It was allegorically said by the ancients, that when a child, being placed to watch some grapes in a field, he fell asleep, and that Bacchus appeared to him in a dream, and ordered him to make tragedies. Some liberties which he took with the popular mythology, caused him to be suspected of impiety. When the enraged people were preparing to stone him to death, his brother Aminias interposed in his behalf, and turning aside his garment, displayed his mutilated arm, and diverted the popular fury. Eschylus at length quitted his native country, and departed to Sicily, whether through the compulsion of his enemies, or his jealousy at the success of his rivals, Sophocles or Simonides. He was well received in Sicily, in which island he died. Respecting the cause of his death a strange and incredible story is related. An eagle, it is said, which was bearing a tortoise through the air, let it fall on his bald head, mistaking it for a rock. He probably died in the eighty-first Olympiad, at the age of sixty-nine. In his epitaph he seems to rest his pride rather on his military exploits than his literary fame, appealing to the field of Marathon and the long-haired Persian as witnesses of his valour.

Αλκην ευδοκιμον Μαραθωνιον άλσος αν είποις

Και βαθυχαιτηεις Μήδος επισταμενος.

In his personal character he was silent and grave. He is said by Cicero to have been attached to the Pythagorean philosophy. He was addicted to intoxication, in which state he is said to have composed his tragedies, which gave occasion to Sophocles to remark, that though he did things well, he knew not what he did.

He was the author of many improvements both in dramatic composition and representation, though in both the boldness of his conceptions seems sometimes to have degenerated into wildness and extravagance. He gave to the habits in which his performers were dressed forms so dignified and majestic, that they were adopted by the priests for the service of the altar. He arranged the dances performed by his chorus, which were usually well adapted to the subject. In his play of the Eumenides he introduced fifty furies on the stage, in disguises so terrible as to produce the most alarming effects on women and children who were present. On this occasion the magistrates interfered, and a law was passed limiting the number of which the Chorus should consist, with a penalty in case of the violation of the rule. Eschylus limited the office of the Chorus in the conduct of his tragedies, multiplied the number of characters, and introduced a chief character on whom the interest of the piece should

`turn.

Eschylus is said to have acknowledged the obligations under which

* Ælian, vi. 114.

he

he lay 'to the father of poetry, by declaring that his tragedies were but fragments from the splendid feast of Homer. When the prize was conferred on the performance of an antagonist of inferior merit, he made his appeal to posterity, strongly expressing his confidence in the ultimate justice of the decision which would be made.

Various honours were paid to his memory at Athens. A statue was erected to him in the theatre of Bacchus, and his exploits at the battle of Marathon were represented in a picture.

Only seven of his numerous plays are extant; the Prometheus vinctus, the Seven Champions before Thebes, the Persæ, the Agamemnon, the Choephora, the Eumenides, and the Suppliant Virgins. The stage of Eschylus, as might naturally be expected, is not wholly free from imperfections which mark its recent origin from the rude and gross state in which he received the drama. His plots are simple, and are commonly destitute of those artifices by which later writers have sought to excite and suspend attention. His choral odes, like the Dithyramb from which they sprung, are full of bold and excessive metaphors, which often obscure rather than illustrate his thoughts. He has in a considerable degree transferred the same style even to the dramatic parts, where it necessarily becomes on many occasions tumid and extravagant. On the other hand his thoughts are bold and well conceived, and the language in which they are expressed, though loaded with pompous metaphors, is precise and energetic. He does not, perhaps, excel in the general delineation of character, but has in some instances produced scenes which equal in impressive effect those of any tragic writer, ancient or modern. Som further remarks on his style, and his remaining works, will be eserved for another paper.

The following are the editions of Eschylus:

Aldi, Venet. 8vo. 1518. Editio princeps. This edition is not so highly esteemed as some of the Aldine productions. The Agamemnon and Choephora, each imperfect, are so mingled and confused, as to form apparently but one play. The edition was superintended by Fr. Asulanus.

Turnebi, Paris, 8vo. 1552. This edition was rendered more correct than the Aldine by the aid of a MS. of Æmarius Rançonetus, but the Agamemnon was left imperfect.

Robortelli, Venet. 8vo. 1552. This edition is rare and valuable, and Eschylus owes much to the able critic by whom it was superintended. He likewise printed the scholia separately in the same

year.

Victorii, Paris, 4to. 1557. This edition was printed by Henry Stephens, and is the first which contains the entire Agamemnon.

Canteri, Antwerp, 12mo. 1580. This edition is printed in a very small size, but elegantly and correctly, by Plantin. It is the basis of some succeeding editions. The editor bestowed much attention on the arrangement of the metres.

Stanleii, Lond. fol. 1663 and 1664. This edition is printed in a magnificent form. It contains the scholia, the fragments, the notes

and

« PreviousContinue »