« PreviousContinue »
is calm, deliberate justice: she decides the contest, and Orestes is absolved.
The moral sentiment which pervades and rules the Greek tragedies, is a resistless, overwhelming fatalism, which, binding both gods and men in its iron chain, drags them captive to their allotted destinies. The unhappy being who is the victim of this stern fatality, is impelled by an overbearing power to do or suffer a deed which involves the agent in the most dreadful calamities. His ancestors, himself, his descendants, are involved in one common crime and penalty, until the measure of justice is filled by a tedious and protracted distillation of pain and of suffering. A fatalism so desperate and cheerless would seem adapted to crush every faculty of the mind, and suspend every moral exertion; but, in the Greek tragedy, (and it is among the most remarkable moral phenomena, that it is so in real life,) it produces an effect apparently in compatible with its nature. The doctrine of fatalism has been adopted and acted on by whole nations; and the bravest individuals, deeming themselves subject to an irrepealable law, and assured that if its decree could not be averted, it likewise could not be hastened, have opposed the proudest fortitude to the pre-ordained evils against which they struggled, carrying on the combat with the same vigour as if they were actually masters of its issue. The moral liberty, therefore, of the personages of the Greek drama, is not incompatible with the destiny which overrules them. The free agency of the soul is a sentiment which can never be subdued; and it is the contrast which it opposes to a stern and unbending necessity, that heightens the terror of the Greek tragedy. The more the strength that is put forth in the struggle, the more gigantic. and fearful is the power with which it is engaged. Human life is a conflict with external ills; these, however, might be subdued and triumphed over. Time, if it does not remove the calamity, abates the suffering;-and the sense of many of our “ evils is deadened by the stubborn patience which opposes them. But Destiny was an irresistible adversary, whose stern and appalling image was contemplated not in the present, but in the " irrevocable decree of the past, linked, by an indissoluble chain of events, with the future. The ancients,' remarks Schlegel, ' 'considered Destiny as a dark, relentless divinity, inhabiting a sphere inaccessible to gods or men; for the pagan deities, the mere personifications of the energies of nature, although 'infinitely superior to man, were upon the same level as far as regarded that supreme power.'
Next in importance to this unbending law, is the doctrine of Dicé, or the sure retaliation of punishment for crime. We VOL. XXII. N. S.
are naturally impressed with the necessity of a moral retribution; and in those states of society in which the laws are silent or overpowered, this sentiment gives birth to that revenge which Bacon calls a wild justice.' Each is the guardian of his own rights, the arbiter of his own wrongs, and of those with whom he is connected. Hence, the piety of family affection, which included the duty of revenge, was next, in the moral order, to piety towards the gods, or, in other words, submission to fate; it was one of the most unalienable of obligations, and the strongest motive of action. The Greek tragedy, therefore, constantly thunders the terrors of Dicé, meaning not only the retribution of crime, and the ordaining of that retribution by the gods, but also the execution of that revenge which held the place of a moral duty.
We object to the dramatic designation which Mr. Dale gives the Пadayyos in the first scene of Electra: he should not have been called an attendant. He was the guardian and instructer of Orestes from his youth upwards, and the latter listens to his advice, which is grave and authoritative, with the utmost deference. But we will not cavil about words. The invocation of Electra, which is in anapæsts, is beautifully and closely rendered:
Ω φαος αγνόν, και γῆς
and we are happy that Mr. Dale has not been misled by the Scholiast from the true meaning of ouogos, co-extensive. We recollect that Hesiod somewhere says, that light was extended in equal proportion to the earth.
Elec. O pure ethereal light,
Thou air, with earth pervading equal space,
How many a blow upon this bleeding breast,
Hast thou for me attested, when dun Night
Withdraws her murky veil.
Through the long hours of darkness, each loathed couch
How mine unhappy father I bewail,
Whom not in far barbaric clime
Ensanguined Mars laid low;
But my base mother, with her paramour,
No heart, save mine, with gentle pity wrung,
But never will I cease my wail,
Nor hush my bitter cries, while yet I gaze
Gaze on the orb of day ;
But, like the hapless nightingale, bereft
Of her loved brood, before my native home
Ye dark abodes of Dis and Proserpine,
Thou Hermes, guide to Hell-thou Awful Curse,
Who on the basely murdered look,
On those who mount by stealth th' unhallowed couch;
Of my beloved sire,
And give my absent brother to mine arms;
Alone no longer can I bear the weight
Vol. II. pp. 291, 2.
We see no difficulty in the nightingale's being called As αγγελος, ayyos, the messenger of Jove, as announcing to mortals by her melody the approach of spring; or, as the Scholiast well puts it, δι' αυτής ο Ζευς το ἔαρ ερμηνευι. The speech in which Electra re
monstrates with her sister for consenting to make offerings for her mother at the tomb of the murdered Agamemnon, is admirably translated.
Elec. Nay, dearest sister! of these offerings nought
It is not pious from that woman-fiend
For had she not been formed of all her sex
And this my zone, unwrought with regal pomp.
And that Orestes with more vigorous hand
2 pp. 310-12.
Ajax is the least pleasing of the plays of Sophocles. The voluntary death of the hero, like the suicides of Euripides, is undignified. There is something repulsive, too, in his madness; but no picture of the agony of a restoration to reason, equals that in the Ajax, where the tent opens, and discovers the hero seated on the ground, in the midst of the sheep he had slain during his delirium, and filling the air with the groans of his unutterable anguish.
We pass by the Trachiniæ. Has Mr. Dale no suspicion of its not being from the hand of Sophocles? In its general execution, it is decidedly below the other dramas of this great poet. Nor do we recognise in this tragedy, the heroic cast of character which the bard of Colonos preserved so faithfully and consistently. Hercules is a miserable specimen of the hero. Many critics have observed also, and with much reason, upon the superfluous soliloquy of Dejanira, at the beginning, as not bearing the slightest resemblance to the Poet's manner of prologising. It must be admitted on the other hand, that it was never attributed to any other author, and Cicero cites the lamentation of Hercules as a passage from the plays of Sophocles.
Were we called upon to declare which of the tragedies of Sophocles we deem the best, we should be inclined to pronounce the Philoctetes the most perfect, as it certainly is the most captivating. It has a concise and simple fable, for it is nothing more than the stratagem of Ulysses to wrest, by the aid of Neoptolemus, the invulnerable arms from the custody of Philoctetes. This unhappy man, to whom Hercules had bequeathed them in reward of his fidelity, had repaired with the Greeks to the siege of Troy, where he received a deadly wound in his foot, from an arrow which had been tinged with the venom of the Lernæan hydra. So noisome was, the odour exhaling from his wound, that his presence in the camp became intolerable. He was therefore enticed by Ulysses on board a galley, under the false pretext of having his wound cured by the sons of Esculapius, and treacherously left on a desert part of the isle of Lemnos. In this state of corporal pain and mental deso
lation, the wretched son of Pæas has already lingered nine years, when Ulysses and Neoptolemus, deputed by the Grecian chiefs to convey him to Troy, which cannot be taken without his assistance, arrive at Lemnos. At this point begins the drama.
If there be any spectacle,' remarks Mr. Dale in his critical summary of this Tragedy, peculiarly interesting to the observer of human nature, it is the contemplation of a generous mind reluctantly yielding to the suggestions of artifice and duplicity; and though seduced, for a moment, by the love of glory, into the commission of baseness, yet struggling with better feelings, till at last the native integrity of the honourable mind rises triumphant over the arts of the deceiver. Such a character is Neoptolemus. Young, ingenuous, and upright, he recoils with indignation from the smooth sophistry of artifice and fraud-he is only reconciled to it by the specious lure of fame he perseveres in the deceit so long as he is encouraged by the presence of his wily confederate; but when left to himself to the silent remonstrances of conscience-the innate generosity of his heart resumes its ascendancy, nor can he consent to purchase his own glory and the welfare of Greece, at the price of his honour. We recognize in him all the lineaments of that high-souled and impetuous chief, to whom is attributed, by the Master-poet, that memorable sentiment ;
⚫ Who dares think one thing, and another tell,
Scarcely less interesting, though under a very different aspect, is the character of Philoctetes himself. The lonely exile has become familiarized to misery without being resigned to it; all around him has assumed the desolate aspect of his own forlorn condition, and yet, without any hope of deliverance, the remembrance of his own coun try is the more endeared to him, as he is separated from it by a mote hopeless and insuperable barrier. The Amor patria' burns inextinguishably in his heart. The very garb of Greece is beauty to his eye; the accents of a Greek are music to his car. Absorbed as he
might have been in the contemplation of his own sorrows, (and there is no teacher of selfishness like sorrow,) he has not yet forgotten his former companions and confederates in arms, and his enquiries after them are urged with a tenderness and solicitude truly pathetic. Even the misanthropic scepticism which he has imbibed, is accordant with the general tone and temper of his mind; and, under such circumstances, a heathen may be excused for calling in question the impartiality and justice of the gods. It was reserved for a more enlight ened poet than Sophocles to deliver that beautiful aphorism
• All partial evil-universal good.
This drama, however, possesses a beauty peculiar to itself. Scenic descriptions of the utmost richness and luxuriance are, indeed, interspersed throughout all the writings of Sophocles, but the drama be