Изображения страниц






C. 0. FELTON, A.M.







St. Paul's Church Yard, And Waterloo Place.


1^2 2 - 1^0


Gilbert And Rivington, Printers,

St. John's Square.


Professor Felton enjoys a just reputation in America for sound scholarship; and his notes on the Clouds and Birds of Aristophanes are of that pleasant, chatty kind, which hoys are sure to like.

Whatever may be thought of the arguments that he adduces, at the end of his Preface, in defence of an unewpurgated Aristophanes, it is plain that for my purpose, that of preparing a school edition of some portion of that great poet's master-pieces, expurgation is absolutely necessary. By those who wish to form a moral estimate of his writings, and to infer from them the moral character of the age in which and for which he wrote, the whole works must undoubtedly be studied ; but surely it is as undoubtedly true, that no youthful mind (to say no more) ought to be filled with impure thoughls, expressed in the very mode of all others that is likely to make them haunt the memory in after years.

T K. A. Ltndon, Dec. 22, 1851.


Aristophanes was the son of Philippus, an Athenian citizen, belonging to the Cydathensean borough and the Pandionian tribe. The dates of his birth and death are equally unknown. He is said to have been a mere youth when he first employed himself in writing comedy; and as his earliest piece, "The Revellers," was brought out n. c. 427, the approximate date of his birth has been assumed as B. c. 444, on the supposition that the words of the scholiast, oxtS&v HupaicioKog, designate about the age of seventeen. His last recorded representation in his own name was that of the Second " Plutus," B. c. 388, one year before the peace of Antalcidas, and in the fifty-sixth year of the poet's life. It is stated in the Greek argument, that he resigned his two later pieces, "The Cocalos" and "The ^Eolosicon," to his son Araros, who had been introduced to the theatrical public as an actor in "The Plutus." The probability is, that Aristophanes lived but a few years more. The latest period assumed as the date of his death is B. c. 380.

Aristophanes, very early in life, came into violent conflict with the demagogues, who had risen to power after the death of Pericles. One of the most noted popular favorites of the times was Cleon, who is known to us, not only by the witty exaggerations of the comic poets, but by the accurate historical delineation of Thucydides. For about six years of the Peloponnesian war, this brawler stood at the head of the party opposed to peace. He was a man of low origin, a tanner by trade, but well qualified by his natural shrewdness, his impudence, his power of coarse invective against better men, his violent and cruel disposition, his fluent speech, and vulgar manners, to be the favourite of the populace. When Mitylene surrendered to the Athenian forces, ii.c. 427, he was the author of a decree that all the adult males should be put to death, and the women and children sold into slavery; but the sober second thought of the people saved them from this great crime, and the decree was rescinded the next day. With this mighty representative of the worst portion of the Athenian democracy Aristophanes commenced a warfare, in which he put forth all the energies of his wit and his genius. At the Dionysiac festival of the following spring, B.C. 426, he brought out his "Babylonians," in which he assailed Cleon, and boldly satirized the democracy. This was a daring attempt, and Cleon was not long in devising measures for vengeance. It seems that the father of Aristophanes possessed estates in Angina and Rhodes, and that affairs of business frequently called him thither. Possibly, therefore, the youth of the poet may have been passed away from Athens'. These circumstances were seized upon by Cleon, and made the basis of a prosecution for incivism,—a £,tvia<; ypafri,—which, had it been successful, would have silenced the terrible wit of the poet for ever.

The comedy of " The Knights " was brought upon the stage B. c. 424, The corruptions of the ecclesia are exposed in this piece, and the character of Cleon, who appears as one of the persons of the drama, is drawn with wonderful power. He is again held up to ridicule in "The Wasps" (exhibited B.c. 422), a drama which gives a masterly and most amusing picture of the Athenian courts, and the passion of the people for litigation. These are the principal passages in the warfare between the poet and the demagogue.

Aristophanes is said to have written above sixty comedies, of which eleven are extant. Ten of these belong to the old comedy, and one, "The Plutus," to the new.

Besides their poetical merits, the works of Aristophanes are of great historical value. He was a conservative, strongly opposed to the political, literary, and moral tendencies of his age. In the delineation of characters, he used the unscrupulous exaggerations which were common to all the writers of the ancient comedy. The names of prominent men, whether in politics, philosophy, or poetry, were brought forward with the most unhesitating freedom, and their coni duct was handled with a severity that showed as little regard for individual rights and the claims of private character as is exhibited by the modern political press3. To the credit of Aristophanes it must be said, that, with few exceptions, the individuals selected by him for attack were persons deserving the reprobation of honest men. The principal exceptions to this remark are Euripides and Socrates, especially the latter. How far the bitter sarcasms upon Euripides were justified by the influence of some of that poet's writings upon the morals of the age, it is impossible now to determine with a satisfactory degree of probability.

The conflict waged by Aristophanes against the sophists was one of no less importance than that against the demagogues. The comedy of "The Clouds," in which the main points of the contest are embodied, is, for many reasons, one of the most interesting remains of the theatrical literature of Athens. Though, like every other comedy, its wit turns upon local and temporary relations, it has, what is not common to every other comedy, a moral import of permanent value. It was written at a time of great changes in the national character of the Greeks, and bears marks of its author's determined opposition to the new ethical and philosophical views that were eating into the very heart of the national virtues. The Peloponnesian war had for eight years been desolating the fair fields of Greece; a war in which,

1 Bode thinks he may have been born tween Aristophanes and the most emi

abroad. Geschichte der Hellenischen nent of his contemporaries, see Rot

Dichtkunst, Vol. III. Part IT. p. 219. scher's Aristophanes undseinZeitalter,

* For a discussion of the relation be- pp. 212—294.

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »