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CHAP.

I.

(b) Sophocles.

gation of ancient justice, and of the new rule of the Gods, was repeated in another way, the sternness of the generation of Marathon giving place to the cheerful beauty of the age of Pericles.

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To the spirit of this new age Sophocles has given the most fitting expression. Agreeing as he does in principle with his predecessor, his poems, nevertheless, convey a very different impression. The keynote of the poetry of Sophocles is likewise reverence for the Gods, whose hand and laws encompass human life. From them come all things, even misfortune;1 their never-decaying power no mortal can withstand; nothing can escape its destiny; 2 from their eyes no deed and no thought can be hid ;3 their eternal laws, created by no mere human power, dare no one transgress. Men, however, are weak and frail, mere shadows or dreams, a very nothing, capable only of a passing semblance of happiness.5 No mortal's life is free from misfortune, and even the happiest man cannot be called happy before his death;7 nay, taking all things into account, which the changing day brings with it, the number of woes, the rarity of good fortune, the end to which all must come, it were well to repeat the old saying, 'Not to have been born is the best lot, and the next best is to die as soon as may be.' The highest practical wisdom is, therefore, to control the wishes, to mode

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rate the desires, to love justice, to fear God, to be resigned to fate. That man should not exalt himself above human measure, that only the modest man is acceptable to the Gods,' that it is absurd. to seek a higher instead of being content with a moderate lot, that arrogance hurries on to sudden destruction, that Zeus hates the vaunts of a boastful tongue, all this Sophocles shows by the example of men who have been hurled from the summit of fortune, or who have been ruined by recklessness and overbearing. He, too, is impressed by the thought of the worth of virtue and of divine retribution. He knows that uprightness is better than riches, that loss is better than unjust gain, that heavy guilt entails heavy punishment, but that piety and virtue are worth more than all things else, and are rewarded not only in this world, but in the next;3 he even declares that it is more important to please those in the next world than those in this.4 He is moreover convinced that all wisdom comes from the Gods, and that they always conduct to what is right,5 albeit men may never cease from learning and striving after it. He bids them to commit their griefs to Zeus, who from heaven above looks down and orders all things, and to bear what the Gods send with resignation, and in this belief is neither puzzled

1 Ajax, 127, 758; Ed. Col. 1211; Fr. 320, 528.

2 Ed. R. 873; Ant. 127.
Fr. 18, 210, 196; Philoc.

1440.

4 Ant. 71.

5 Fr. 834, 227, 809, 865; in
the unintelligible θείᾳ ἡμέρᾳ
probably there is a θεία μοῖρα.
6 Fr. 731, 736.

Elec. 174; Fr. 523, 862.

CHAP.

I.

CHAP. 1.

by the good fortune of many bad men, nor yet by the misfortunes of many good ones.1

The same thoughts had inspired the poetry of Æschylus, and yet the spirit of the drama of Sophocles is a very different one from his. Sophocles can show a higher artistic execution, a fuller dramatic handling, a more delicate delineation of the inner life, a more careful unravelling of action from characters and of characters by means of actions, a better proportioned beauty, a clearer and more pleasing language; whereas for tempestuous force, for wild exultation, for majestic view of history, Æschylus is unrivalled. Nor is the moral platform of the two tragedians quite the same. Both are penetrated with reverence for the divine powers; but in Eschylus this reverence is combined with a horror which has first to be set aside, and with an antagonism which has to be overcome before it can come up to the trustful resignation and the blissful peace of the piety of Sophocles. The power of fate seems with Æschylus much harsher, because less called for by the character of those whom it reaches; the reign of Zeus is a reign of terror, mitigated only by degrees, and man must perish if the Deity enter into too close relations with him.2 Both poets celebrate the victory of moral order over human self-will; but in Eschylus the victory is preceded by severer and more dreadful struggles. Moral order works, with him, as a stern

Io in the Prometheus, espe

' Fr. 104.

2 Compare the character of cially v. 887, &c.

(

and fearful power, crushing the refractory; whereas, with Sophocles, it completes its work with the quiet certainty of a law of nature, awakening rather pity for human weakness than terror. That conflict of the old bloodthirsty justice with the new, round which the Eumenides of Eschylus play, Sophocles has left behind; with him justice is, from the very beginning, harmoniously united with mercy, and the most accursed of all mortals finds in the Edipus Coloneus' reconciliation at last. His heroes, too, are of a different order from those of his predecessor. In Eschylus moral opposites are so hard, that human representatives of them do not suffice him; hence he brings the Gods themselves into the battle-fieldZeus and the Titans, the daughters of Night and the denizens of Olympus; whereas the tragedy of Sophocles moves entirely in the world of men. The former deals by preference with violent natures and uncontrolled passions; the strong point of the latter is to depict what is noble, self-contained, tender; strength is by him generally coupled with dignity, pain with resignation. Hence his female characters are So specially successful. Æschylus paints in a Clytemnestra, the demoniacal side of woman's nature in all its repulsiveness. Sophocles in an Antigone pourtrays pure womanhood, knowing how to love, but not to hate,'1 and putting even hatred to shame by the heroism of her love. In short, the poetry of Sophocles sets before us the sentiments of an epoch and a

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1 Ant. 523.

CHAP.

I.

CHAP.

I.

(c) Euripides.

people which having, by most successful efforts, risen to a happy use of its powers, and so to fame and position, enjoys existence, and which has learned to look on human nature and all that belongs to it in a cheerful spirit, to prize its greatness, to mitigate its sufferings by wise resignation, to bear its weaknesses, to control its excesses by custom and law. From him, as from no other poet, the idea is gathered of a beautiful natural agreement between duty and inclination, between freedom and order, which constitutes the moral ideal of the Greek world.

Only some four Olympiads later comes Euripides. Yet what a remarkable change in ethical tone and view of life is apparent in his writings! As an artist, Euripides is far too fond of substituting calculation for the spontaneous outcome of the poet's mind, critical reflection for admiring contemplation. By means of particular scenes of an exciting and terrifying character, by chorus-songs often loosely connected with the action of the play, by rhetorical declamation and moralising, he seeks to produce an effect which might be gained in greater purity and depth from the unison of the whole. That harmony between the moral and the religious life which commended itself so agreeably to us in Sophocles, may be seen in a state of dissolution in the plays of the younger poet. Not that he is deficient in moral maxims and religious thoughts. He knows full well that piety and the virtue of temperance are the best things for man; that he who is mortal must not be proud of advantages nor despair in misfortune; that he can do

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