The Ancient Library
 

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ATTIC PERIOD. 218

which contrasts so offensively with the moral dignity of ^Eschylus and Sophocles, and for which Aristophanes introduces him as sitting aloft to write his tragedies. In the comedy of the Clouds, how­ever, the sophistical principles in general are attacked at their very source, and as their representative he selects Socrates, whom he depicts in the most odious light. The selection of Socrates for this purpose is doubtless to be accounted for by the supposition that Aristophanes ob­served the great philosopher from a distance only, while his own unphil-osophical turn of mind prevented him from entering into Socrates' mer­its, both as a teacher and a practicer of morality; and also by the fact that Socrates was an innovator, the friend of Euripides, the tutor of Al-cibiades, and pupil of Archelaus, and that there was much in his appear­ance and habits in the highest degree ludicrous. The philosopher who wore no under-garments, and the same upper robe in winter and sum­mer, who generally went barefoot, and appears to have possessed one pair of dress-shoes which lasted him for life,1 who used to stand for hours in a public place in a fit of abstraction—to say nothing of his snub-nose and extraordinary figure and physiognomy—could hardly expect to escape the license of the old comedy. The invariably speculative turn which he gave to the conversation, his bare acquiescence in the stories of Greek mythology, which Aristophanes would think it dangerous even to subject to inquiry,2 had certainly produced an unfavorable opinion of Socrates in the minds of many, and explain his being set down by Aris­tophanes as an arch-sophist, and represented even as a thief.

Another feature of the times was the excessive love for litigation at Athens, the consequent importance of the dicasts, and the disgraceful abuse of their power; all of which are made by Aristophanes direct ob­jects of attack. But, though he saw what were the evils of the times, he had not wisdom to find a remedy for them, except the hopeless and undesirable one of a movement backward; and therefore, though we al­low him to have been honest and bold, we must deny him the epithet of great.

The merits of Aristophanes as a poet and humorist can not be fully understood without an actual study of his works. We have no means of comparing him with his rivals Cratinus and Eupolis, though he is said to have tempered their bitterness, and given to comedy additional grace ; but to have been surpassed by Eupolis in the conduct of his plots.3 Pla­to called the soul of Aristophanes the temple of the Graces, and has in­troduced him into his Symposium. His works contain snatches of lyric poetry which are quite noble, and some of his choruses, particularly one in the Knights, in which the horses are represented as rowing triremes in an expedition against Corinth, are written with a spirit and humor unrivalled in Greek, and are not very dissimilar to English ballads. Ar­istophanes was a complete master of the Attic dialect, and in his hands the perfection of that glorious instrument of thought is wonderfully shown. No flights are too bold for the range of his fancy: animals of every kind

1 Bockh, Public Econ. of Athens, vol. i., p. 150. 2 Compare Plat., Phasdr., p. 299. 3 Platonius, I, c.

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