The Ancient Library

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lessons. IM produces indeed a sort of religious awe, and dread of the irresistible power of the gods, to which man is represented as being entirely subject; but on the other hand humanity often appears as the sport of an irrevocable destiny, or the victim of a struggle between superior beings. Still Aeschylus sometimes discloses a providential order of compensation and retribution, while he always teaches the duty of resignation and sub­mission to the will of the gods, and the futility and fatal consequences of all opposition to it. See Quarterly Review, No. 112, p. 315.

With respect to the construction of his plays, it has been often remarked, that they have little or no plot, and are therefore wanting in dramatic interest: this deficiency however may strike us more than it otherwise would in conse­quence of most of his extant plays being only parts, or acts of a more complicated drama. Still we cannot help being impressed with the belief, that he was more capable of sketching a vast outline, than of filling up its parts, however bold and vigorous are the sketches by which he portrays and groups his characters. His object, indeed, ac­cording to Aristophanes, in such plays as the Persae, and the Seven against Thebes, which are more epical than dramatical, was rather to animate his countrymen to deeds of glory and warlike achievement, and to inspire them with generous and elevated sentiments, by a vivid exhibition of noble deeds and characters, than to charm or startle by the incidents of an elaborate plot. (Ran. 1000.) The religious views and tenets of Aes­chylus, so far as they appear in his writings, were Homeric. Like Homer, he represents Zeus as the supreme Ruler of the Universe, the source and centre of all things. To him all the other divini­ties are subject, and from him all their powers and authority are derived. Even Fate itself is some­times identical with his will, and the result of his decrees. He only of all the beings in heaven and earth is free to act as he pleases. (Prom. 40.)

In Philosophical sentiments, there was a tradi­tion that Aeschylus was a Pythagorean (Cic. Tus. Disp. ii. 10) ; but of this his writings do not furnish any conclusive proof, though there certainly was some similarity between him and Pythagoras in the purity and elevation of their sentiments.

The most correct and lively description of the character and dramatic merits of Aeschylus., and of the estimation in which he was held by his con­temporaries and immediate successors, is given by Aristophanes in his "Frogs." He is there de­picted as proud and impatient, and his style and genius such as we have described it. Aristophanes was evidently a vciy great admirer of him, and sympathised in no common degree with his politi­cal and moral sentiments. Pie considered Aes­chylus as without a rival and utterly unapproachable as a tragic poet; and represents even Sophocles himself as readily yielding to and admitting his superior claims to the tragic throne. But few if any of the ancient critics seem to have altogether coincided with Aristophanes in his estimation of Aeschylus, though they give him credit for his excellences. Thus Dionysms (De Poet. Vet. ii. 9) praises the originality of his ideas and of his ex­pressions, and the beauty of his imagery, and the propriety and dignity of his characters. Longinus (15) speaks of his elevated creations and imagery, but condemns some of his expressions as harsh and



overstrained; and Quintilian (x. 1) expresses himself much to the same effect. The expression attributed to Sophocles, that Aeschylus did what was right without knowing it (Athen. x. p. 428, f.), in other words, that he was an unconscious genius, working without any knowledge of or regard to the artistical laws of his profession, is worthy of note. So also is the observation of Schlegel (Lec­ture iv.), that " Generally considered, the tragedies of Aeschylus are an example amongst many, that in art, as in nature, gigantic productions precede those of regulated symmetry, which then dwindle away into delicacy and insignificance; and that poetry in her first manifestation always approaches nearest to the awfulness of religion, whatever shape the latter may assume among the various races of men." Aeschylus himself used to say of his dramas, that they were fragments of the great banquet of Homer's table. (Athen. viii. p., 347, e.) The alterations made by Aeschylus in the compo­sition and dramatic representation of Tragedy were so great, that he was considered by the Athenians as the father of it, just as Homer was of Epic poetry and Herodotus of History. (Philostr. Vit. Apoll. vi. 11.) As the ancients themselves remarked, it was a greater advance from the elementary productions of Thespis, Choerihis, and Phrynichus, to the stately tragedy of Aeschylus, than from the latter to the perfect and refined forms of Sophocles. It was the advance from infancy if not to maturity, at least to a youthful and vigorous manhood. Even the improvements and alterations introduced by his successors were the natural results and suggestions of those of Aeschylus. The first and principal alteration which he made was the introduction of a second actor (SzvrepayccvLffTrisy Aristot. Poet. 4. § 16), and the consequent formation of the dialogue pro­perly so called, and the limitation of the choral parts. So great was the effect of this change that Aristotle denotes it by saying, that he made the dialogue, the principal part of the play (rov \6jov TrpwrayuivLCTTriv TrapetrKeuacre^), instead of the choral part, which was now become subsidiary and secondary. This innovation was of course adopted by his contemporaries, just as Aeschylus himself (e. g. in the Choephoroe 665—716) fol­lowed the example of Sophocles, in subsequently introducing a third actor. The characters in his plays were sometimes represented by Aeschylus himself. (Athen. i. p. 39.) In the early part of his career he was supported by an actor named Cleandrns, and afterwards by Myniscus of Chal-chis. (Vita apud Robert, p. 161.) The dialogue between the two principal characters in the plays of Aeschylus was generally kept up in a strictly symmetrical form, each thought or sentiment of the two speakers being expressed in one or two unbroken lines : e. g. as the dialogue between Kratos and Hephaestus at the beginning of the Prometheus. In the same way, in the Seven against Thebes, Eteocles always expresses himself in three lines between the reflections of the chorus. This arrangement, differing as it does from the forms of ordinary conversation, gives to the dialogue of Aeschylus an elevated and stately character, which bespeaks the conversation of gods and he­roes. But the improvements of Aeschylus were not limited to the composition of tragedy : he added the resources of art in its exhibition. Thus, he is said to have availed himself of the skill of Aga-

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