Page images

the trains at sacrifices, dances, rows of combatants, &c. Hence they also exhibited bas-reliefs on round surfaces; such as rases, or the frieze of a rotunda, where the two ends are withdrawn from our sight by the curvature, and where, on our advancing, one object appears as another disappears. The reading of the Homeric poetry very much resembles such a circumgyration, as the present object alone arrests our attention, while that which precedes and follows is allowed to disappear.

But in the distinctly formed groupe, as in Tragedy, Sculpture and Poetry bring before our eyes an independent and definite whole. To separate it from natural reality, the former places it on a base, as on an ideal ground. It also removes as much as possible all foreign and accidental accessories, that the eye may wholly rest on the essential objects—the figures themselves.

These figures are wrought into the most complete rounding ; yet they refuse the illusion of colors, and announce, by the purity and uniformity of the mass of which they are constructed, a creation not endowed with perishable life, but of a higher and more elevated character.

Beauty is the object of sculpture, and repose is most advantageous for the display of beauty.

· Repose alone, therefore, is suitable to the figure ; but a number of figures can only be connected together and grouped by one action. The group represents beauty in motion, and the object of it is to combine both in the highest degree. This can only be effected when 'the artist finds means, in the most violent bodily or mental anguish, to moderate the expression by manly resistance, calm grandeur, or inherent sweetness, in such a manner that, with the most moving truth, the features of beauty shall yet in nowise be disfigured. The observation of Winkelmann on this subject is inimitable. He says, that beauty with the ancients was the tongue on the balance of expression; and in this sense, the groupes of Niobe and Laocoon are master pieces; the one in the sublime and serious, the other in the learned and onamental style.

The comparison with ancient Tragedy is the more apposite here, as we know that both Æschylus and Sophocles produce a Nidbe, and that Sophocles was also the author of a Laocoon...

In Laocoon, the conflicting sufferings and anguish of the body, and the resistance of the soul, are balanced with the most wonderful equilibrium. The children calling for help, tender objects of our compassion, and not of our admiration, draw us back to the appearance of the father, who seems to turn his eyes in vain the Gods. The convolving serpents exhibit to us the inevitable destiny which


[ocr errors]

unites together the characters in so dreadful a manner. And yet the beauty of proportion, the delightful flow of the attitude, are not lost in this violent struggle; and a representation, the most frightful to the senses, is yet treated with a degree of mod ration, while a mild breath of sweetness is diffused over the whole.

In the groupe of Niobe there is also the most perfect mixture of terror and pity. The upturned looks of the mother, and the mouth half open in supplication, seem to accuse the invisible wrath of heaven.

The daughter, clinging in the agonies of death to the bosom of her mother, in infantine innocence, can have no other fear than for herself; the innate impulse of self-preservation was never represented in a manner more tender and affecting. Can there, on the other hand, be exhibited to the senses a more beautiful image of self-devoting heroic magnanimity than Niobe, as she bends her body forwards, that if possible she may alone receive the destructive bolt? Pride and repugnance are melted down in the most ardent maternal love. The more than earthly dignity of the features are the less disfigured by pain, as, from the quick repetition of the shocks, she appears, as in the fable, to have become insensible and motionless. But before this figure, twice transformed into stone, and yet so inimitably animated before this line of demarcation of all human suffering, the most callous beholder is dissolved in tears.

In all the agitation produced by the sight of these groupes, there is still somewhat in them which invites us to composed contemplation; and, in the same manner, the Tragedy of the ancients leads us, even in the course of the representation, to the most elevated reflections on our existence, and those mysteries in our destiny which can never wholly be explained.



THESPIs was a native of Icaria, a village in Attica. The precise date of the birth of Thespis cannot be ascertained, although all ancient writers agree that he flourished about Olymp. 60, and was contemporary with Solon and Pisistratus. Nothing is known of his father and little of himself. The Arundel, Marble, composed, as Bentley has shown, Olymp. 129, in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, about 260 years B. C., declares Thespis to be the first who exhibited Tragedy. In this respect, the Roman writers also agree with the Greek, in proof of which it is only necessary to appeal to the well known lines of Horace:

Ignatum tragicæ genus invenisse Camenæ
Dicitur, et plaustris vexisse poemata Thespis
Qui canerent, agerentque peruncti fæcibus ora.*

As to the nature and genius of the fables of Thespis, the difficulty of this inquiry will be understood by whoever considers that the fables of Thespis are no longer remaining, and that the opinions of the an. cients concerning them are partly irreconcileable with probability, partly somewhat obscure. All modern writers, however, have collected from them so much, that the arguments of those fables were scarce. ly removed from the levity of the Satyric. Admitting this to be partly true, they appear to have been so far mistaken, as to imagine, while engaged in disquisitions as to the origin of Tragedy, that Thespis himself never improved upon his first attempts, which is very unlikely; since during his theatrical career he had ample time to correct, in some degree, the rudeness of form which it derived from its birth. He was without doubt the first who stripped the Chorus of their Satyric garb, and connected them more closely with the actor.

* See, also, Athenæus, lib. 1. cap. 10. Plutarch, Life of Solon, cap. 29, who is there express in vindicating to Thespis the honor of this invention.

All things which have come down to us, concerning Thespis, being well considered, it would seem that Tragedy through him underwent three changes; two of which relate to the period of Solon, and the third to that of the Pisistratidæ. What the first of these changes was, is evident from the nature of the Satyric Choruses. The Chorus having sung the Dithyramb, and uttered their extemporal effusion, Tespis, when they were fatigued by exertion, came forward himself and relieved the singers, by relating and gesticulating some story which undoubtedly had Bacchus as its subject. Shortly after, which was the second change, he began to act the parts of heroes, either retaining the chorus of Satyrs or introducing them in another garb.

This second change appears to have taken place about Olymp. 64; from which period, until Olymp. 61,(Thespis ceased to exhibit Fables, being restrained from so doing by the law enacted by Solon, as Diogenes Laertius says, and to which law Pisistratus is reported to have been unfriendly. But as soon as the Pisistratidæ had obtained the chief power, Thespis doubtlessly introduced a third change, exhibiting Tragedy under a more perfect form, and contending with other poets for the Tragic prize. Among the competitors for this honor, Phrynichus would be one, being then about thirty years of age. | The Pulpitum, or that part where the actors stood, would be enlarged and better decorated, and the deeds of heroes represented with the accompaniments of flutes and dances. The Arundel Marble clearly show's that the Dramatic contest appertained to the age of Thespis, to which testimony may be added a passage from the Vespæ, v. 1470.

It is manifest that, by such contests, Dramatic Poetry would, in a short time, make great advances; and at this period, perhaps, it was, that Thespis exhibited those pieces, of which now only the names are extant, and from which, most probably, the fragment,* preserved by Clemens Alexandrinus, is extracted. As to that argument against it, from the letters not having at that time been increased to the number of twenty-four, it is not sufficiently made out, so as to overthrow this opinion. When Thespis first exhibited, the number of the letters was not complete; but in his later representations, after a lapse of twentyfive years, he would use these characters, since the number was then perfected; for at Olymp. 61, Simonides, their inventor, was sixteen years of age. This, however, was not the latest period of Thespis, but only that in which he first, perhaps, entered the dramatic contest; for in Olymp. 67, according to Suidas, in his testimony of Phrynicus,

* This fragment in four artificial the Greek Alphabet.,

ords comprehends

twenty-four letters of

he gained a victory. At this period, all the letters were invente."
Hence may be drawn the following conclusions :
THESPIS - Was the inventor of Tragedy;

Committed nothing to writing;
That his pieces were not all Satyric ;
That his latest period was after Olymp. 61.


Was the scholar of Thespis, older than Æschylus, and contempořary with him during a part of his theatrical career.

It is pretty generally allowed that Phrynichus and Æschylus were the first who forsook the ludicrous style, and became the inventors of serious Tragedy; yet while Æschylus is universally regarded as the father of Tragedy, the merits of his successful competitor, Phrynichus, do not seem to have been duly appreciated. It is sufficiently probable that his piece entitled the “ Taking of Miletus” must have been something beyond a rude attempt at Tragedy to have produced that effect which it did upon the spectators; for, according to the account of Herodotus, “when Phrynichus exhibited his play, the Taking of “Miletus, the whole theatre fell into tears, and fined the poet a thou“sand drachms; and made an order that nobody ever after should “make a play of that subject.” It is also probable that the representation was exhibited on a stage of a very different kind from that used by Thespis, the expression of Herodotus—the theatre-favoring the opinion that some approaches towards a regular stage were made in the time of Phrynichus.

The Chorus in the Taking of Miletus most likely consisted of captive Milesian Women; as in the Phænissæ it most probably did of Phænician women, the wives of those Pæhnicians, who, by order of Xerxes, were beheaded after the battle of Salamis. In the Taking of Miletus the Chorus would probably represent the widows of those slain in the affair. The Chorus ceasing, the chief men of the city would advance upon the stage and recount their past and present miseries. This part of the representation Mr. Schneider imagines to have been performed by a single actor personating a variety of characters.

Phrynichus obtained the Tragic prize with his Phænissæ, Olymp. 71. Adverting to this circumstance, Mr. Schneider, who labors to procure greater honors for the dramatic authors prior to Æschylus than what many are disposed to admit, takes an opportunity to contend

« PreviousContinue »