Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/13

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THE purpose of this book is to explain and account for, perhaps also to diminish or to abolish, but at any rate to account for and explain, the great and surprising difference of opinion between ancient readers and modern respecting the position and merits of Euripides. That this difference exists is not, so far as I know, disputed, and certainly cannot be disputed with reason; in many modern works of authority it has been justly marked and emphasized. From Euripides' death to the decline and fall of pagan learning there never was, so far as we have evidence, any noteworthy dissent from the view that Euripides, however he, like any other artist, might be variously estimated by personal taste, stood at all events in the very first rank of artists, superior to all but the elect, and not demonstrably or confessedly inferior to any. Such is the opinion depicted, variously but harmoniously, by the highest representatives of literary culture in succession down to the very end, by Plato, by Cicero, by Lucian, and by all the voices who fill up that tract of time. There is not a sign that by any one commanding attention the question was ever raised whether Euripides had really deserved the honour of standing with Sophocles and with Aeschylus. The opinion which groups them as 'different but equal' is given by Cicero, for example, not as his own judgment, but as a commonplace. The polemic of Aristophanes, if and in so far as it tends to impeach Euripides as an artist (for almost all of it, that can be taken as serious, is