Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/97

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improve, in the second chapter of Euripide et l'esprit de son théâtre[1] by Professor Paul Decharme, the best treatise on the poet with which I am acquainted. There is scarcely one of the extant plays which would not prove him a determined enemy of the popular theology: and even in the unintelligent and uncritical summaries, which are all that remain to us of ancient biography respecting him, one of the few traits which has an air of genuine history is, that he was drawn to the stage only or mainly because it provided him with armour as well as weapons for this contest[2].

It might be matter for surprise, if without making allowance for differences of condition we estimated the proceedings of distant ages upon the principles of our own, that such an author should have taken or have been permitted to take such a way of publication; that the plays of Euripides, abounding in sarcasms upon the traditional gods, should have been selected against powerful competitors for performance in a place dedicated to traditional religion. If we wanted to find any sort of parallel in our own life, it must be by supposing that some eminent Positivist or Agnostic were appointed for one Sunday in every month, upon certain terms of reticence and discretion, to preach the sermon in Westminster Abbey. But this or something like it could actually be enforced by public opinion, if the pulpit at Westminster were as uniquely important among the means of intellectual influence as was the stage of Dionysus at Athens, and if religious parties in their shades of distinction were so related as they were then. The Athenians under Pericles, though passionately intelligent and curious, were not in general collectors of books. It is not till the last quarter of the fifth century, not that is to say till the career of Euripides was drawing to a close, that we find in the rapid growth of prose literature the sign of a public accustomed to the amusement of solitary reading[3] As for the echoing repetition by which in

  1. Paris, Garnier Frères.
  2. ἐπὶ τραγῳδίαν δὲ ἐτράπη τὸν Ἀναξαγόραν ἰδὼν ὑποστάντα κινδύνους δι᾽ ἅπερ εἰσῆξε δόγματα. Suidas, Euripides. The remark is meaningless except on the assumption that in tragedy he could express the opinions of Anaxagoras with more security.
  3. The earliest Greek author who, so far as I know, can be proved to have been familiarly read in private by ordinary persons is Euripides himself (Frogs 57), where