ON THE IRONY OF SOPHOCLES.
Some readers may be a little surprised to see irony attributed to a tragic poet: and it may therefore be proper, before we proceed to illustrate the nature of the thing as it appears in the works of Sophocles, to explain and justify our application of the term. We must begin with a remark or two on the more ordinary use of the word, on that which to distinguish it from the subject of our present enquiry, we will call verbal irony. This most familiar species of irony may be described as a figure which enables the speaker to convey his meaning with greater force by means of a contrast between his thought and his expression, or to speak more accurately, between the thought which he evidently designs to express, and that which his words properly signify. The cases in which this figure may be advantageously employed are so various as to include some directly opposite in their nature. For it will serve to express assent and approbation as well as the contrary. Still as a friend cannot be defended unless against an enemy who attacks him, the use of verbal irony must in all cases be either directly or indirectly polemical. It is a weapon properly belonging to the armoury of controversy, and not fitted to any entirely peaceable occasion. This is not the less true because, as the enginery of war is often brought out, and sham fights exhibited, for the public amusement in time of peace, so there is a sportive irony, which instead of indicating any contrariety of opinion or animosity of feeling, is the surest sign of perfect harmony and goodwill. And as there is a mode of expressing sentiments of the utmost esteem and unanimity by an ironical reproof or contradiction, so there is an ironical self-commendation, by which a man may playfully confess his own failings. In the former case the speaker feigns the existence of adversaries whose language he pretends to adopt: in the latter he supposes himself surrounded, not as he really is by indulgent friends, but by severe judges of his actions, before whom it is necessary for him to disguise the imperfections of his character. But where irony is not merely jocular, it is not simply serious, but earnest. With respect to opinion it implies a conviction so deep, as to disdain a direct refutation of the opposite party: with respect to feeling, it implies an emotion so strong, as to be able to command itself, and to suppress its natural tone, in order to vent itself with greater force.
Irony is so inviting an instrument of literary warfare, that there are perhaps few eminent controversial writers who have wholly abstained from the use of it. But in general even those who employ it most freely reserve it for particular occasions, to add weight and point to the gravest part of the argument. There is however an irony which deserves to be distinguished from the ordinary species by a different name, and which may be properly called dialectic irony. This, instead of being concentrated in insulated passages, and rendered prominent by its contrast with the prevailing tone of the composition, pervades every part, and is spread over the whole like a transparent vesture closely fitted to every limb of the body. The writer effects his purpose by placing the opinion of his adversary in the foreground, and saluting it with every demonstration of respect, while he is busied in withdrawing one by one all the supports on which it rests: and he never ceases to approach it with an air of deference, until he has completely undermined it, when he leaves it to sink by the weight of its own absurdity. Examples of this species are as rare as those of the other are common. The most perfect ever produced are those which occur in Plato's dialogues. In modern literature the finest specimens may be found in the works of Pascal, and of Plato's German translator, who has imbibed the peculiar spirit of the Platonic irony in a degree which has perhaps never been equalled. One of the most unfortunate attempts ever made at imitating this character of the Platonic dialogue, is Bishop Berkeley's Minute Philosopher. Examples of a more superficial kind, where the object is rather ridicule than argument, will readily present themselves to the reader's recollection. The highest triumph of irony consists not in refutation and demolition. It requires that, while the fallacy is exposed and overthrown by the admissions which it has itself demanded, the truth should be set in the clearest light, and on the most solid ground, by the attempts made to suppress and overwhelm it.
Without departing from the analogy that pervades the various kinds of verbal irony, we may speak of a practical irony, which is independent of all forms of speech, and needs not the aid of words. Life affords as many illustrations of this, as conversation and books of the other. But here we must carefully distinguish between two totally different kinds, which, though they may often outwardly coincide, spring from directly contrary feelings. There is a malignant, or at least a wanton irony, in the practical sense, by which a man humours the folly of another, for the purpose of rendering it more extravagant and incorrigible, whether it be with the further aim of extracting materials for ridicule from it, or of turning it to some still less liberal use. Specimens of this kind are perpetually occurring in society, and ancient and modern comedy is full of them. But this same irony has a darker side, which can excite only detestation and horror, as something belonging rather to the nature of a fiend than of a man. Such is the flattery which, under the mask of friendship, deliberately cherishes passions, and panders to wishes, which are hurrying their unconscious slave into ruin. Such is the spirit in which Timon gives his gold to Alcibiades and his companions, and afterwards to the thieves: though in the latter case he is near defeating his own purpose by the irony of his language, which compels one of the thieves to say: "He has almost charmed me from my profession by persuading me to it." Such is the irony with which the weird women feed the ambitious hopes of Macbeth, and afterward lull him into a false "security, mortals' chiefest enemy," when they have been commanded to
"raise such artificial sprites
As by the strength of their illusion
Shall draw him on to his confusion."
Till "He shall spurn fate, scorn death, and bear
His hopes 'bove wisdom, grace, and fear."
Such, but more truly diabolical, is the irony with which in Faust the Spirit of Evil accompanies his victim on his fatal career, and with which, by way of interlude, he receives the visit of the young scholar.
But there is also a practical irony which is not inconsistent with the highest degree of wisdom and benevolence. A man of superior understanding may often find himself compelled to assent to propositions which he knows, though true in themselves, will lead to very erroneous inferences in the mind of the speaker, because either circumstances prevent him from subjoining the proper limitations, or the person he is addressing is incapable of comprehending them. So again a friend may comply with the wishes of one who is dear to him, though he foresees that they will probably end in disappointment and vexation, either because he conceives that he has no right to decide for another, or because he thinks it probable that the disappointment itself will prove more salutary than the privation. Such is the conduct of the affectionate father in the parable, which is a type of universal application: for in every transgression there is a concurrence of a depraved will, which is the vice of the agent, with certain outward conditions, which may be considered as a boon graciously bestowed, but capable of being perverted into an instrument of evil, and a cause of misery. It must have occurred to most men, more especially to those of sanguine temperament, and whose lives have been chequered with many vicissitudes, now and then to reflect how little the good and ill of their lot has corresponded with their hopes and fears. All who have lived long enough in the world must be able to remember objects coveted with impatient eagerness, and pursued with long and unremitting toil, which in possession have proved tasteless and worthless: hours embittered with anxiety and dread by the prospect of changes which brought with them the fulfilment of the most ardent wishes: events anticipated with trembling expectation which arrived, past, and left no sensible trace behind them: while things of which they scarcely heeded the existence, persons whom they met with indifference, exerted the most important influence on their character and fortunes. When, at a sufficient interval and with altered mood, we review such instances of the mockery of fate, we can scarcely refrain from a melancholy smile. And such, we conceive, though without any of the feelings that sometimes sadden our retrospect, must have been the look which a superior intelligence, exempt from our passions, and capable of surveying all our relations, and foreseeing the consequences of all our actions, would at the time have cast upon the tumultuous workings of our blind ambition and our groundless apprehensions, upon the phantoms we raised to chase us, or to be chased, while the substance of good and evil presented itself to our view, and was utterly disregarded.
But it is not only in the lives of individuals that man's shortsighted impatience and temerity are thus tacitly rebuked by the course of events: examples still more striking are furnished by the history of states and institutions. The moment of the highest prosperity is often that which immediately precedes the most ruinous disaster, and (as in the case not only of a Xerxes, a Charles the Bold, a Philip the second, and a Napoleon, but of Athens, and Sparta, and Carthage, and Venice,) it is the sense of security that constitutes the danger, it is the consciousness of power and the desire of exerting it that causes the downfall. It is not however these sudden and signal reverses, the fruit of overweening arrogance and insatiable ambition, that we have here principally to observe: but rather an universal law, which manifests itself, no less in the moral world than in the physical, according to which the period of inward languor, corruption, and decay, which follows that of maturity, presents an aspect more dazzling and commanding, and to those who look only at the surface inspires greater confidence and respect, than the season of youthful health, of growing but unripened strength. The power of the Persians was most truly formidable when they first issued from their comparatively narrow territory to overspread Asia with their arms. But at what epoch in their history does the Great King appear invested with such majesty, as when he dictated the peace of Antaleidas to the Greeks! And yet at this very time the throne on which he sate with so lofty a port, was so insecurely based, that a slight shock would have been sufficient, as was soon proved, to level it with the dust.
It was nearly at the same juncture that Sparta seemed to have attained the summit of her power: her old enemy had been reduced to insignificance: her two most formidable rivals converted into useful dependants: her refractory allies chastised and cowed: in no quarter of the political horizon, neither in nor out of Greece, did it seem possible for the keenest eye to discover any prognostics of danger: her empire, says the contemporary historian, appeared in every respect to have been now established on a glorious and solid base. Yet in a few years the Spartan women saw for the first time the smoke of the flames with which a hostile army ravaged their country in the immediate neighbourhood of the capital: and a Spartan embassy implored the pity of the Athenians, and pleaded the magnanimity with which Sparta in her day of victory had preserved Athens from annihilation, as a motive for the exercise of similar generosity toward a fallen enemy. The historian sees in this reverse the judgement of the gods against treachery and impiety. But when we inquire about the steps by which the change was effected, we find that the mistress of Greece had lost—nearly a thousand of her subjects, and about four hundred of her citizens, at the battle of Leuctra.
It would be impertinent to accumulate illustrations which will present themselves uncalled to every reader's mind: we might otherwise find some amusement in comparing the history of great cities with that of their respective states, and in observing how often the splendour of the one has increased in proportion to the weakness and rottenness of the other. The ages of conquest and of glory had past, before Rome began to exhibit a marble front; and the old consuls who in the wars of a century scarcely quelled the Samnite hydra, and who brought army after army into the field to be destroyed by Hannibal, would have gazed with wonder on the magnificence in the midst of which the master of the empire, in anguish and dismay, called upon Varus to restore his three legions. Yet Rome under Augustus was probably less gorgeous than Byzantium under Constantine, whose city was no unapt image of the ill which Dante deplored, as the consequence, though not the effect, of his conversion. But instead of dwelling on the numerous contrasts of this kind which history suggests in illustrating the fragile and transitory nature of all mortal greatness, we shall draw nearer to our main point, and shall at the same time be taking a more cheering view of our subject, if we observe, that, as all things human are subject to dissolution, so and for the same reason it is the moment of their destruction that to the best and noblest of them is the beginning of a higher being, the dawn of a brighter period of action. When we reflect on the colossal monarchies that have succeeded one another on the face of the earth, we readily acknowledge that they fulfilled the best purpose of their proud existence, when they were broken up in order that their fragments might serve as materials for new structures. We confess with a sigh that the wonders of Egypt were not a mere waste of human labour, if the sight of them inspired the genius of the Greeks. But we should have been more reluctant to admit that this nation itself, which stands so solitary and unapproachable in its peculiar excellence, attained its highest glory, when, by the loss of its freedom and its power, it was enabled to diffuse a small portion of its spirit through the Roman world: had it not been that it was the destiny of this Roman world to crumble into dust, and to be trampled by hordes of barbarians, strangers to arts and letters. Yet we can believe this, and things much more wonderful, when we contemplate that new order of things, which followed what seemed so frightful a darkness, and such irretrievable ruin.
We must add one other general remark before we proceed to apply the preceding. There is always a slight cast of irony in the grave, calm, respectful attention impartially bestowed by an intelligent judge on two contending parties, who are pleading their causes before him with all the earnestness of deep conviction, and of excited feeling. What makes the contrast interesting is, that the right and the truth lie on neither side exclusively: that there is no fraudulent purpose, no gross imbecility of intellect, on either: but both have plausible claims and specious reasons to alledge, though each is too much blinded by prejudice or passion to do justice to the views of his adversary. For here the irony lies not in the demeanor of the judge, but is deeply seated in the case itself, which seems to favour each of the litigants, but really eludes them both. And this too it is that lends the highest degree of interest to the conflicts of religious and political parties. For when we believe that no principle, no sentiment, is involved in the contest, but that each of the rival factions is equally selfish, and equally insincere, we must look on with indifference or disgust, unless some other interests are likely to be affected by the issue. Our attention is indeed more anxiously fixed on a struggle in which right and wrong, truth and falsehood, virtue and vice, are manifestly arrayed in deliberate opposition against each other. But still this case, if it ever occurs, is not that on which the mind dwells with the most intense anxiety. For it seems to carry its own final decision in itself. But the liveliest interest arises when by inevitable circumstances, characters, motives, and principles are brought into hostile collision, in which good and evil are so inextricably blended on each side, that we are compelled to give an equal share of our sympathy to each, while we perceive that no earthly power can reconcile them; that the strife must last until it is extinguished with at least one of the parties, and yet that this cannot happen without the sacrifice of something which we should wish to preserve. Such spectacles often occur in human affairs, and agitate the bystanders with painful perplexity. But a review of history tends to allay this uneasiness, by affording us on many such occasions, a glimpse of the balance held by an invisible hand, which so nicely adjusts the claims of the antagonists, that neither is wholly triumphant, nor absolutely defeated; each perhaps loses the object he aimed at, but in exchange gains something far beyond his hopes.
The dramatic poet is the creator of a little world, in which he rules with absolute sway, and may shape the destinies of the imaginary beings to whom he gives life and breath according to any plan that he may choose. Since however they are men whose actions he represents, and since it is human sympathy that he claims, he will, if he understands his art, make his administration conform to the laws by which he conceives the course of mortal life to be really governed. Nothing that rouses the feelings in the history of mankind is foreign to his scene, but as he is confined by artificial limits, he must hasten the march of events, and compress within a narrow compass what is commonly found diffused over a large space, so that a faithful image of human existence may be concentrated in his mimic sphere. From this sphere however he himself stands aloof. The eye with which he views his microcosm, and the creatures who move in it, will not be one of human friendship, nor of brotherly kindness, nor of parental love; it will be that with which he imagines that the invisible power who orders the destiny of man might regard the world and its doings. The essential character therefore of all dramatic poetry must depend on the poet's religious or philosophical sentiments, on the light in which he contemplates history and life, on the belief he entertains as to the unseen hand that regulates their events.
If any of these remarks should appear questionable as a general proposition, we may at least safely assume their truth as beyond doubt, when they are applied to Sophocles. Not even the most superficial reader of his works can fail to observe, that they are all imprest with a deep religious character, that he takes every opportunity of directing the attention of his audience to an overruling Power, and appears to consider his own most important function to be that of interpreting its decrees. What then was the religion of Sophocles? what was his conception of this Power whom he himself represents in conducting the affairs of his ideal world? On the answer we give to this question must evidently depend our apprehension of the poet's main design, and our enjoyment of the art he has exerted in its execution. Unquestionably the religion of Sophocles was not the religion of Homer, and the light in which he viewed destiny and providence was not that in which they are exhibited by the Homeric poems. In the interval which separated the maturity of epic and dramatic poetry, the human mind had taken some great strides: and men of a vigorous and cultivated intellect could no longer acquiesce in the simple theology of the Homeric age. The dogma which to the hearers of the old bard seemed perhaps the best solution that could be found for their moral difficulties, that the father of gods and men was, like the humblest of his children, subject to the sway of an irresistible fate, against which he often might murmur in vain: this dogma was supprest or kept in the back ground, and on the other hand the paramount supremacy of Jupiter was brought prominently forward. The popular mythology indeed still claimed unabated reverence, even from the most enlightened Greeks. But the quarrels of the gods, which had afforded so much entertainment to their simplehearted forefathers, were hushed on the tragic scene: and a unity of will was tacitly supposed to exist among the members of the Olympian family, which would have deprived Homer of his best machinery. The tendency of these changes was to transfer the functions of Destiny to Jupiter, and to represent all events as issuing from his will, and the good and evil that falls to the lot of mortals as dispensed by his hand. It is evident that, so far as this notion prevailed, the character of destiny was materially altered. It could no longer be considered as a mere brute force, a blind necessity working without consciousness of its means or its ends. The power indeed still remained, and was still mysterious in its nature, inevitable and irresistible in its operation; but it was now conceived to be under the direction of a sovereign mind, acting according to the rules of unerring justice. This being the case, though its proceedings might often be inscrutable to man, they would never be accidental or capricious.
How far these ideas had acquired clearness and consistency in the mind of Sophocles, it is impossible precisely and certainly to determine. But it seems indisputable that indications of them appear in his works, and it is interesting to observe the traces of their influence on his poetry. It has indeed been often supposed that some of his greatest masterpieces were founded on a totally different view of the subject from that just described: on the supposition that mankind were either subject to an iron destiny, which without design or forethought steadily pursued its immutable track, insensible of the victims which in its progress it crushed beneath its car: or else that they were at the mercy of reckless and wayward deities, who sported with their happiness, and sometimes destroyed it merely to display their power. We do not deny that the former at least of these suppositions may be adapted to the purposes of dramatic poetry, and that the contrast between man with his hopes, fears, wishes, and undertakings, and a dark, inflexible fate, affords abundant room for the exhibition of tragic irony: but we conceive that this is not the loftiest kind, and that Sophocles really aimed at something higher. To investigate this subject thoroughly, so as to point out the various shades and gradations of irony in his tragedies, would require much more than the space which can here be devoted to it. We shall content ourselves with selecting some features in his compositions which appear most strikingly to illustrate the foregoing remarks. One observation however must be premised, without which the works of Sophocles can scarcely be viewed in a proper light. That absolute power which we have attributed to the dramatic poet over his creatures, may be limited by circumstances: and in the Greek theatre it was in fact restricted by peculiar causes. None but gods or heroes could act any prominent part in the Attic tragedy; and as the principal persons were all celebrated in the national poetry, their deeds and sufferings were in general familiar to the audience. The poet indeed enjoyed full liberty of choice among the manifold forms which almost every tradition assumed: and he was allowed to introduce considerable variations in subordinate points. But still he was confined within a definite range of subjects, and even in that he could not expatiate with uncontrolled freedom. Now the legends from which his scenes were to be drawn, were the fictions, at least the tales, of a simple but rude age: the characters of his principal persons were such as had struck the vigorous but unrefined imagination of a race who were still children of nature: their actions were such as exhibited the qualities most esteemed in the infancy of society; and their fate corresponded to the view then entertained of the manner in which the affairs of the world are directed by natural or supernatural agency. While the poet's materials were thus prescribed for him, it was scarcely possible that he should infuse his spirit equally into all, and so mould and organize them, as never to betray the coarseness of their original texture. Duly to estimate the art of Sophocles, and rightly to understand his designs, we must take into account the resistance of the elements which he had to transform and fashion to his purposes. When we consider their nature we shall not perhaps be surprized to find that he sometimes contents himself with slight indications of his meaning, and that everything does not appear exactly to harmonize with it. We shall rather admire the unity that pervades works framed out of such a chaos, and the genius which could stamp the ancient legends with a character so foreign to their original import.
The irony in which Sophocles appears to us to have displayed the highest powers of his art, is not equally conspicuous in all his remaining plays, though we believe the perception of it to be indispensable for the full enjoyment of every one of them. We shall for this reason be led to dwell less upon some of his greatest masterpieces, than upon works which are commonly deemed of inferior value. But we shall begin with those in which the poet's intention is most apparent, and shall thus perhaps be enabled to find a clue to it where it is less clearly disclosed. We are thus led in the first place to consider two of those founded on the Theban legends.
Though it is not certain whether Œdipus King and Œdipus at Colonus were parts of one original design, it is at least probable that the contrast by which the effect of each is so much heightened entered into the poet's plan. Each indeed is complete in itself, and contains every thing requisite for the full understanding and enjoyment of it; and yet each acquires a new force and beauty from a comparison with the other. We shall therefore consider them successively.
The opening scene of the first Œdipus exhibits the people of Cadmus bowed down under the weight of a terrible calamity. A devouring pestilence is ravaging its fields, and desolating its city. The art of man has hitherto availed nothing to check its progress: the aid of the gods has been implored in vain. The altars have blazed, and the temples reeked with incense: yet the victims of the Destroying Power continue to fall on every side, frequent as ever. The streets are constantly resounding with the pæan: but its strains are still interrupted by the voice of wailing. In this extremity of affliction however a gleam of hope shoots from one quarter through the general gloom. The royal house has been hitherto exempt from the overwhelming evil. The king, happy in the affection of his consort, and surrounded by a flourishing family, seems alone to stand erect above the flood of evils with which his people are struggling, and under which they are ready to sink. To his fortune and wisdom the afflicted city now looks for deliverance. It has not been forgotten that, on a former occasion, when Thebes was smitten with a scourge almost equally grievous, the marvellous sagacity of Œdipus solved the enigma on which its fate depended. There is therefore good ground for hoping that his tried prudence, aided by the favour of the gods, may once more succeed in penetrating to the mysterious cause of the present calamity, and may contrive means of relief. With this belief a throng of suppliants of all ages, headed by the ministers of the temples, has come in solemn procession to the royal palace, and has seated itself on the steps of the altars before its vestibule, bearing the sacred ensigns with which the miserable are wont to implore succour from the powerful. Informed of their approach, the king himself comes forth to hear their complaints, and receive their requests. His generous nature is touched by the piteous spectacle, and though himself unhurt, he feels for the stroke under which his people suffers. The public distress has long been the object of his paternal cares: already he has taken measures for relieving it: he has sent a messenger to the oracle which had guided his steps in other momentous junctures by its timely warnings, and had brought him to his present state of greatness and glory: the answer of the Delphic god is hourly expected, without which even the wisdom of Œdipus himself can devise no remedy.
At the moment the envoy arrives with joyful tidings. Apollo has revealed to him the cause of the evil and the means of removing it. The land labours under a curse drawn upon it by the guilt of man: it is the stain of blood that has poisoned all the sources of life; the crime must be expiated, the pollution purged. Yet the oracle which declares the nature of the deed is silent as to the name of the criminal; he is denounced as the object of divine and human vengeance; but his person is not described, his abode is not disclosed, except by the intimation that the land is cursed by his presence. The sagacity of Œdipus is still required to detect the secret on which the safety of his people depends; and he confidently undertakes to bring it to light. The suppliant multitude, their worst fears quieted, better hopes revived, withdraw in calm reliance on the king and the god; and the Chorus appearing at the summons of Œdipus, cheered yet perplexed by the mysterious oracle, partially soothed by its promises, but still trembling with timid suspense, pours forth a plaintive strain, in which it describes the horrors of its present condition, and implores the succour of its tutelary deities.
During this pause the spectator has leisure to reflect, how different all is from what it seems. The wrath of heaven has been pointed against the afflicted city, only that it might fall with concentrated force on the head of a single man; and he who is its object stands alone calm and secure: unconscious of his own misery he can afford pity for the unfortunate: to him all look up for succour: and, as in the plenitude of wisdom and power, he undertakes to trace the evil, of which he is himself the sole author, to its secret source.
In the meanwhile the king has deliberated with his kinsman Creon, and now appears to proclaim his will and publish his measures. To the criminal, if he shall voluntarily discover himself, he offers leave to retire from the country with impunity: to whoever shall make him known, whether citizen or stranger, large reward and royal favour: but should this gracious invitation prove ineffectual, then he threatens the guilty with the utmost rigour of justice; and finally, should man's arm be too short, he consigns the offender by a solemn imprecation to the vengeance of the gods. The same curse he denounces against himself, if he knowingly harbours the man of blood under his roof, and a like one against all who refuse to aid him in his search. The Chorus, after protesting its innocence, offers advice. Next to Apollo the blind seer Tiresias is reputed to possess the largest share of supernatural knowledge. From him the truth which the oracle has withheld may be best ascertained. But Œdipus has anticipated this prudent counsel, and on Creon's suggestion has already sent for Tiresias, and is surprized that he has not yet arrived. At length the venerable man appears. His orbs of outward sight have long been quenched: but so much the clearer and stronger is the light which shines inward, and enables him to discern the hidden things of heaven and earth. The king conjures him to exert his prophetic power for the deliverance of his country and its ruler. But instead of a ready compliance, the request is received with expressions of grief and despondency: it is first evaded, and at length peremptorily refused. The indignation of Œdipus is roused by the unfeeling denial, and at length he is provoked to declare his suspicion that Tiresias has been himself, so far as his blindness permitted, an accessary to the regicide. The charge kindles in its turn the anger of the seer, and extorts from him the dreadful secret which he had resolved to suppress. He bids his accuser obey his own recent proclamation, and thenceforward as the perpetrator of the deed which had polluted the land, to seal his unhallowed lips. Enraged at the audacious recrimination, Œdipus taunts Tiresias with his blindness: a darkness, not of the eyes only, but of the mind; he is a child of night, whose puny malice can do no hurt to one whose eyes are open to the light of day. Yet who can have prompted the old man to the impudent calumny? Who but the counsellor at whose suggestion he had been consulted? The man who, when Œdipus and his children are removed, stands nearest to the throne? It is a conspiracy—a plot laid by Creon, and hatched by Tiresias. The suspicion once admitted becomes a settled conviction, and the king deplores the condition of royalty, which he finds thus exposed to the assaults of envy and ambition. But his resentment, vehement as it is, at Creon's ingratitude, is almost forgotten in his abhorence and contempt of the hoary impostor who has sold himself to the traitor. Even his boasted art is a juggle and a lie. Else, why was it not exerted when the Sphinx propounded her fatal riddle? The seer then was not Tiresias but Œdipus. The lips then closed by the consciousness of ignorance have now been opened by the love of gold. His age alone screens him from immediate punishment: the partner of his guilt will not escape so easily. Tiresias answers by repeating his declaration in still plainer terms; but as at the king's indignant command he is about to retire, he drops an allusion to his birth, which reminds Œdipus of a secret which he has not yet unriddled. Instead however of satisfying his curiosity, the prophet once again, in language still more distinct than before, describes his present condition and predicts his fate.
This scene completes the exposition that was begun in the preceding one. The contrast between the real blindness and wretchedness of Œdipus and his fancied wisdom and greatness can be carried no further, than when he contemptuously rejects the truth which he is seeking and has found, and makes it a ground of quarrel with a faithful friend. The Chorus, in its next song, only interprets the irony of the action, when it asks, who is the guilty wretch against whom the oracle has let loose the ministers of vengeance? Where can be his lurkingplace? It must surely be in some savage forest, in some dark cave, or rocky glen, among the haunts of wild beasts, that the miserable fugitive hides himself from his pursuers. Who can believe that he is dwelling in the heart of the city, in the royal palace! that he is seated on the throne!
It does not belong to our present purpose to dwell on the following scenes, in which the fearful mystery is gradually unfolded. The art with which the poet has contrived to sustain the interest of the spectator, by retarding the discovery, has been always deservedly admired. It has indeed been too often considered as the great excellence of this sublime poem, the real beauty of which, as we hope to shew, is of a very different kind, and infinitely more profound and heartstirring than mere ingenuity can produce. But the attentive reader who shall examine this part of the play from the point of view that has been here taken, will not fail to observe, among numberless finer touches of irony with which the dialogue is inlaid, that the poet has so constructed his plot, as always to evolve the successive steps of the disclosure out of incidents which either exhibit the delusive security of Œdipus in the strongest light, or tend to cherish his confidence, and allay his fears. Thus the scene with Jocasta in which his apprehensions are first awakened, arises out of the suspicion he has conceived of Creon, which, unjust and arbitrary as it is, is the only refuge he has been able to find from the necessity of believing Tiresias. The tidings from Corinth, by which he and Jocasta are so elated as to question the prescience of the gods, leads to the discovery which fixes her doom. Still more remarkable is the mode in which this is connected with the following and final stage of the solution. Œdipus has reason to dread that the arrival of the herdsman may confirm his worst fears as to the death of Laius. Yet he forgets this as a slight care in his impatience to ascertain his parentage: hence the Chorus bursts out into a strain of joy at the prospect of the festive rites with which Cithæron—a spot to be henceforth so dear to the royal family—will be honoured, when the happy discovery shall be made: and Œdipus presses the herdsman on this subject with sanguine eagerness, which will bear no evasion or delay, and never ceases to hope for the best, until he has extorted the truth which shews him the whole extent of his calamity.
No sooner has the film dropped from his eyes than he condemns himself to perpetual darkness, to the state which, but a short time before, had been the subject of his taunts on Tiresias. The feeling by which he is urged thus to verify the seer's prediction, is not the horror of the light and of all the objects it can present to him, but indignation at his own previous blindness. The eyes which have served him so ill, which have seen without discerning what it was most important for him to know, shall be for ever extinguished. And in this condition, most wretched, most helpless, he enters once more, to exhibit a perfect contrast to his appearance in the opening scene, and thus to reverse that irony, of which we have hitherto seen but one side. While he saw the light of day, he had been ignorant, infatuated, incapable of distinguishing truth from falsehood, friend from foe. Now he clearly perceives all that concerns him; he is conscious of the difference between his own shrewdness and the divine intelligence: he is cured of his rash presumption, of his hasty suspicions, of his doubts and cares: he has now a sure test of Creon's sincerity, and he finds that it will stand the trial. Creon's moderation, discretion, and equanimity, are beautifully contrasted in this scene, as in that of the altercation, with the vehement passion of Œdipus. The mutual relation of the two characters so exactly resembles that between Tasso and Antonio in Goethe's Tasso, that the German play may serve as a commentary on this part of the Greek one. And here it may be proper to remark that Sophocles has rendered sufficiently clear for an attentive reader, what has nevertheless been too commonly overlooked, and has greatly disturbed many in the enjoyment of this play: that Œdipus, though unfortunate enough to excite our sympathy, is not so perfectly innocent as to appear the victim of a cruel and malignant power. The particular acts indeed which constitute his calamity were involuntarily committed: and hence in the sequel he can vindicate himself from the attack of Creon, and represent himself to the villagers of Colonus as a man more sinned against than sinning. But still it is no less evident that all the events of his life have arisen out of his headstrong, impetuous character, and could not have happened if he had not neglected the warning of the god. His blindness, both the inward and the outward, has been self-inflicted! Now, as soon as the first paroxysm of grief has subsided, he appears chastened, sobered, humbled: the first and most painful step to true knowledge and inward peace, has been taken; and he already feels an assurance, that he is henceforward an especial object of divine protection, which will shield him from all ordinary ills and dangers.
Here, where the main theme of the poet's irony is the contrast between the appearance of good and the reality of evil, these intimations of the opposite contrast are sufficient. But in Œdipus at Colonus this new aspect of the subject becomes the groundwork of the play. It is not indeed so strikingly exhibited as the former, because the fate of Œdipus is not the sole, nor even the principal object of attention, but is subordinate to another half political, half religious interest arising out of the legends which connect it with the ancient glories and future prospects of Attica, and with the sanctuary of Colonus. Still the same conception which is partially unfolded in the first play is here steadily pursued, and, so far as the Theban hero is concerned, is the ruling idea. In the first scene the appearance of Œdipus presents a complete reverse of that which we witnessed at the opening of the preceding play. We now see him stript of all that then seemed to render his lot so enviable, and suffering the worst miseries to which human nature is liable. He is blind, old, destitute: an outcast from his home, an exile from his country, a wanderer in a foreign land: reduced to depend on the guidance and support of his daughter, who herself needs protection, and to subsist on the scanty pittance afforded him by the compassion of strangers, who, whenever they recognize him, view him with horror. But a change has likewise taken place within him, which compensates even for this load of affliction. In the school of adversity he has learnt patience, resignation, and content. The storm of passion has subsided, and has left him calm and firm. The cloud has rolled away from his mental vision, and nothing disturbs the clearness and serenity of his views. He not only contemplates the past in the light of truth, but feels himself instinct with prophetic powers. He is conscious of a charmed life, safe from the malice of man and the accidents of nature, and reserved by the gods for the accomplishment of high purposes. The first incident that occurs to him marks in the most signal manner the elevation to which he has been raised by his apparent fall, and the privilege he has gained by the calamity which separates him from the rest of mankind. He has been driven out of Thebes as a wretch polluted, and polluting the land. Yet he finds a resting place in the sanctuary of the awful goddesses, the avengers of crime, whose unutterable name fills every heart with horror, whose ground is too holy for any human foot to tread. For him there is no terror in the thought of them: he shrinks not from their presence, but greets them as friends and ministers of blessing. He is, as he describes himself, not only a pious but a sacred person. But the arrival of Ismene exhibits him in a still more august character. Feeble and helpless as he appears, he is destined to be one of Attica's tutelary heroes: and two powerful states are to dispute with one another the possession of his person and the right of paying honours to his tomb. The poet on this occasion expresses the whole force of the contrast, which is the subject of the play, in a few emphatic lines. Œd. How speaks the oracle, my child? Ism. Thou shalt be sought by them that banished thee, Living and dead, to aid the common weal. Œd. Why, who may prosper with such aid as mine? Ism. On thee 'tis said, the might of Thebes depends. Œd. Now, when all's lost, I am a man indeed. Ism. The gods now raise the head they once laid low. In the following scenes the most prominent object is undoubtedly the glory of Attica and of Theseus. The contest indeed between the two rivals for the possession or the friendship of the outcast, the violence of Creon and the earnest supplication of Polynices, serves to heighten our impression of the dignity with which Œdipus is now invested by the favour of the gods. But still, if the poet had not had a different purpose in view, he would probably have contented himself with a less elaborate picture of the struggle. As it is, Creon's arrogance and meanness place the magnanimity of the Attic hero in the strongest relief. It is not quite so evident what was the motive for introducing the interview with Polynices, which seems at first sight to have very little connexion either with the fate and character of Œdipus, or with the renown of Theseus. In this scene Œdipus appears to modern eyes in a somewhat unamiable aspect: and at all events it is one which will effectually prevent us from confounding his piety and resignation with a spirit of Christian meekness and charity. But to the ears of the ancients there was probably nothing grating in this vindictive sternness, while it contributes a very important service to the poet's main design. That the resolution of Œdipus should not be shaken by the solicitations of Creon, backed by threats and force, was to be expected; we now see that his anger is not to be softened by the appeal which Polynices makes to his pity and his parental affection. He is for ever alienated from his unnatural sons and from Thebes, and unalterably devoted to the generous strangers who have sheltered him. Their land shall retain him a willing sojourner, and in his tomb they shall possess a pledge of victory and of deliverance in danger. Nothing now remains but that he should descend into his last resting place, honoured by the express summons of the gods, and yielding a joyful obedience to their pleasure. His orphan daughters indeed drop some natural tears over the loss they have sustained: but even their grief is soon soothed by the thought of an end so peaceful and happy in itself, and so full of blessing to the hospitable land where the hero reposes.
We have already remarked that the irony we have been illustrating is not equally conspicuous in all the plays of Sophocles. In the two Œdipuses we conceive it is the main feature in the treatment of the subject, and is both clearly indicated by their structure, and unequivocally exprest in numberless passages. On the other hand, in the Electra it may appear doubtful whether anything is gained by considering the plot from this point of view, and whether we are justified in attributing it to Sophocles. The poet's object may seem to have been merely to exhibit the heroine in a series of situations, which successively call forth the fortitude, the energy, the unconquerable will, and the feminine tenderness, which compose her character. This object however may not be inconsistent with others: and the arrangement of the action seems to point to an ulterior design; which we shall very briefly suggest, as there are no marks which absolutely compel the reader to recognize it. The lamentations of Electra at her first appearance are protracted to a length which can scarcely be considered necessary for the purpose of an exposition of her character and situation, and we are therefore rather led to connect them with the scene which precedes them: and so regarded they certainly assume an ironical aspect. In the former our attention was directed to the bloodstained house of the Pelopids, the scene of so many crimes, where guilt has been so long triumphant, where all is still hushed in secure unsuspecting repose. But already the Avenger is standing near its threshold, ready to execute his errand of retributive justice, his success ensured by all the aids of human prudence, and by the sanction of the god. The friends concert their plan in a manner which leaves no doubt in the mind of the spectator that the righteous cause will speedily prevail. After this Electra's inconsolable grief, her despondency, and complaints, are less suited to excite our sympathy, than to suggest a reflexion on the contrast between that apparent prosperity and security of the guilty which she in her ignorance deplores, and the imminent danger with which we see them threatened by the divine vengeance. And this contrast becomes still stronger when, by the device of Orestes, the last fear which restrained the insolence of the criminals is removed, the last hope which cheered Electra's drooping spirit is extinguished; at the same time that the punishment of the one, and the deliverance of the other, are on the point of accomplishment. Clytemnestra's sophistical vindication of her own conduct also assumes a tone of self mockery, which is deeply tragical, when we remember that, while she is pleading, her doom is sealed, and that the hand which is about to execute it is already lifted above her head. Finally, it is in the moment of their highest exultation and confidence, that each of the offenders discovers the inevitable certainty of their impending ruin.
Of all our poet's remaining works, that which stands lowest in general estimation appears to be The Trachinian Virgins. Its merit has been commonly supposed to consist in the beauty of detached scenes or passages: but so inferior has it been thought, as a whole, to the other plays of Sophocles, that a celebrated critic has not scrupled to express a doubt as to its genuineness, and to conjecture that it ought to be ascribed to the poet's son Iophon. This conjecture Hermann (Præf.) rejects with great confidence, founded on his long and intimate acquaintance with the poetical character of Sophocles. It would seem however as if his opinion was formed in consideration rather of the particular features of the play, in which he recognizes the mastery's hand, than of the entire composition, which, according to his view of it, is defective in some very important points. The interest, he conceives, is so unfortunately divided between Hercules and Dejanira, that though the fate of the hero was intended by the poet to be the main spring of the spectator's fear and pity, his sympathy is insensibly transferred to the unhappy victim of conjugal affection, who thus becomes in reality the principal personage. Hence when her fate is decided, the spectator's suspense is at an end: the last act appears superfluous; and the sufferings of Hercules, now that the heroine is gone to whom all his vicissitudes had been referred, can no longer excite any deep concern. This defect, Hermann thinks, would have been remedied, if the hero's sufferings had been exhibited in the presence of Dejanira, so as to aggravate her affliction: and he can scarcely understand what could have led Sophocles to neglect an arrangement so clearly preferable to that which he has adopted, unless it may have been the wish to introduce a little variation in the treatment of a somewhat hacknied argument.
To Hermann's judgement on the genuineness of the piece we most cordially assent; but for this very reason we cannot embrace his opinion of its supposed imperfections, and at the risk of being thought superstitious admirers of a great name, we are inclined to infer from his objections to the composition, not that Sophocles was on this occasion either deficient in invention, or willing to sacrifice beauty to the affectation of originality—a species of vanity which his other works afford no ground for imputing to him: but that his design was not exactly such as the critic conceives. It appears to us that in fact Hermann has overlooked one of the most important features of the subject, which, if duly considered, satisfactorily accounts for all that according to his view disturbs the unity and symmetry of the drama. The fate of Hercules is undoubtedly the point on which the interest of the play was meant to turn. To it our attention is directed from beginning to end. Compared with Hercules, Dejanira is a very insignificant person: not indeed in the eyes of a modern reader, of whom Hermann's remark may be perfectly true, that the sympathy of the spectators is directed more to her than to the hero. In her we find much to admire, to love, and to pity: in him we see nothing but a great spirit almost overpowered by the intensity of bodily suffering. But the question is, was this the light in which they were viewed by the spectators for whom Sophocles wrote. Now it seems clear that to them Hercules was more than a suffering or struggling hero: he was a deified person, who had assumed a blessed and immortal nature, had become an object of religious adoration, and was frequently invoked for aid and protection in seasons of difficulty and danger. It was from the funeral pile on the top of Œta that he ascended, as Sophocles elsewhere describes, all radiant with fire divine, to enjoy the company of the gods above. The image of his earthly career could never be contemplated by his worshippers without reference to this, its happy and glorious termination. And therefore it cannot be contended that the poet did not take this feeling into account, because in the play itself he has introduced no allusion to the apotheosis. It does not follow because there Hercules himself, according to Hermann's observation, is described as quitting life with reluctance, like one of Homer's heroes, whose soul descends to Orcus bewailing its fate, and the vigour and youth which it leaves behind, that therefore the spectators were expected to forget all their religious notions of him, or to consider him abstracted from the associations with which he was habitually connected in their thoughts. But in fact his blissful immortality is manifeastly implied in that consummation of his labours, that final release from toil and hardship, which was announced to him by the oracle, the meaning of which he did not understand till he was experiencing its fulfilment. This mysterious prediction it is, which at the beginning of the play calls up Dejanira's hopes and fears into conflict, and the marvellous mode of its accomplishment is the subject of the ensuing scenes.
The opening scene, which, though less artificial than those of the other plays of Sophocles, ought not to be confounded with the prologues of Euripides, while it unfolds to us the anxiety and gloomy forebodings of Dejanira, places her character in the point of view which is necessary to the unity of the piece. Her happiness, her very being, are bound up in that of Hercules. The most fortunate event of her life had once seemed to her the issue of the struggle by which Hercules won her for his bride. Now indeed, on looking back to the past, she is struck with the melancholy reflexion, that this union, the object of her most ardent wishes, had hitherto been productive of scarcely anything but disappointment and vexation. The hero, for whom alone she lived, had been almost perpetually separated from her by a series of hazardous adventures, which kept her a prey to constant alarm and disquietude. Short and rare as his visits had always been, the interval which had elapsed since the last had been unusually long; she had been kept in more than ordinary ignorance of his situation: she begins to dread the worst, and is inclined to interpret the ambiguous tablet, which he left in her hands at parting, in the most unfavorable manner. The information she receives from her son, while it relieves her most painful fears, convinces her that the momentous crisis has arrived, which will either secure, or for ever destroy her happiness with that of her hero. A last labour remains for him to achieve, in which he is destined either to fall, or to reap the reward of his toils in a life unembittered by pain or sorrow. Soon however she hears that the crisis has ended happily, and for a moment joy takes undivided possession of her breast. But the glad tidings are quickly followed by the announcement of a new calamity, the danger of losing the affections of Hercules, or of sharing them with another. He has reached the goal: but by the same turn of fortune she is removed farther than ever from the object of her desires: the same gale which has wafted him into the haven of rest, has wellnigh wrecked her hopes. Still even against this evil she has long had a remedy in store, which, if it succeeds, will unite her lot to that of Hercules by indissoluble bonds: no woman shall again dispute his love with her. But now the irony of fate displays itself in the cruellest manner: all her wishes shall be granted, but only to verify her worst fears. The labours of Hercules are at an end: she herself has disabled him from ever undertaking another. No rival will henceforward divert his love from her: his eyes will soon be closed upon all earthly forms. But all this is but a bitter mockery: in truth she has made him in whose wellbeing her own was wrapt up, supremely wretched; she has converted his affection for herself into deadly hatred. She, who was able to ruin him, has no means of saving him: the only proof she can give of her fidelity and love is, to die.
That the death of Dejanira is indispensably necessary, every one will acknowledge; but those who think, as Hermann, that with it the play really ends, will perhaps agree with him in his opinion, that it ought to have been reserved to a later period in the action. According to the view we have here taken of the poet's design, he could not have chosen a more seasonable time for it. Had it been longer postponed, it would merely have disturbed the effect of the last scene without any compensating advantage. This scene, if we are not mistaken, is so far from a superfluous and cumbrous appendage, that it contains the solution of the whole enigma, and places all that goes before in its true light. Hercules appears distracted not only by his bodily torments, but also by furious passions: by the sense of an unmerited evil, perfidiously inflicted by a hand which he had loved and trusted. The discovery of Dejanira's innocence likewise reveals to him the real nature and causes of his situation: it exhibits his fate, though outwardly hard and terrible, as the fulfilment of a gracious and cheering prediction. Henceforth his murmurs cease, his angry passions subside. He himself indeed does not yet penetrate into the depth of the mystery; but when, as by a prophetic impulse, he directs Hyllus to transport him to the summit of Œta, and there, without tear or groan, to apply the torch to his funeral pile, he leads the spectators to the reflexion which solves all difficulties, and melts all discords into the clearest harmony. Dejanira's wishes have been fulfilled, not indeed in her own sense, but in an infinitely higher one. The gods have decreed to bestow on Hercules not merely length of days, but immortality; not merely ease and quiet, but celestial bliss. She indeed has lost him, but only as she must have done in any case sooner or later; and instead of forfeiting his affection, she has been enabled to put the most unequivocal seal upon her faith and devotedness.
That this last scene should appear tedious to a modern reader, is not surprising: but this may be owing to causes which have nothing to do with its dramatic merits. We are accustomed to view Hercules either through the medium of the arts, as a strong man, or through that of some system of mythology, as a political or ethical personification, or it may be as a mundane genius, a god of light. But it is probable that a very different impression was produced by his appearance on the Athenian stage, and that a representation of the last incidents of his mortal state, was there witnessed with lively sympathy. This interest may have extended to details which in us cannot produce the slightest emotion, and hence the introduction of the concluding injunction about Iole, which is the most obscure as well as repulsive passage in the whole piece, may have had an adequate motive, which we cannot fully comprehend. It certainly ought not to prevent us from enjoying the beauty of the whole composition, which though perhaps inferior to the other works of Sophocles, is not unworthy of the author of the greatest among them.
In the Ajax the poet may seem to have made a singular exception to his own practice as well as to that of all other great dramatic writers, by distinctly expounding the moral of his play, and that not at the end, but at the beginning of it. If we should suppose him to have done so, we must also believe that he at the same time determined the point of view from which he meant the whole to be considered. The irony of Minerva first draws Ajax into a terrible exhibition of his miserable phrenzy, and she then takes occasion from it to pronounce a solemn warning against the arrogance which had involved so great a hero in so dreadful a calamity. The following scenes down to the death of Ajax, might appear to have been intended merely to enforce this impression, by representing the language and the effects of his despair when restored to the consciousness of his real situation. The concluding part, that which follows the main catastrophe, would according to this view have been introduced with as little necessity as the part corresponding to it in the play last examined, though it might be allowed possible to find some excuse for the addition in national opinions and feelings foreign to our own. If however this were the correct view of the tragedy, it would certainly deserve to be considered as the most faulty in its composition of all the remaining works of Sophocles. The fault would lie not merely in the want of unity between the two portions, which would be only accidentally connected with one another and would have no interest in common, but also in the dramatic anticlimax, in the gradual abatement of the terror and pity which the opening of the play so powerfully inspires. For Ajax has no sooner recovered his senses than the thought of death occurs to him as absolutely necessary. But he contemplates it, not as an evil, but as a certain remedy and refuge. He finds consolation in the consciousness of his unalterable resolution not to survive his shame, and in the conviction that no human power can prevent the execution of his purpose. The nearer his end approaches the more collected and tranquil he becomes: so that we are led to view him in a new light, and forget the awful lesson inculcated by the goddess in the opening scene.
It would perhaps be presumptuous to assert that the taste of Sophocles was too pure, to admit an episode at the end of a play such as that of Johannes Parricida which disfigures Schiller's Wilhelm Tell. But on the other hand we ought not to impute such a defect to any of his compositions, without carefully examining whether the parts which seem to hang loosely together, may not be more intimately united under the surface. On the other point we may venture to speak more confidently, and to maintain that Sophocles could never have meant to concentrate the whole moral effect of a tragedy in the first scene, so that it should be gradually softened and weakened as the action proceeded, and that a construction of any of his works which implies such a conclusion must have mistaken his design. In the present instance it seems possible to shew that the poet's thought, when rightly conceived, leads to a point of view from which nothing appears either superfluous or misplaced in the piece.
The hero's first appearance exhibits him in the lowest depth of his humiliation. The love of glory is his ruling passion, and disappointment in the pursuit of honour has goaded him to phrenzy. Through the interposition of the gods his vengeance has been baffled in a manner which must for ever expose him to the derision of his enemies. The delight and exultation which he expresses at his imaginary triumph serve to measure the greatness of his defeat, and the bitterness of the anguish which awaits him with the return of reason. Ulysses himself cannot witness so tremendous a reverse, so complete a prostration, even of a rival, without pity. But the reflexions which the spectacle suggests to him and Minerva, tend to divert our thoughts from what is peculiar and extraordinary in the situation of Ajax, and to fix them on the common lot of human nature. All mortal strength is weakness, all mortal prosperity vain and transient, and consequently all mortal pride is delusion and madness. When man is most elated with the gifts of fortune, most confident in his security, then is his fall most certain: he is safe and strong only while he feels and acknowledges his own nothingness. Ajax in the contrast between his fancied success and his real calamity, is only a signal example of a very common blindness. The design of these reflexions was probably not to extract a moral from the scene, which needed not the aid of language to convey its lesson, but to prepare us for the contemplation of the other side of the subject, which is immediately presented to us. For in the next scene the hero's position is totally changed. The past indeed is immutable, the future affords not a glimpse of hope; but now he has awoke from his dream, he is healed of his phrenzy: he knows the worst that has befallen him, and that can befall. The discovery, it is true, is attended, as Tecmessa says, with a new pain, one from which his madness had till now protected him: but it is likewise a medicine which restores him to new health, and the pain itself a symptom of his recovery from the long disease, of which his late phrenzy had been only the last and most violent paroxysm: it gives him a treasure which he never possest before, that self-knowledge and self-control which Minerva's last words declared to be the condition and earnest of the favour of the gods.
It is possible that many readers will think this a very exaggerated, if not a totally false description of the state of mind and feeling which Ajax discloses in the progress of the play. It has been very commonly supposed that the poet's aim was to exhibit in his character untameable pride and inflexible obstinacy, hardened and strained to the utmost by despair: a spirit which will not yield even to the gods, and instead of bowing beneath the stroke of their displeasure, rises the higher by the recoil, and asserts its own freedom and dignity by a voluntary death. If this be so, the first scene must present a totally different aspect from that in which we have hitherto considered it; it will be nothing more than the occasion which enables the hero to display this unconquerable energy of soul; and the more we sympathize with his stern and lofty nature, the less can we be affected by the moral reflexions of Ulysses and the goddess, which would thus appear to be either unmeaning commonplace, or to be designed not to indicate, but to counteract the impression which the whole action is calculated to produce. This however may be looked upon as a slight objection: the main question is, whether the language and demeanor of Ajax after his recovery justifies the common view of the temper and sentiments attributed to him by the poet, and the inferences that have been drawn from them as to the general design of the play. And on this it must be observed, that though it soon becomes apparent that the purpose of self-destruction is irrevocably fixed in the mind of Ajax, though he steadily resists both the friendly counsels of the Chorus, and the pathetic intreaties of Tecmessa; and though that which determines his resolve, is his quick sense of honour, and his impatience of a degrading submission, still there is nothing in his words or conduct, either in the scenes with Tecmessa and the Chorus, or in his concluding soliloquy, that indicates a hard, cold, sullen mood. On the contrary, when he has learnt from Tecmessa the whole extent of his calamity, he breaks out for the first time of his life into wailings which express the keenness of his grief: and again the sight of the Chorus draws from him a strain of piteous exclamations on the cruelty of his fate. After this transient burst of passion indeed he recovers his firmness and composure, gives directions for the fulfilment of his last wishes with calmness, and though inflexibly adhering to his purpose, repels all the attempts made to divert him from it without heat or violence. But so far is he from having retired into the stronghold of a selfish pride, and shut himself up from all human sympathy, that in the midst of his unalterable resolution his thoughts are more occupied with care for others than with his own fate. His parental affection rushes in a full stream into his heart, as he contemplates his approaching separation from its object, and expresses itself in that tender address, in which, while he provides for the security of his child, and rejoices in the prospect of leaving behind him an heir worthy of his shield and of his fame, who shall avenge his wrongs, he dwells with delight on the image of its early years, when the young plant, sheltered from every rude blast, shall enjoy its careless existence, and gladden the heart of the widowed mother, and on the consolation and support it will afford to the declining age of his own parents, so soon to be bereft of their natural stay. Throughout the whole of this speech, though two occasions occur which lead him to mention his enemies, all angry and revengeful feelings are absorbed by the softer emotions of the parent and the son: and even the appearance of harshness with which at the close of this scene he cuts short the importunity of Tecmessa, is a sign of anything rather than coldness and insensibility. Again, when the fatal sword is already fixed in the ground, his last thoughts are turned to Salamis, to the grief of his father and mother, which alone he bewails, to the beloved scenes and friends of his youth: even the parting look which he casts on the Trojan plains, and their familiar springs and streams, is one of tenderness: his last words an affectionate farewell.
All this is so evident, that it must have been at least partially felt by every intelligent reader, and it would probably have produced a greater effect than it seems to have done on the judgements that have been formed on the play, if a strong impression of an opposite kind had not been made on most minds by the intermediate scene, in which, after the Chorus has deplored the inflexible stubbornness with which Ajax has rejected the intreaties of Tecmessa, the hero in a single speech announces the intention with which he finally quits the camp to seek a solitary spot on the seashore. Till within a few years all critics, from the Greek scholiast downwards, had agreed in their general view of the object of this speech, which they have supposed to be an artifice by which Ajax dissembles his real feelings and purpose. They have been equally unanimous on another point, of no great importance in itself, but interesting from its bearing on the former: they imagine that, after the scene with the child, both Ajax and Tecmessa retire from the stage, and that the former comes out of the tent after the Chorus has ended its mournful strain. And now, according to the common opinion, in order to pacify his friends, and to secure himself from interruption in the deed he is about to perform, he affects to have been softened by the prayers of Tecmessa, and to have consented to spare his life: in signifying this change of mind, he at the same time declares his resolution of proceeding to purify himself from the stain of his frantic slaughter, and to make his peace, if possible, with the offended goddess, and of paying due homage in future to the Atridæ, whom he acknowledges as his legitimate superiors. He then dismisses Tecmessa into the tent, and leaves the Chorus to give vent to its delight in a strain of rapturous joy. This speech, if considered as ironical, undoubtedly indicates not merely immovable firmness of resolution, but a spirit of haughty defiance, a bitter disdain of all restraints, human or divine, which would prove that, if any change had taken place in his sentiments, it was only one by which his pride had been raised, and his ferocity hardened: and such appears to have been the inference which has been almost universally drawn from it.
But a few years back this portion of the play was placed in an entirely new light by Professor Welcker, who has made the Ajax the subject of an elaborate essay in the Rheinisches Museum, 1829; which, after all that has been written on this branch of literature, may be considered as one of the most valuable contributions that have yet been made to the study of the Greek drama. Beside a most learned discussion on the sources from which Sophocles drew his materials, and on the peculiar motives which guided him in the selection of them, it contains the author's reasons for rejecting the current opinion on the two points just mentioned. He conceives in the first place, that Ajax remains on the stage during the song of the Chorus which follows his dialogue with Tecmessa, inwardly absorbed in thought, and together with her and the child presenting to the spectators what they would perhaps have looked upon as a group of sculpture, and we should call a living picture. The strongest argument for this supposition is, that no sufficient motive appears or can be assigned, which should have induced Ajax to re-enter the tent, after he had bidden Tecmessa retire into it and withdraw her grief from the public eye. As little should we be able to understand why, if she had once obeyed his injunction, she should have come out again with him. On the other hand, dumb shew, exhibiting the principal person of a piece in an expressive attitude, was a contrivance by no means unusual in the Greek theatre, as is proved not only by the celebrated examples of the Niobe and the Achilles of Æschylus, but also by the practice of Sophocles himself, who for instance allows Antigone to remain silent on the stage during a choral song of considerable length; and in this very play keeps Tecmessa and the child for a long time in a studied posture near the corpse. The difficulty that may seem to arise from the Chorus in our play, which according to this hypothesis speaks of Ajax in his presence without addressing him, disappears if we imagine that the silent group occupied the back ground, which would in itself be the most natural position for it; nor is the language of the song itself such as called for any answer. But the more important question is, whether the subsequent speech of Ajax is designed to conceal his real sentiments and to deceive the hearers. Welcker contends that though couched in language which is here and there ambiguous, it merely expresses the speaker's feelings, and that it is only through the eagerness with which men usually interpret all they see and hear according to their wishes, that Tecmessa and the Chorus misunderstand its meaning. He thinks that the artifice which the common construction attributes to Ajax is inconsistent, not only with the generosity but with the strength of his character, and that none of the purposes which have been supposed to explain it are sufficient to account for it ; and that it involves consequences which destroy all the unity of the play, and render the poet's design unintelligible.
In order to understand the points on which this question hinges, we must observe that both Tecmessa and the Chorus are actually deceived by the speech of Ajax, and consequently that the ambiguity which deceives them was undoubtedly designed on the part of the poet. And this fact not only renders the occasion of the prevailing opinion independently of its truth very conceivable, but raises a strong prejudice in its favour, and throws the burden of the argument on those who reject it. It does not, however, necessarily follow that the deception produced by the speech was intentional on the part of the speaker; and to determine whether the poet meant it to be so considered, we must examine the speech both by itself, and in connexion with the rest of the play. The first inquiry is, whether it contains any expressions which Ajax could not have used without intending to mislead his friends. But it would not be a fair way of trying this question, to consider whether he speaks exactly as he might have done if he had not been conscious of their presence. It might be admitted that he purposely avoids the use of direct and unequivocal terms in announcing what he knew to be dreadful and afflicting to them, without granting that he wished to disguise his intentions from them. Natural and common humanity would have forbidden him to shock the feelings of persons to whom his life was so dear, by a distinct declaration of his final resolution. On the other hand, to ask why then he touches on the painful subject at all, would be unfairly to call in question the undoubted conventional privileges of the dramatic poet. Ajax must give vent to the thoughts and feelings under which he is about to act: but he may be expected to do so with a considerate reserve dictated by his situation. If after making this necessary allowance we proceed to examine his language, we shall perhaps find that though it is certainly adapted to raise hopes that he has abandoned his design of self-destruction, it implies nothing but what he may be believed really to have thought and felt. The beginning indeed speaks of a marvellous change which has taken place within him: his iron soul has been unmanned by pity for Tecmessa. This change would seem to have been wrought during the interval occupied by the song of the Chorus: for at the close of the preceding scene he had resisted all the attempts to soften him with an obstinacy which appeared to be only exasperated by her importunity. Hence most critics have imagined that Tecmessa is supposed to have renewed her intreaties within the tent, and that Ajax, instead of silencing them as before with a peremptory refusal, now affects to be overcome by them. This however is a mere conjecture, and we are equally at liberty to suppose that during the pause in which he has remained silently wrapt in thought, the workings of conjugal affection have made themselves felt so as to cost him a painful struggle, though without being able to move him from his purpose. It does not however seem necessary to consider this in the light of an abrupt and almost præternatural inward revolution. It would be very consistent with human nature, of which Sophocles everywhere shews a fine and intimate knowledge, to interpret those replies to the supplications of Tecmessa, which sound so rough and hard, as signs of awakened sympathy, which Ajax had endeavoured to suppress by assuming a harsher tone, but which, after it ceased to be enforced from without, had gained new strength in his heart. Welcker regards the change as more sudden, though perfectly natural, as the excitement of a feeling which had hitherto slept in the hero's breast, and had at length been roused by the shock with which the gods had humbled his pride, and had finally been called into distinct action by the contagion of female tenderness. He compares it to the effect produced on the temper of Achilles by the loss of his friend. The prayers of Tecmessa are not indeed the cause, but the occasion: yet they decide the mood in which Ajax henceforth contemplates his relations to the gods and to mankind, and in which he ends his life. He considers his blood as a libation with which he is about to appease the wrath of the offended goddess, and to atone for the violence he had meditated against legitimate authority. The hearers naturally mistake the nature of this purifying bath. The mode in which he mentions his purpose of burying his sword may perhaps seem more difficult to reconcile with this view, and Welcker's remark, that the alledged motive, the calamitous operation of an enemy's gifts, was a current opinion which Ajax again expresses in his last speech, seems hardly sufficient to remove the appearance which this passage at first sight presents of a deliberate intention to mislead. Ajax designing to fall upon his sword, speaks only of hiding it as an illfated weapon in the ground. Could he, it may be asked, but for the sake of deception, have raised an image so different from the act which he was meditating. The sword might indeed be said to be concealed, when the hilt was fixed in the ground and the blade lodged in his body: but since this hiding produced the most fatal consequences instead of averting them, would he have selected this mode of describing his intended deed, if he had not foreseen that it would be misunderstood? This seems scarcely possible if it had been only the fatality of the weapon that he had in his thoughts. But perhaps it may be more easily conceived, if we suppose him to have reflected on it rather as having been once the object of his pride, a tribute of respect to his valour from a respected enemy, and afterward the instrument of his shame. He was now about to expiate his pride, and to wipe off his shame: in both respects he might be truly said to hide his sword in the most emphatic sense, when he sheathed it in his own body. The last objection that the speech suggests to the view proposed by Welcker, arises from the professions which Ajax appears to make of his intention in future to yield to the gods and pay due reverence to the Atridæ, and in general to regulate his conduct by maxims of moderation and discretion. These professions would certainly be mere dissimulation if they referred to anything but the approaching termination of his career, whereas they seem to imply a prospect of its continuance. Yet, if Ajax contemplated his death as a satisfaction both to divine and human justice, his manner of describing the lesson he had learnt and which he would thenceforth practise, is not unnatural, but strongly emphatic.
On the other hand the objections which the speech raises to the common opinion are very difficult to remove. If the aim of Ajax is to deceive his friends, admitting the contrivance to be worthy of his character, and consistent with his previous conduct, he cannot reasonably be supposed more in earnest in one part of the speech than another. It would imply in himself and would create in the reader an intolerable confusion of ideas and feelings, to imagine that he really pitied the condition of Tecmessa, and nevertheless only expressed his sentiments for the purpose of deceiving her. And yet who that has witnessed the scene of the parting from his child, can believe that he felt no pity for the mother. If so, since he couples her widowhood with its orphanhood, we should be forced to infer that he was equally indifferent to both. On the same principle if the passages relating to the anger of the goddess and the submission due to the gods are to be taken as ironical, we must consider Ajax in the light of a Capaneus or a Mezentius, who not only disregards but insults the gods. That he should be sincere in his professions of reverence for them, and yet use his piety for a cloak, would be a contradiction not to be endured. But in no part of the play is Ajax represented as an audacious blasphemer and contemner of the gods, though in the pride of his heart he sometimes has forgotten what was due to them. His last speech, where his sentiments continue the same and are exprest without disguise, breathes not only piety but confidence in the divine favour, grounded on the consciousness not indeed of perfect innocence, but of great wrongs suffered, and of ample reparation made for a slight transgression. So though it may seem natural that he should speak with bitter disdain of the Atridæ, against whom we find him retaining his resentment to the last, it would be incredible that he should have made his profession of respect for their station if it was insincere, an occasion of introducing such a series of general reflexions as that which follows, in which he appears to be reconciling himself to the thought of obedience, by considering it as a universal law of nature. All this evidently proceeds from the depth of his heart, and so viewed is beautiful and touching: whereas if it be taken as a trick, to make his assumed change of mood more credible, nothing can easily be conceived more repulsive in itself, and less appropriate to the character of Ajax. Finally his parting directions to Tecmessa and the Chorus are so little like those of a person who was anxious to conceal his design, that as Welcker truly observes, one might rather be disposed to complain of the improbability that their meaning should have been mistaken: if it were not that a prejudice once caught is known to be capable of blinding us to the clearest intimations of the truth.
On the whole then we adopt with entire conviction Welcker's general view of this speech, which indeed harmonizes so well with that which has here been taken of one great feature in the poetical character of Sophocles, that we have thought it necessary to weigh the arguments on each side as cautiously as possible. Still if any one should find it impossible to believe that Ajax could be unconscious of the effect that his words were producing, we should not be unwilling to admit that he perceived the ambiguity of those expressions which bear a double meaning, so long as we are not called upon to give up the opinion that he is throughout and thoroughly in earnest. Before we quit the subject we will notice one or two passages, which either appears to contradict this conclusion, or have been so interpreted. The curse which Ajax, when on the point of death, pronounces against the Atridæ and the whole army, may at first sight seem to be inconsistent with those sentiments of reverence for their authority which he expresses in the former scene, and thus to prove that they were not genuine. It seems however no more difficult to conceive that Ajax, while he acknowledged the debt which he owed to justice for a breach of social order, might still consider himself as an injured man, and invoke the Furies to avenge his wrongs, than that he might believe himself an object of divine favour, notwithstanding the offences against the gods which he was about to expiate. The curse itself, after the example of Œdipus, will not be thought an indication of peculiar ferocity. Only that it should have been extended to the whole army, may seem an excess of vindictive cruelty, and in fact this has proved a stumbling block to several critics. But it must be remembered, in the first place, that the army had sanctioned and shared the iniquity of its chiefs, in withholding from Ajax the honours he had earned in their service; and next, that the ruin of the king involves the calamity of the people. So Achilles can not distinguish between Agamemnon and the Greeks. With the exception of this curse, which however answers the purpose of recalling the heroes wrongs to our recollection, and thus strengthening our sympathy with his sufferings, the whole speech is highly pathetic, so that any expression of arrogant impiety would jar most offensively with its general tenor. And hence it is of some importance to observe, that there is nothing at all savouring of such a character in the address to Jupiter, where Ajax speaks of his petition as requesting no great boon (ἀιτήσομαι δέ σ᾽ οὐ μακρὸν γέρας λαχεῖν). Mr Campbell, in his Lectures on Poetry, has entirely mistaken the force of this expression, where he says that we recognize the self dependence and stubbornness of his pride, when he tells the chief of the gods that he had but a slight boon to implore of him. Not to mention how unseasonable such pride would have been, when Ajax was actually supplicating a favour to which, though little for Jupiter to grant, he himself attached great importance, and how inconsistent with the reverence exprest for Jupiter's majesty in the address: "Thou first, O Jove"—it is clear that the words in question contain nothing more than a touching allusion to the extremity in which he was now placed, when the only thing left for him to desire of Jupiter, was that his body might not be deprived of the rites of burial, Mr Campbell could scarcely have overlooked this, if he had not been prepossessed with the common opinion about the character of Ajax, as exhibited in the previous speech, which he too considers as a feint, and endeavours to explain, but without perceiving the main difficulties which the supposition involves. He sees nothing in the tragedy but an exhibition of "the despair and suicide of a proud soldier, who has lived but for martial honor, and cannot survive the loss of it." Though we think this conception of the subject so inadequate as to miss what is most essential in the poet's design, we must do Mr C. the justice to observe, that he has shewn a lively sense of some of the beauties of the play, which is the more meritorious, as we learn from him that the English translators have been insensible to them. He complains with great reason that Sophocles should have fallen into the hands of persons so little capable of relishing him, as not even to be struck with the sublimity of the opening scene of the Ajax: though, since such perceptions are the gift of nature, we do not understand why they are called illiberal critics. We collect however one rather melancholy inference from this fact, and from Mr Campbell's lectures: that the study of the poet's works with a view to the pleasures of the imagination, has not kept pace with the diligence bestowed on them as objects of philological criticism.
Most critics have felt a great difficulty in explaining the reasons which induced Sophocles to protract the action after the death of Ajax, with which, according to modern notions the interest expires. What has been said on this subject has for the most part been proposed in the language of apology, and in a tone which now and then raises a suspicion that the advocate is not thoroughly convinced of the goodness of his cause. Thus Hermann faintly defends the concluding scenes with arguments which in substance condemn them: and though Mr Campbell assures us that "the interest does not at all flag in the remainder of the tragedy," we want some better explanation of the grounds of this opinion, than is to be found in the remark: "that the Greeks attached an awfully religious importance to the rites of burial," which would apply equally to many other tragedies which do not end in like manner: or in the assertion: that "we feel the hero's virtues to be told with the deepest effect when his widow and child kneel as suppliants to heaven and human mercy, beside his corps: when his spirited brother defies the threats of the Atridæ to deny him sepulchral honors: and when Ulysses with politic magnanimity interposes to prevent the mean insult being offered to his fallen enemy." The celebration of a hero's virtues after his death is surely not a legitimate object of tragedy: nor is it true that those of Ajax are more effectually told by his widow and child when they kneel beside his corps, than when they cling to him during his life: or by Teucer and Ulysses when they interpose in his behalf, than they had previously been in the first scene by the admission of an enemy, and afterward by the attachment and admiration exprest by his friends. Still less can the conclusion of the piece be defended on the ground that "it leaves our sympathies calmed and elevated by the triumph of Ulysses in assuaging the vindictiveness of Agamemnon, and attaching the gratitude of Teucer." Our sympathies with Ajax have already been calmed and elevated by the serenity and majesty of his departure: with Ulysses we have none sufficiently powerful to keep up our interest during the following scenes: if we had, this would imply a want of unity, which would be as great a defect as that which has been made the subject of complaint. In order to justify the poet by shewing the connexion between these scenes and the preceding part of the play, it is absolutely necessary to take into account a circumstance which Welcker, though not the first to notice it, has placed in a clearer light than any former writer: that Ajax was an object, not merely of human interest, but of religious veneration, with the audience for whom Sophocles wrote. The Athenians were proud of him as one of their heroes, who, since Clisthenes, gave his name to a tribe which was distinguished by some peculiar privileges. They claimed his sons as their adopted citizens, the ancestors of their noblest families and some of their most illustrious men. But the hero's title to those religious honours which were paid to him in the time of Sophocles, commenced only from his interment: and hence no subject could be more interesting to the Athenians in general, and more particularly to the tribe which bore his name, than the contest on the issue of which his heroic sanctity depended. Welcker very happily remarks that Menelaus and his brother fill the part of an Advocatus Diaboli at a process of canonization. On the other hand the injury which Ajax had planned against the army and its chiefs, was one which according to primitive usage, in ordinary cases, would have justified the extreme of hostility on their part, and consequently the privation of funeral rites. This was not in the eyes of the Greeks a mean insult, but a natural and legitimate mode of vengeance; though the violence and arrogance with which it is prosecuted by the Spartan king is exhibited in an odious light, undoubtedly for the sake of suggesting to the Athenian audience a political application to their rivals, which was especially happy in a piece dedicated to the honour of an Attic hero, and which they would not fail to seize and enjoy. But this strenuous opposition serves to exalt the character of Ajax, and to enhance the glory of his triumph. And thus the contrast between the appearance and the reality is completed, as in the second Œdipus. At the beginning we saw the hero in the depth of degradation, an object of mockery and of pity: this was the effect of his inordinate self esteem, of his overweening confidence in his own strength. But out of his humiliation, his anguish, and despair, issues a higher degree of happiness and renown than he had ever hoped to attain. He closes his career at peace with the gods: his incomparable merit is acknowledged by the rival whose success had wounded his pride: he leaves a name behind him which shall be remembered and revered to the latest generations.
We have already observed that the length of our remarks would not be regulated by the value of the pieces to be examined. The Antigone and the Philoctetes, though perhaps neither of them is inferior in beauty to the Ajax, will detain us a much shorter time.
In the Antigone the irony on which the interest depends, is of a kind totally different from that which has been illustrated by the preceding examples. It belongs to that head which we have endeavoured to describe as accompanying the administration of justice human and divine, of that which decides not merely the quarrels of individuals, but the contests of parties and of principles, so far as they are clothed in flesh and blood, and wield the weapons of earthly warfare. The subject of the tragedy is a struggle between Creon and Antigone, not however as private persons maintaining their selfish interests, but as each asserting a cause which its advocate holds to be just and sacred. Each partially succeeds in the struggle, but perishes through the success itself: while their destruction preserves the sanctity of the principles for which they contend. In order to perceive this, we must guard ourselves against being carried away by the impression which the beauty of the heroine's character naturally makes upon our feelings, but which tends to divert us from the right view of Creon's character and conduct: a partiality, to which modern readers are not the less liable, on account of the difficulty they find in entering into the train of religious feeling from which the contest derives its chief importance. In our admiration for Antigone we may be very apt to mistake the poet's irony, and to adopt the sentiments which he puts into her mouth, as his own view of the question, and the parties, while he is holding the balance perfectly even. But to consider the case impartially, it is necessary to observe, in the first place, that Creon is a legitimate ruler, and next, that he acts in the exercise of his legitimate authority. He had received the supreme power by the right of succession, and with the full consent of his subjects, whom he had preserved from their foreign invaders. Hæmon does not mean to dispute his soverainty, but only to signify the conditions under which it ought to be exercised, when in reply to Creon's question, whether any but himself is governor of the realm, he says, that it is no city which belongs to one man (737). Creon's decree is the law of the land. Ismene, remonstrating with Antigone on her resolution, declares herself incapable of acting in opposition to the will of her fellowcitizens. And Antigone herself in her concluding appeal admits that she has so acted (907). Nor was the decree a wanton or tyrannical exertion of power. Creon himself professes to consider it as indispensable to the wellbeing of the state, which is the sole object of his care (188—192), as a just punishment for the parricidal enterprize of Polynices. And this is not merely Creon's language, whom however we have no reason to suspect of insincerity: it is also evidently the judgement of the Chorus, whose first song, which presents so lively a picture of the imminent danger from which Thebes has just been rescued, seems to justify the vengeance taken on its author. The reflexions contained in the next song, on the craft and ingenuity of man, are pointed at the secret violation of Creon's ordinance, as an instance in which the skill of contrivance has not been coupled with due respect for the laws and obligations of society: and the Chorus deprecates all communion with persons capable of such criminal daring. Antigone herself does not vindicate her action on the ground that Creon has overstept the bounds of his prerogative, but only claims an extraordinary exemption from its operation, on account of her connexion with the deceased. She even declares, that she would not have undertaken such a resistance to the will of the state, for the sake either of children or husband (907): it was only the peculiar relation in which she stood to Polynices, that justified, and demanded it. This too is the only ground which Hæmon alledges for the general sympathy exprest by the people with Antigone: and in relying on this, he tacitly admits that the same action would have deserved punishment in any other person. His general warnings against excessive pertinacity are intended to induce his father to give up his private judgement to the popular opinion. Creon on the other hand is bent on vindicating and maintaining the majesty of the throne and of the laws. No state can subsist, if that which has been enacted by the magistrate, on mature deliberation, is to be set aside because it thwarts a woman's wishes, (672—678) or because it is condemned by the multitude (734). Obedience on the part of the governed, firmness on the part of the ruler, are essential to the good of the commonwealth. These sentiments appear to be adopted by the Chorus. Notwithstanding its good will toward Antigone, and its pity for her fate, it considers her as having incurred the penalty that had been inflicted on her by an act, which, though sufficiently fair and specious to attract the praises of men and to render her death glorious, was still a violation of duty, and brought her into a fatal conflict with eternal Justice; a headstrong defiance of the soverain power, sure to end in her destruction. It has appeared to several learned men, not without a considerable show of probability, that the numerous passages in this play which inculcate the necessity of order, and submission to established authority, may have had great weight in disposing the Athenians to reward the poet with the dignity of strategus, which we know did not necessarily involve any military duties, though Sophocles happened to be so employed, but which would still have been a singular recompense for mere poetical merit.
Nevertheless the right is not wholly on the side of Creon. So far indeed as Polynices is concerned, he has only shewn a just severity sanctioned by public opinion, and perhaps required by the interest of the state. Early however in the action we have an intimation that in his zeal for the commonwealth, and for the maintenance of his royal authority, he has overlooked the claims of some other parties whose interests were affected by his conduct. The rights and duties of kindred, though they might not be permitted to alter the course prescribed by policy and justice, were still entitled to respect. If Antigone had forfeited her life to the rigour of the law, equity would have interposed, at least to mitigate the punishment of an act prompted by such laudable motives. The mode in which the penalty originally denounced against her offense was transmuted, so as to subject her to a death of lingering torture, added mockery to cruelty. But the rites of burial concerned not only the deceased, and his surviving relatives; they might also be considered as a tribute due to the awful Power who ruled in the nether world; as such they could not commonly be withheld without impiety. Hence Antigone, in her first altercation with Creon, urges that her deed, though forbidden by human laws, was required by those of Hades, and might be deemed holy in the realms below. Hæmon touches on the same topic, when he charges his father with trampling on the honours due to the gods, and says that he pleads not on behalf of Antigone alone, but of the infernal deities (745–749). Creon, in pronouncing his final sentence on Antigone, notices this plea, but only to treat it with contempt. "Let her implore the aid of Hades, the only power whom she reveres: he will perhaps deliver her from her tomb; or at least she will learn by experience, that her reverence has been ill bestowed." We must not however construe these passages into a proof that Creon, in his decree, had committed an act of flagrant impiety, and that his contest with Antigone was in effect a struggle between policy and religion. It is clear that his prohibition was consistent with the customary law, and with the religious opinions of the heroic ages, as they are represented not only by Homer, but in other works of Sophocles himself. The determination of Achilles to prevent Hector's burial, and his treatment of the corps, are related as extraordinary proofs of his affection for Patroclus, but still as a legitimate exercise of the rights of war. In the deliberation of the gods on the subject, the only motive assigned for the interference of Jupiter, is Hector's merit and piety. Juno, Neptune, and Minerva, are so far from finding any thing impious in the conduct of Achilles, that they oppose the intervention of the powers friendly to Troy on behalf of the deceased. So the dispute about the burial in the Ajax turns entirely on the merits of the hero, without any reference to the claims of the infernal gods. And as little does Electra seem to know any thing of them, when she desires Orestes, after killing Ægisthus, to expose him to such interrers as befit a wretch like him, that is, as the Scholiast explains it, to the birds and hounds. Hence in the Antigone it must not be supposed that any of the speakers assume as a general proposition, that to refuse burial to a corps is absolutely and in all cases an impious violation of divine laws, though they contend that the honours paid to the dead are grateful, and therefore in general due to the infernal gods. Hitherto therefore Creon can only be charged with having pursued a laudable aim somewhat intemperately and inconsiderately, without sufficient indulgence for the natural feelings of mankind, or sufficient respect for the Powers to whom Polynices now properly belonged. He has one principle of action, which he knows to be right; but he does not reflect that there may be others of equal value, which ought not to be sacrificed to it. It is not however before the arrival of Tiresias that the effects of this inflexible and indiscriminate consistency become manifest. The seer declares that the gods have made known by the clearest signs that Creon's obstinacy excites their displeasure. He has reversed the order of nature, has entombed the living, and disinterred the dead. But still all may be well: nothing is yet irretrievably lost; if he will only acknowledge that he has gone too far, he may retrace his steps. The gods below claim Polynices, the gods above Antigone: it is not yet too late to restore them. But Creon, engrossed by his single object, rejects the prophet's counsel, defies his threats, and declares that no respect even for the holiest of things, shall induce him to swerve from his resolution. Far from regarding the pollution of the altars, he cares not though it should reach the throne of Jove himself: and glosses over his profaneness with the sophistical plea, that he knows, no man has power to pollute the gods. The calamity which now befalls him, is an appropriate chastisement. Already the event had proved his wisdom to be folly. The measures he had taken for the good of the state had involved it in distress and danger. His boasted firmness now gives way, and on a sudden he is ready to abandon his purpose, to revoke his decrees. But they are executed, in spite of himself, and in a manner which for ever destroys his own happiness. Antigone dies, the victim whom he had vowed to law and justice: but as in her he had sacrificed the domestic affections to his state-policy, her death deprives him of the last hope of his family, and makes his hearth desolate. She, on the other hand, who had been drawn into an involuntary conflict with social order by the simple impulse of discharging a private duty, pays indeed the price which, she had foreseen, her undertaking would cost: but she succeeds in her design, and triumphs over the power of Creon, who himself becomes the minister of her wishes.
The character and situation of the parties in this play rendered it almost necessary that the contest should be terminated by a tragical catastrophe, even if the poet had not been governed by the tradition on which his argument was founded: though to the last room is left open for a reconciliation which would have prevented the calamity. In the Philoctetes the struggle is brought to a happy issue, after all hopes of such a result appeared to have been extinguished: and this is not merely conformable to tradition, but required by the nature of the subject. Our present object is only to exhibit the works of Sophocles in a particular point of view, and we therefore abstain from entering into discussions, which, though very important for the full understanding of them, are foreign to our immediate purpose. We cannot however help observing, that the Philoctetes is a remarkable instance of the danger of trusting to a first impression in forming a judgement on the design of an ancient author: and that it ought at the same time to check the rashness of those who think that in such subjects all is to be discovered at the first glance, and to raise the confidence of those who may be apt to despair that study and investigation can ever ascertain anything in them, that has once been controverted. The Philoctetes engaged the attention of some of the most eminent German critics, a Winkelmann, a Lessing, a Herder, for a long time in an extraordinary degree. Yet there are probably few points on which intelligent judges of such matters are more unanimous, than that these celebrated men were all mistaken on the question which they agitated, and that it is only in later times that it has been placed on a right footing and clearly understood. The bodily sufferings of Philoctetes are exhibited by the poet for no other purpose than to afford a measure of the indignation with which he is inspired by his wrongs, and of the energy of his will. It is no ordinary pain that torments him, but of a kind similar to that which extorted groans and tears from Hercules himself. Yet in his eagerness to escape from the scene of his long wretchedness, he makes an almost superhuman effort to master it, and conceal it from the observation of the bystanders. The difficulty of the exertion proves the strength of the motive: yet the motive, strong as it is, is unable to bear him up against the violence of the pain. He loses his self-command, and gives vent to his agony in loud and piteous exclamations. But all he had hoped for from Neoptolemus, when he strove to stifle his sensations, was not to be cured of his sore, but to be transported to a place where his sufferings might be mitigated by the presence and aid of compassionate friends. When he discovers the fraud that had been played upon him, he is at the same time invited to return to Troy, by the prospect of recovering health and strength, and of using them in the most glorious of fields. But long as he had sighed for deliverance from his miserable solitude, intolerable as are the torments he endures, ambitious as he is of martial renown, and impatient of wasting the arrows of Hercules on birds and beasts, there is a feeling stronger than any of these which impels him to reject the proffered good with disdain and even loathing, and to prefer pining to his life's end in lonely, helpless, continually aggravated wretchedness. This is the feeling of the atrocious wrong that has been inflicted on him: a feeling which acquires new force with every fresh throb of pain, with every hour of melancholy musing, and renders the thought of being reconciled to those who have so deeply injured him, and of lending his aid to promote their interest and exalt their glory, one from which he recoils with abhorrence. At the time when his situation appears most utterly desperate, when he sees himself on the point of being abandoned to an extremity of distress, compared with which his past sufferings were light, while he is tracing the sad features of the dreary prospect that lies immediately before him, and owns himself overcome by its horrors, the suggestion of the Chorus, that his resolution is shaken, and their exhortation that he would comply with their wishes, rekindles all the fury of his indignation, which breaks forth in a strain of vehemence, such as had never before escaped him: a passage only inferior in sublimity to the similar one in the Prometheus (1045), inasmuch as Prometheus is perfectly calm, Philoctetes transported by passion.
The resentment of Philoctetes is so just and natural, and his character so noble and amiable, he is so open and unsuspecting after all his experience of human treachery, so warm and kindly in the midst of all his sternness and impatience, that it would seem as if Sophocles had intended that he should be the object of our unqualified sympathy. Yet it is not so: the poet himself preserves an ironical composure, and while he excites our esteem and pity for the suffering hero, guards us against sharing the detestation Philoctetes feels for the authors of his calamity. The character of Ulysses is contrasted indeed most forcibly with that of his frank, generous, impetuous enemy; but the contrast is not one between light and darkness, good and evil, between all that we love and admire on the one hand, and what we most hate and loath on the other. The character of Ulysses, though not amiable, is far from being odious or despicable. He is one of those persons whom we cannot help viewing with respect, even when we disapprove of their principles and conduct. He is a sober, experienced, politic statesman, who keeps the public good steadily in view, and devotes himself entirely to the pursuit of it. Throughout the whole of his proceedings, with regard to Philoctetes, he maintains this dignity, and expresses his consciousness of it. He is always ready to avow and justify the grounds on which he acts. From the beginning he has been impelled by no base or selfish motive; but on the contrary, has exposed himself to personal danger for the public service. He had never borne any illwill to Philoctetes: but when his presence was detrimental to the army, he advised his removal; now that it is discovered to be necessary for the success of the expedition, he exerts his utmost endeavours to bring him back to Troy. He knows the character of Philoctetes too well, to suppose that his resentment will ever give way to persuasion (103), and the arrows of Hercules are a safeguard against open force. He therefore finds himself compelled to resort to artifice, which on this occasion appears the more defensible, because it is employed for the benefit not only of the Grecian army, but of Philoctetes himself, who, once deprived of his weapons, will probably consent to listen to reason. Neoptolemus, though his natural feelings are shocked by the proposal of Ulysses, is unable to resist the force of his arguments, and suffers himself to be persuaded that, by the step he is about to take, he shall earn the reputation not only of a wise, but a good man. It is true that he retains some misgivings, which, when strengthened by pity for Philoctetes, ripen into a complete change of purpose. But Ulysses never repents of his counsels, but considers the young man's abandonment of the enterprize as a culpable weakness, a breach of his duty to the common cause. In his own judgement this cause hallows the undertaking, and renders the fraud he has practised pious and laudable. And hence when assailed by Philoctetes with the most virulent invectives, he preserves his temper, and replies to them in a tone of conscious rectitude. "He could easily refute them, if this were a season for argument; but he will confine himself to one plea: where the public weal demands such expedients, he scruples not to use them; with this exception, he may boast that no one surpasses him in justice and piety." Such language accords so well with the spirit of the Greek institutions, according to which the individual lived only in and for the state, that from the lips of Ulysses it can raise no doubt of his sincerity. We see that he has adopted his principles deliberately, and acts upon them consistently.
But the doctrine that the end sanctifies the means, though in every age it has found men to embrace it, has never been universally and absolutely admitted. Ulysses has convinced himself by his own sophistry, but he cannot pervert the ingenuous nature of Neoptolemus, whose unprejudiced decision turns the scale on the side of truth. The intervention of Neoptolemus is not more requisite for the complication of the action, than for the purpose of placing the two other characters in the strongest light. He cannot answer the fallacies of Ulysses, but he more effectually refutes them by his actions. The wily statesman has foreseen and provided against all the obstacles that might interfere with the execution of his plan—except one: he has not reckoned on the resistance he might find in the love of truth, natural to uncorrupted minds, and which, in his young companion, has never been stifled by the practise of deceit. He had calculated on using Neoptolemus as an instrument, and he finds him a man. And hence the unexpected issue of the struggle renders full justice to all. Philoctetes is brought to embrace that which he had spurned as ignominy worse than death; but by means, which render it the most glorious event of his life, and compensate for the sufferings inflicted on him by the anger of the gods. The end of Ulysses is attained, but not until all his arts have been baffled, and he has been compelled to retire from the contest, defeated and scorned. Neoptolemus, who has sacrificed every thing to truth and honour, succeeds in every object of his ambition to the utmost extent of his desires. The machinery by which all this is effected is indeed an arbitrary symbol, but that which it represents may not be the less true.
We are aware how open the subjects discussed in the foregoing pages are to a variety of views, and how little any one of these can be expected to obtain general assent. We can even anticipate some of the objections that may be made to the one here proposed. According to the opinion of a great modern critic, it will perhaps appear to want the most decisive test of truth, the sanction of Aristotle. And undoubtedly if it is once admitted that no design or train of thought can be attributed to the Greek tragic poets which has not been noticed by Aristotle, this little essay must be content to share the fate of the greater part of the works written in modern times on Greek tragedy, and to pass for an idle dream. We would however fain hope either that the critic's sentence, investing Aristotle as it does with a degree of infallibility and omniscience, which, in this particular province, we should be least of all disposed to concede to him, may bear a milder construction, or that we may venture to appeal from it to a higher tribunal. Another more specific objection may possibly be, that the idea of tragic irony which we have attempted to illustrate by the preceding examples, is a modern one, and that instead of finding it in Sophocles, we have forced it upon him. So far as this objection relates to our conception of the poet's theology, we trust that it may have been in some measure counteracted by the distinction above drawn between the religious sentiments of Sophocles, and those of an earlier age. This distinction seems to have been entirely overlooked by a German author, who has written an essay of considerable merit on the Ajax, and who in speaking of the attributes of Minerva, as she appears in that play, observes: "the idea that the higher powers can only interpose in the affairs of mankind for the purpose of making men wiser and better, is purely modern." That which he conceives to be repugnant to modern ideas in the theology of Sophocles is, that Minerva is represented as inspiring the phrenzy of Ajax: an agency which appears to him inconsistent with the functions of the goddess of wisdom. According to the view we have taken of the play, this inconsistency would be merely nominal. But even according to his own, it is an inconsistency which need not shock a modern reader more than an ancient one. We are familiar with a magnificent passage, in which it is said of "our living Dread, who dwells In Silo, his bright sanctuary," that, when about to punish the Philistines, "Among them he a spirit of phrenzy sent, Who hurt their minds." Minerva at all events does no more, and according to our view she interposes for a purely benevolent, not a vindictive purpose. Whether Sophocles would have scrupled to introduce her as an author of absolute uncompensated evil, is a question with which we are not here concerned. But the idea of a humbling and chastening Power, who extracts moral good out of physical evil, does not seem too refined for the age and country of Sophocles, however difficult it may have been to reconcile with the popular mythology.
As we have had occasion to refer to the Samson Agonistes, we are tempted to remark that few plays afford a finer specimen of tragic irony: and that it may be very usefully compared with the Ajax and the second Œdipus. We leave it to the reader to consider, whether the poet, who was so deeply imbued with the spirit of Greek tragedy, was only imitating the outward form of the ancient drama, or designed to transfer one of its most essential elements to his work.
On the other hand we admit that it is a most difficult and delicate task, to determine the precise degree in which a dramatic poet is conscious of certain bearings of his works, and of the ideas which they suggest to the reader, and hence to draw an inference as to his design. The only safe method of proceeding for this purpose, so as to avoid the danger of going very far astray, and at the same time to ensure some gain, is in each particular case to institute an accurate examination of the whole and of every part, such as Welcker's of the Ajax, which may be considered as a model of such investigations. We are conscious how far this essay falls short of such a standard: and if we are willing to hope that it may not be entirely useless, it is only so far as it may serve to indicate the right road, and to stimulate the curiosity of others to prosecute it in new directions.
- Inf. xix. Ahi, Costantin, di quanto mal fu matre, Non la tua conversion, ma quella dote Che da te prese il primo ricco patre.
- See Antigon. 600. τεὰν, Ζεῦ, δύνασιν τίς ἀνδρῶν ὑπερβασία κατάσχοι, τὰν οὔθ᾽ ὕπνος αἱρεῖ ποθ᾽ ὁ παντογήρως κ.τ.λ. Œd. C. 1035. ἰὼ παντάρχε θεῶν, παντόπτα Ζεὦ. El. 174. μέγας ἐν οὐρανῷ Ζεὺς, ὃς ἐφορᾷ πάντα καὶ κρατύνει. Œd. T. 897. ἀλλ᾽ ὠ κρατύνων, εἴπερ ὄρθ᾽ ἀκούνεις, Ζεῦ πάντ᾽ ανάσσων. The thought is still more forcibly expressed in Philoct. 979. Ζεῦς ἔσθ᾽, ἵν᾽ εἰδῇς, Ζεὺς ὁ τῆσδε γῆς κρατῶν, Ζεύς ᾦ δέδοκται ταῦθ᾽.
- Hermann's correction and interpretation of the passage here alluded to, v. 1271–1274, seem indispensably necessary, and restore one of the most beautiful touches in the play.
- 266. τά γ᾽ ἔργα μου Πεπονθότ᾽ ἐστὶ μᾶλλον ἤ δεδρακότα.
- 287. ἥκω γὰρ ἱερὸς εὐσεβής τε.
- 388. Οιδ. τί δὲ τεθέσπισται τέκνον; Ισμ. Σὲ τοῖς ἐκεῖ ζητητὸν ἀνθρώποις ποτὲ Θανόντ᾽ ἔσεσθαι ζῶντά τ᾽ εὐσοίας χάριν. Οιδ. Τίς δ᾽ ἄν τι τοιοῦδ᾽ ἀνδρὸς εὖ πράξειεν ἄν; Ισμ. Ἐν σοὶ τὰ κείνων φασὶ γίγνεσθαι κράτη. Οιδ. Ὅτ᾽ οὐκ ἔτ᾽ εἰμί, τηνικαῦτ᾽ ἄρ᾽ εἴμ᾽ ἀνήρ. Ισμ. Νῦν γὰρ θεοί σ᾽ ὀρθοῦσι, πρόσθε δ᾽ ὤλλυσαν.
- This scene affords a very happy illustration of the difference between practical and verbal irony. The poet makes Clytemnestra use what she conceives to be language of bitter irony, while she is really uttering simple truth: 795. El. ὕβριζε. νῦν γὰρ εὐτυχοῦσα τυγχάνεις; Cl. οὔκουν Ὀρέστης καὶ σὺ παύσετον τάδε; El. πεπαύμεθ᾽ ἡμεῖς, οὐχ ὅπως σε παύσομεν. According to the punctuation and accentuation adopted by Brunck and Hermann, in l. 796, Clytemnestra only taunts Electra without any irony. For the purpose of an illustration, it is not material how Sophocles meant the line to be spoken; but in spite of Triclinius we prefer either οὔκουν with an interrogation (as Aj. 79) or οὐκοῦν, without one (as Antig. 91): and of these the former.
- This is the meaning of the taunt, 1481: καὶ μάντις ὢν ἄριστος ἐσφάλλου πάλαι; see Hermann's note.
- Od. . 602, αὐτὸς μετ᾽ αθανάτοισι θεοῖσιν Τέρπεται ἐν θαλίῃς, καὶ ἔχει καλλίσφυρον Ἥβην.
- Phil. 726. ἵν᾽ ὁ χάλκασπις ἀνὴρ θεοῖς πλάθει πᾶσιν, θείῳ πυρὶ παμφαής, Οἴτας ὑπὲρ ὄχθων.
- 1262. ὡς ἐπίχαρτον τελέουσ᾽ ἀεκούσιον ἔργον. "Quamvis enim fortis anima, tamen invita ad Orcum abit, ὃν πότμον γοόωσα, λιποῦσ᾽ ἁδρότητα καὶ ἥβην." Herm.
- An image ludicrously disguised in Francklin's translation: "May the breath of life meantime nourish thy tender frame," as if Eurysaces could grow up to manhood unless it did.
- Even the lines (556) ὅταν δ᾽ ἵκῃ πρὸς τοῦτο, δεῖ σ᾽ ὅπως πατρὸς Δείξεις ἐν ἐχθροῖς, οἷος ἐξ οἵου ᾽τράφης, on which the Scholiast remarks, ἀντὶ τοῦ δεῖ σε ἐκδικῆσαι τὸν πατέρα, do not seem to imply any definite prospect of revenge, so much as a hope that the glory of Eurysaces might in time silence and confound his father's enemies.
- Welcker therefore conceives that Creon's command (Antig. 760) is obeyed forthwith: and certainly this opinion seems to be confirmed by v. 769 τὰ δ᾽ οὖν κόρα τάδ᾽ οὐκ ἀπαλλάξει μόρου. But perhaps it is not necessary to imagine the sister's present, and both the last words of the Chorus, 804, and those of Antigone at the beginning of her next speech, rather indicate that she had just made her appearance. He also refers to the silence of Pylades in the Electra, and to that of Tecmessa when deceived by the speech of Ajax.
- These considerations seem sufficient to remove the difficulty which Hermann finds in the common construction of the words (844) γεύεσθε, μὴ φείδεσθε πανδήμου στρατοῦ, which, ifγεύεσθε is referred to στρατοῦ, appear to him to breathe the most atrocious inhumanity. The construction he proposes, referring γεύεσθε to the Atridæ, is so harsh that one is glad to dispense with it, and yet is of very little use in softening the alledged atrocity of the imprecation. Another difficulty which has perplexed the commentators in this passage is less connected with our present subject. The curse manifestly contains a prediction which was meant to conform to the event: yet the words πρὸς των φιλίστων ἐκγόνων ὀλοίατο, cannot be reconciled with history without great violence, as by distinguishing between φιλίστων and ἐκγόνων, in the manner proposed by Musgrave. Hermann's interpretation is intolerably strained and perplexed. There is no necessity for supposing that Ajax has Ulysses in view at all. From him he had received a provocation indeed, but no peculiar wrong, which he should call upon the Furies to avenge. Welcker thinks that the easiest solution of the difficulty is to suppose that a line has dropt out after αὐτοσφαγεῖς, containing an allusion to Clytemnæstra's crime and punishment.
- See the honours of the Æantidæ in Plut. Symp. 1. 10. 2. 3. They were peculiarly connected with the glory of Marathon. Marathon itself belonged to them: they occupied the right wing in the battle: they numbered the polemarch Callimachus among their citizens: Miltiades was a descendant of Ajax (Marcellin. Vit. Thuc.); the decree for the expedition was made under their presidency. At Platæa too they acquitted themselves so nobly, that they were appointed to conduct the sacrifice to the Sphragitides on Cithæron. Their chorusses were never to take the last place. Plutarch thinks that this was not so much the reward of merit, as a propitiation of the hero, who could not brook defeat. One may compare the use made of this topic by the rhetorician whose funeral oration is printed among the works of Demosthenes: οὐκ ἐλάνθανεν Αἰαντίδας, ὅτι τῶν ἀριστείων στερηθεὶς Αἴας ἀβίωτον ἑαυτῷ ἡγήσατο τὸν βίον.
- To which Welcker with great probability refers the allusion in the line (861) κλειναί τ᾽ Ἀθῆναι καὶ τὸ σύντροφον γένος. If the tribe furnished the chorus, the local application would be still more pointed.
- 1162. σώσας μὲν ἐχθρῶν τήνδε Καδμείων χθὁνα Λαβών τε χώρας παντελῆ μοναρχίαν: that is, as he himself says, (174) γένους κατ᾽ ἀγχιστεῖα τῶν ὀλωλότων.
- 79. τὸ δὲ Βία πολιτῶν δρᾶν, ἒφυν ἀμήχανος.
- σοφόν τι τὸ μηχανόεν τέχνας ὑπὲρ ἐλπὶδ᾽ ἔχων, ποτὲ μὲν κακὸν, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἐπ ᾽ἐσθλὸν ἕρπει· νόμους παρείρων χθονός, θεῶν τ᾽ ἐνόρκων δίκαν, ὑψίπολις· ἄπολισ, ὅτῳ τὸ μὴ καλὸν ξύνεστι, τόλμας χάριν· μήτ᾽ ἐμοὶ παρέστιος γὲνοιτο, μήτ᾽ ἴσον φρονῶν, ὃς τάδ᾽ ἔρδει.
- The Chorus first attempts to console Antigone by reminding her of her fame (817): οὐκοῦὴ κλεινὴ καὶ ἔπαινον ἔχουσ᾽ Ἐς τόδ᾽ ἀπέρχῃ κεῦθος νεκύων: and then answers her complaints by suggesting her fault (853): προβᾶσ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἔσχατον θράσους ὑψηλὸν ἐς Δίκας βάθρον προσέπεσες, ὦ τέκνον, πολύ· and again (872) σέβειν μὲν εὐσέβειά τις· κράτος δ᾽ ὅτῳ κράτος μέλει, παραβατὸν οὐδαμῃ πέλει, σὲ δ᾽ αὐτόγνωτος ὤλεσ᾽ ὀργά.
- Mr Campbell very needlessly and groundlessly conjectures that Sophocles possessed considerable military experience when he was elected to the office.
- 519. Αντ. Ὅμως ὅ γ᾽ Ἅιδης τοὺς νόμους τούτους ποθεῖ. Κρ. Ἀλλ᾽ οὐχ ὁ χρηστὸς τῷ κακῷ λαχεῖν ἴσος. Αντ. Τίς οἶδεν, εἰ κάτωθεν εὐαγῆ τάδε;
- 1487. κτανὼν πρόθες Ταφεῦσιν, ὧν τόνδ᾽ εἰκὸς ἐστὶ τυγχάνειν.
- 1197. οὐδέποτ᾽, οὐδέποτ᾽, ἴσθι τόδ᾽ ἔμπεδον, κ. τ. λ.
- 117. Οδ. ὡς τοῦτο γ᾽ ἔρξας, δύο φέρει δωρήματα. Νε. Ποίω; μαθὼν γάρ, οὐκ ἂν ἀρνοίμην τὸ δρᾶν. Οδ. Σοφός τ᾽ ἂν αὐτὸς κἀγαθὸς κεκλῇ ἅμα.
- Hence with the god of craft he invokes the goddess of political prudence, his peculiar patroness: (133) Ἕρμης δ᾽ ὁ πέμπων Δόλιος ἡγήσαιτο νῷν, Νίκη τ᾽ Ἀθάνα Πολιάς, ἣ σὠζει μ᾽ ἀεί.
- "Hodie plerisque fati usus in Græcorum tragœdia necessarius videtur: de quo quum nihil ab Aristotele traditum sit, apparet, quamvis in plerisque tragœdiis Græcorum fato susæ sint partes, tamen scriptores illarum fabularum non cogitavisse de fato." Hermann. Præf. ad Trachinias, p. 7. A little further on he observes: "Qua in re autem illi tragœdiæ naturam positam esse statuerint optime ex Aristotele cognosci potest, qui et ætate iis proximus fuerit, et, ut ipse Græcus, Græcorum more philosophatus est." And so again in the Preface to Philoctetes, p. 11. "Tragici Græcorum eam habebant animo informatam notionem tragœdiæ, quæ est ab Aristotele in libro de arte poetica proposita." Had they then all the same notion of it, and was there no difference between that of Æschylus and those of Sophocles and of Euripides? And if they had, was it sufficient, in order to comprehend it, to be a Greek of nearly the same age, and a philosopher? How many contradictory theories have been proposed on Goethe's poetry by contemporary German metaphysicians! Even Hermann himself has not been universally understood in his own day. Many persons are still persuaded that his treatise De Mythologia Græcorum antiquissima is mere poetry, while the author himself protests that it is plain prose. But, joking apart, if Lord Bacon had written a treatise on the art of poetry, who would now think his judgement conclusive on Shakespeare's notion of tragedy, or on the design and spirit of any of his plays?
- Immermann. Ueber den rasenden Ajax des Sophocles, p. 23: at p. 18. he observes: "the way in which a superior Being steps in, and determines the hero's destiny, is irreconcilable with our presumptions (Ahnungen) about the supreme government of human affairs."