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society. We even have complaints that he drew his characters meanly and shabbily, nor is there the smallest hint or suspicion that he drew bright pictures or took sanguine views of human nature. We may, therefore, perfectly trust his kindly attitude to the slave world, on which something has already been said, we may also trust him in his general estimate of the men of his day, who are in his plays with rare exceptions, such as Achilles and Theseus, not gentlemen in our sense, but litigious, mean, quarrelsome and selfish. There is in fact no single hero, in all Euripides' plays, who has laid hold of the imagination of the world like the Ajax and Edipus, or the Philoctetes and Neoptolemus of Sophocles1. No doubt several second rate figures, the peasant in the Electra, the Achilles in the Hecuba, and still more in the Iphigenia in Aulis, the Menelaus in the Helena, are all respectable and brave men: the dialogue of Achilles with Clytemnestra (Iph. Aul. 819 sqq.) is even very gentlemanly, so far as it goes; but considering the great number of heroes in his plays, nothing is more surprising than the want of depth or variety in their natures. Ion is perhaps the purest and most loveable among them, yet it is not depth and greatness, but grace and innocence which makes him so pleasant an exception to the Euripidean heroes. It was surely not for want of striking men, nor for want of striking misfortunes in their lives, that they are so insignificant; we must rather seek the explanation in a peculiarity of the poet himself, who
1 Even here Edipus and Philoctetes are rather heroes of situation than of character.
deliberately preferred to make women his chief study, and who, perhaps owing to the neglect of them in the older tragedy, found here a new field for his genius as well as a new means of advocating an unpopular, but righteous cause. Considering the contemptuous attitude of Thucydides, and the scurrilous one of Aristophanes, his contemporaries, I see in this leading feature of Euripides plain indications of a great social controversy, in which the tragic poet maintained against the aristocrats, that women were no cipher in society, but able to do and to suffer great things 1.
If we take all the plays and fragments of Euripides together, and collect from them a general view of his treatment of women, we shall see that while he is perpetually putting into the speeches of his heroes the most virulent abuse of them, yet the majority of his heroines-nay the great majority of them-are the noblest and best of women. There are in fact very few contemptible and frivolous characters among them, such as his Hermione (in the Andromache), or purely vindictive, like his Medea. Even his much abused Phædra (Hippolytus) is a noble and pure nature, wrestling in vain with a passion directly inflicted by the spiteful Aphrodite who is really the lowest character in all his plays. So Creusa (in the Ion), though she attempts a great crime, is a much injured
1 It seems possible, from the part played by Aspasia in the dialogues of the Socratic Æschines, that she was an advocate of the same cause, and brought women to her house, in order to educate them, and teach them their higher duties. (Cp. Becq de Foucquières' Aspasie de Milet).
and heart-broken woman, with whom we cannot but feel deep sympathy.
But what shall we say of his Alcestis? Where has either Greek or modern literature produced a nobler ideal. She is not, like the Antigone of Sophocles, stimulated by the excitement of altercation with her advisers and opponents, and by the assertion of independence in violating a harsh law. Neither is she, as Sophocles' Antigone seems to be, of too strong and masculine a fibre to yield to the influence of love. Devoted to her husband and children, beloved and happy in her palace, she sacrifices her life calmly and resignedly a life which is not, like Antigone's, encompassed with afflictions, but of all the worth that life can be, and of all the usefulness which makes it precious to noble natures. The narrative of her farewell is one of the finest in Euripides, and I am happy to be able to quote it from a version which all my readers can study-a poet's version of a poet, and no poor prose traduction :
For when she felt the crowning day was come,
Nobly, and stood before the hearth and prayed:
And every altar through Admetus' house
She spoke not to nor had an answer from '.'
If, as I have said, it is agreed on all hands that Euripides took his characters from real life, must there not have been, among the despised and secluded Greek
1 R. Browning, Balaustion's Adventure, pp. 36 sqq. Her parting address to Admetus (pp. 48 sqq.) is equally fine, but I have already made too long a quotation.
women, uneducated and ill-treated as they were, great examples of real heroism, which caught the sympathy of the most tragic of poets? For the Alcestis is no exceptional type, since we have it, under varying circumstances, in the splendid, though little known Macaria of the Heracleida (cp. vv. 474 sqq. especially); we have another modification of it in the better known Polyxena (Hecuba), who is indeed doomed to die, but who meets her death with great nobility; we have the type of Polyxena carried out with infinitely more grace and beauty in the Iphigenia (in Aulis), the poet's last play, and so far as it is genuine, far his greatest and most dramatic piece. For here the innocent girl has been decoyed to Aulis under the pretence of a marriage with Achilles, and only discovers her fatal delusion by an accident. Then follows a great scene, in which the young and happy creature, just blooming into life, begs and entreats for mercy with all that horror of death, which age and troubles can but gradually blunt.
Had I the tongue of Orpheus, O my Sire,