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anti-Laconian or war party. The seniors among them had seen how the lowest classes of the people had gradually been creeping into power since the fight for freedom at Salamis, where the meanest Athenian earned the gratitude of Greece;* and they could not close their eyes to the alarming fact, that, year by year, as the war crept on, legislative power was becoming more firmly fixed in the hands of the lowest of the populace. The continuance of the war was essential to the success of the democratic party -to the existence of the demagogues-to the elevating the mercantile above the agricultural interests. "It was a war, (eloquently remarks Mr. Mitchell),† not merely between Greek and Greek, but a war of all opposite and contending principles, of Dorians against Ionians, in every possible contrast of manners, habits, blood, and religious faith; it was the maintenance of ancient custom as opposed to the desire of novelty; it was aristocracy against democracy, and the combination of free Greeks against the evil ambition of one State." The one party depended upon the contingents of their neighbouring allies, the other on the forced contributions of their dependents. The one party relied on their land forces, the majority of whom were free citizens, educated, well-born, and noble; the other on their numerous Triremes, where, save the few Hoplites who were embarked and the officers, all were low-the lowest dregs of the port of the Piræus. It was faith opposed to force, blood against muscle. Every successive year of war disclosed to the "benchtied" populace their increased value; and they rose proportionably in their demands. Fearful of being driven from office, the ministry of the day gave in, year after year, to their clamour, until at last came on that universal plethocracy which subverted Athens and her constitution.
So late as the sixth year of the war, a motion for peace would have been drowned in the ecclesia. It was through the medium of the stage alone that the anti-war party could hope to lead the minds of the excited people to the desired end. Five years of invasion, rapine, plague, and death, had passed over the devoted city, and still the cry arose "let the war go on."§ The sixth || year broke the solemn silence, and, as far as
* Aristotle tells us in his politics, that the exertions of the dregs of the populace, in the sea fights against the Persians, gained them that very sudden ascendancy which eventually overthrew their country.
Introduction to Acharnians. † Ὁ θρανίτης λεὼς. Acharnians. § ο πολέμος ερπέτω. Thuc. lib. ii.
It may have been earlier; but from the loss of the Dotaleis and Babylonians we cannnot affix an earlier date with any degree of certainty.
we can judge, the author of the "Acharnians" first raised the cry of Peace! Peace! This note once sounded, its fearless utterer ceased not to deride and ridicule the successes of the war party; to depict the baneful effects of each successive campaign on Athens and her resources, and to solicit, again and again, amnesty, truce, and peace, with their co-adjutors in the great work of liberating Greece.
These political exhortations, allusions, and caricaturings, we believe, are to be clearly traced in "The Acharnians," "The Knights," "The Peace," and "The Birds," of Aristophanes. That reconciliation with Sparta, and the lessening the power of Cleon, were the aim and end of the three first will be readily conceded; but when we claim for the last a definite political aim and purpose, we are bound to make good our position against one who holds the first of places among dramatic critics-the learned Schlegel, by whom the charge of purposelessness is not confined to this or that play; but is brought against the whole comic drama of Greece, "ab ovo usque ad mala.' "In modern comedy* (says Schlegel), the form of representation is itself earnest, that is, regularly tied down to a fixed and certain purpose. In the old comedy, on the contrary, it is mirthful-a seeming purposelessness and arbitrary caprice seems to prevail throughout; the entire poem is one great jest." Finding this dictum rather inconsistent with his own views of such of the plays of our author as are generally called the political, such as the "Acharnians," "Knights" and "Peace," the Professor lays down another law to meet the case, when he adds "The work certainly may, nay must have a main object; but that the comic spirit may not evaporate, this same object must be turned into sport, and the impression must be done away with by foreign admixtures of every kind." It is hardly worth while to delay long on this latter dictum, when we consider the almost entire absence of strictly adventitious matter in the comedies before mentioned but let us rather pass on to those plays which seem to be amena ble to the first dictum of censure, the utterly purposeless plays, the "Birds" and "Wasps" of our author. Against these dramas the especial bolts of the Schlegelian school have been launched; the latter of the two has been defended with the usual success by Mr. Mitchell. May we be half as successful in our defence of the former.
"The Birds of Aristophanest (says Schlegel), sparkle with the boldest and richest imagination in the province of the fan
* Lectures on Dramatic Literature, Part I.
tastically marvellous; it is a merry, buoyant creation, bright with the gayest plumage." "I cannot agree (continues the Professor) with the ancient critic who conceives the main portion of the work to consist in the most universal and unreserved satire on the corruptions of the Athenian State, nay, of all constitutions in general: say, rather, it is a piece of harmless buffoonery, which has a touch at everything, gods as well as men, but without anywhere pressing to any particular object." This dictum passed as good law until the year 1827, when another of the professors of that professor-ridden land, rushed to the defence of "The Birds," raised his scheme in opposition to the Schlegelian, and volunteered to prove this piece of harmless buffoonery to be nothing less than the "most ingenious and elaborate of the political comedies of Aristophanes." Its chief aim, according to that learned doctor, was to ridicule the preposterous expectations entertained by the Athenians as to the consequences of the too famous Sicilian expedition, if (as they had determined it should be) successful. Its collateral object was to exhibit to the public eye a view of the extreme corruption, perversity, and vanity of Athenian life and manners; particularly the licentiousness of the demagogue, and the culpable ease with which the people, from their being ever intent on the extension of their dominion, allowed themselves to be carried away to new and adventurous schemes by the fallacious reasoning of the orators of the ecclesia. In this drama the matter is so delicately interwoven with its poetical dress, that we must not be surprised if the thread by which the meaning of its airy tissue is to be unravelled should have escaped the observation of so many of the commentators. The success of the last attempt we must now consider.
According to the fable, two Athenians, Peisthetairos and Euelpides, disgusted with the vices and follies of their countrymen, set out in search of some fair terra incognita, and under the pilotage of a jackdaw and a crow, arrive at Birdland, in order to obtain from the omni-volant king some information as to a snug, out-of-the-way berth. Epops, the late King of Thrace, and now the triple-crested King of Birdland, being unable to satisfy these fastidious adventurers, the principal Athenian, Peisthetairos, proposes to the king a wondrous joint-stock scheme, whereby the birds may, with the help of men, be reinstated in their ancient sovereignty which they held before the creation of Jupiter, and the other new comers, at Olympus. "Build," he says, "a vast ornitho-anthropo-metropolis in mid-air, intercept the odour of the sacrifices on their way from earth to heaven, and starve these new gods into resigning their usurped
dominions to its ancient possessors." Epops, overjoyed at the grand idea, first calls up his wife to his councils, and then proceeds to summon* a full ecclesia of his subjects. In they pour
* When we were schoolboys, we remember being led towards our author by some very neat translations of parts of this play, executed by a fellow-scholar, now a most diligent labourer in the Church. Without interrupting the story, we will subjoin some of the most elegant of his labours.
To begin with the ode by which Epops calls his ecclesia :
"Hoopoe, popo, popoo, popoo,
Come, come, come, come, come.
Come hither, come hither, ye birds of the air,
Ye who feed on the mountain, or feed on the plain,
All ye on the greensward who hop or who sit,
Fly ye hither, oh! fly ye to me;
Whistle and sing,
"Till the wide woods ring;
Twitter twit, twitter twit, twit, twit, twit."
One more, the generation of the birds from the Parabasis :-
When night, the dark-wing'd shade, a monstrous wind egg laid,
And lovely Eros then, in months some nine or ten,
So glittering off he past, swift as the echoing blast,
Dusky chaos then he kiss'd, amid Tartarus' black mist,
And our race was the fruit of their marriage.
Thus of elder birth are we, than heaven, or earth, or sea;
The gods themselves must yield, vanquished must quit the field,
They were born-aye-after love divided heaven above,
But we ere the sun took his station.
For the blessings of man's days, to us is due the praise,
For our own private reasons, we're the heralds of the seasons,
from every clime under heaven-long-billed, short-billed, and no bill at all; with tails and without; crested and bald, until the whole stage is filled with this most original and ancient ornithological society. The project is discussed and, after considerable hesitation, adopted by the society: the name of the city is chosen, the presiding deity elected, each tribe of birds receives its orders, and the foundation of the circuit of the walls is forthwith commenced. During the departure of the working birds to their posts, Peisthetairos proceeds to the dedication of the new city, and is successively interrupted by a poet with ready-made verses, a geometrician with round and square plans, a legislator with a code of liberal laws, and an inspector all eyes; all and each of them eager for employment in the new city and state of Nephelococcygia. On account of these interruptions, Peisthetairos retires from the stage, to complete within doors the oft-interrupted dedicatory sacrifice.
During his absence the birds proceed to chaunt the glories of their dominion of old, and the advantages to accrue to mankind on their return to office. Peisthetairos returns with his hands full of business; he has to give orders, to hear the report of the building committee, to place proper guards; in short, to do all the work of projector, architect, king, lords, commons, and executive. In the midst of all his troubles, in rushes a breathless messenger to tell how that Iris, disregarding watchword and countersign, has broken through the city on her way from heaven to earth. Pursued and caught, the bold intrudress is questioned by Peisthetairos, declares her journey to be earthward, its object to demand the instant renewal of sacrificial-vapour supplies, denounces Jove's vengeance against the rebels, and, unable to resist the strong claws of the birds, flies "back again." The herald sent to earth by Peisthetairos,
Why the farmer sows his grain, when for Libya starts the crane,
Then the winter's cold is near, and then robbers may ye fear,
When the kite sails into Greece, ye must shear the woolly fleece,
Strip the flocks of their warm winter coats;
But a summer vest now buy, for the swallow sails on high,
Your deity, old Jove, sits the world so far above
Be he king of his own cloudy regions,
We'll be your gods on earth-from the moment of your birth,
Long life, and youth, and health, wit, feasting, dancing, wealth,