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tions of Greeks and barbarians, at the rising and setting of the two great luminaries, had either seen or heard that this persuasion was common to all people-he was now told to give up all these notions, fitted only for the capacities of dreaming ignorance and anile superstition. He was assured in broad open day, in the sight of that sun, which he saw rising every day to run his glorious course, and in the face of that earth, which he beheld covered with flowers as well as fruit, that of three things he might console himself with one; either that there were no gods, or that if there were, they took no cognizance of human affairs, or that if they did, their connivance could be gained and their vengeance appeased by returning to them some of the lowest of their own gifts; a bull, an ox, a sheep, a little incense, or a few grains of salt. By what arguments these doctrines were supported, we have neither time nor patience to mention; and those by which they were refuted, it is not surely necessary, at this time of day, to repeat; but one argument, however uselessly it was urged, is too honourable to human nature to be altogether omitted; and some among ourselves may, perhaps, mutatis mutandis, receive benefit from the ideas of an unassisted and uninspired heathen. My son, (this better voice whispered to the unfortunate victim of superficial education and devilish sophistry,) you are yet young time will make an alteration in your opinions; and of many, which you now strongly maintain, you will hereafter advocate the very reverse: wait, therefore, till time has made you a judge of matters, so deep and so important in their nature. For that which you now think of no consequence, is in fact the concern of the very highest importance; viz. the direction of life to good or bad purposes, by corresponding investigations into the nature of the heavenly powers. One thing and that not trivial, I can at least venture, in all the confidence of truth, to assure you respecting them; the opinions, which you now entertain, are not solitary opinions, first originated by you or your friends; they are opinions, which, at all times, have found advocates, more or less in number; but I speak the language of experience when I say that not one of those who in their youth had been led to think that there were no gods, has found his old age consistent in opinion with that of his more juvenile years." ** Alas! to many of these persons such an old age never came and if the natural consequences of these damnable lessons sometimes brought moments of anguish and remorse, the effect of such feelings, when the great doctrine of Repentance had not yet been promulgated, was only to plunge the pupil into
* Plat. de Leg. 1. x. p. 665.
deeper sins, that he might get rid of the terrors of an upbraiding
In laying open to our readers the manners and the doctrines of the Sophists we have been led, almost unawares, into a length, which may seem to have drawn us from the purpose for which these remarks were designed; but humour depends for its relish very frequently upon knowledge-knowledge not acquired at the moment, but fixed in the mind, and asking little explanation; for nobody, says a French critic, laughs, when there is need of an explanation to tell him, why he ought to laugh. It is only an intimate acquaintance with the state of manners, and the habits of society in the upper classes of society in Athens, which can give the reader a full idea of the Clouds of Aristophanes. It is then only that the full force of many of his single happy words can be understood, or those images raised in the mind, which mere words are sometimes calculated to light up. But our purpose must still lie by a little longer. Some doubt has been thrown on the veracity of the author, from whose writings these remarks have chiefly been suggested or collected; and an agreeable compiler, well known to scholars, would wish us to believe, that the master of the Academy acted the same part by the sophists of his day, as Aristophanes did by the great originator of the Grecian moral philosophy. The Dialogues of Plato do certainly, by the introduction of living characters, speaking freely and unreservedly, approach the nearest of any thing which antiquity has left us, to the modern novel, that dangerous species of literature, which has opened all the recesses of the heart, and left none of those sanctuaries unvisited into which a person's own thoughts should fear to penetrate. But, without adverting to the difference of manners between the Greeks and ourselves, without shewing that Athenæus, in attacking the character of Plato for veracity, has left his own reputation for truth in an awkward predicament; after admitting, in its fullest extent, the literary jealousy of Plato, which could bear no rival near his throne, it will be sufficient to say that we possess other means of establishing the truth of his observations. If such dark and malignant spirits, as Plato describes, had been at work with such doctrines as he details, their effects would be pretty visible in the annals of the times; for what is history but the register of opinion converted into fact? and how read we? what says the great contemporary chronicler? About this time,' says Thucydides, (and he is speaking of the period which immediately preceded the representation of the Clouds,) the received value of names imposed for signification of things, began to be changed into arbitrary: for inconsiderate boldness was counted true-hearted manliness; prudent deliberation, a handsome fear; modesty, the T 4
cloak of cowardice; to be wise in every thing, to be lazy in every thing. A furious suddenness was reputed a point of valour. To re-advise for the better security, was held for a fair pretext of tergiversation. He that was fierce, was always trusty; and he that contraried such a one, was suspected. He that laid a snare, if it took, was a wise man; but he whose forecast discovered a snare laid, a more dangerous man than he: he that had been so prudent, as not to need to do the one or the other, was said to be a dissolver of society, and one that stood in fear of his adversary. In brief, he that could outstrip another in the doing of an ill act, or that could persuade another thereto, that never meant it, was commended. To be kin to another, was less binding than to be of his Society or Company; because these were ready to undertake the most hazardous enterprizes, and that without any pretext. For Societies* were not made upon prescribed laws of profit, but for rapine, contrary to the laws established. And as for mutual trust amongst them, it was confirmed not so much by oaths or divine law, as by the communication of guilt. And what was well advised of their adversaries, they received with an eye to their actions, to see whether they were too strong for them, or not, and not ingenuously. To be revenged was in more request, than never to have received injury. And for oaths (when any were) of reconcilement, being administered in the present for necessity, they were of force to such as had otherwise no power: but upon opportunity, he that first durst, thought his revenge sweeter by the trust, than if he had taken the open way. For they did not only put to account the safeness of that course, but having circumvented their adversary by fraud, they assumed to themselves with all, a mastery in point of wit. And dishonest men for the most part are sooner called able, than simple men honest. And men are ashamed of this title, but take a pride in the other. The cause of all this is desire of rule, out of avarice and ambition, and the zeal of contention from those two proceding. Thus was wickedness on foot in every kind, throughout all Greece, and sincerity (whereof there is much in a generous nature) was laughed down.'+
A Tragedy of manners, thus fearful, wanted a Gracioso to relieve some of its more sombre scenes, and the character was supplied in Aristophanes.
To dispel by the powerful weapon of ridicule these mists of error,—to give a finished picture of a man as he was likely to come from the hands of the Sophists,-to rescue the young men of
• By societies are here meant companies united under certain laws for the more profitable management of their trades or arts.
+ Hobbes's Trans. of Thucydides, lib. iii. 198. Fol. ed.
family from the hands of such flagitious preceptors, and restore them to that noble simplicity of manners, which had prevailed in Greece in the time of Homer, and which had not entirely disappeared even in the days of Herodotus, was unquestionably the object of the Clouds ;-it was a task of no ordinary kind, but the author has accomplished his purpose in one of those immortal dialogues, which, wrapped up in his own rich, mellifluous and inimitable versification, remains, to the moderns, like so many of the other great works of antiquity, at once an object of admiration and despair. If the mode* in which this admirable dialogue was conveyed, be such as to detract in our eyes somewhat from its merit, it must be remembered, that the persons for whose service it was intended, were not likely to be present at the recital of it, and that the reproof could only be dealt at second hand through the medium of a clever, but noisy, conceited, and riotous mob, who required some compensation for having the merriment of their bacchanalian anniversary disturbed by satires upon the system of public education.-It now remained for the author to give a central figure to his piece; and the same regard to the quality of his audience, seems to have guided him also, in this stage of his progress.
About the time when the play, called the Clouds, was brought before a public audience, a person was seen in all the streets and public places of Athens, whose appearance, manners and doctrines, equally tended to excite observation.+ If not a sophist himself, he was continually among them; and as he made no scruple to practise upon them the arts which they practised upon others, it is no wonder that an almost general opinion should have considered him as one of the profession; as a sophist more honest indeed than the rest, but in talent, in vanity, and self-conceit surpassing them all. Like the sophists and philosophers, he had given himself deeply and unremittedly to physical researches: and in a temperament naturally melancholy, it had produced such an effect upon his countenance and manners, that by the gayer part of his fellow-citizens, who wanted opportunities of knowing him more intimately, an introduction to his society was considered as something like venturing into the sombre cavern of Trophonius. And certainly there were not wanting reasons for forming such an opinion. Wrapt up in profound reveries, the
There can be little doubt, from the words of the scholiast, that the embodied Logo, or representatives of the two struggling and opposite sets of opinions in Athens, on the subjects of religion, manners, morals, music, &c. were exhibited to the audience, as two fighting cocks, in large wicker cages.
Plato in Lachete, 246. D. E. F. 250. A. B.
In Phædone, 392. Conv. Xen. 85. Mem. 1. iv. c. 7. Arist. Nub. v. 509.
ordinary functions of nature seemed sometimes suspended in him -the vicissitudes of day* and night passed unobserved, the necessary refections of rest and food were neglected, and he seemed to have derived from his own experience the reproach which he sometimes cast upon the other philosophers, that their native town had only possession of their bodies, but that the air was the chosen habitation of their minds. The pride of knowledge communicated a consequence which contrasted rather ridiculously with the humility of his external appearance; his air was stern,† his step was lofty, and his eyes, if not fixed upon the heavens, were thrown around with an appearance of conscious importance. He was rather ostentatious in proclaiming that his father had been a statuary, his mother a midwife; and he explained, in language highly ingenious, but rather more at length, perhaps, than was consistent with good taste, and certainly in terms which only a degraded state of female estimation would allow to be called decent, that the profession, which his mother had practised, was that which he also pursued; with this difference, that he performed for the intellect, what she had done for the body; and that while she confined her attentions to the female sex, his obstetric services had been devoted exclusively to the male. In his more convivial moments he had a term, by which he chose to characterize his pursuit, that requires still more circumlocution in mentioning; it will be sufficient to say, that it came nearest to that office, which is considered the most degrading that one man can perform for another; and he who had accidentally seen the author of it, coquetting with a grey-bearded brother in philosophy, and aping the manners of a courtezan who denies, only to be courted to do what she wishes,§ might have been justified in thinking, till circumstances had better informed him, that the pretended office was not merely assumed for the purposes of momentary pleasantry. By whatever name, however, he chose to term his vocation, certain it was, that no man could be more assiduous in the prosecution of it. Whoever was the disputant, or whatever the subject of conversation, the discourse finally fell upon the head of the person, with whom he was conversing. Armed with a divine commission, as he pretended for that purpose, and himself under the immediate direction of a supernatural being, not perfectly naturalized in the theology of his country, every man was questioned by him in turn, and found no respite, till he gave a complete ac
* In Convivio. Plat. 316 B. 335 C.
+ In Phæd. 402 B. Conv. Plat. 335 F. in Nub. v. 363. Acibiade primo. 36. In Theæteto, 117.
Conv. Xen. p. 86. The paraphrastic translation of the word Sguærouɛvoç is given from Gray, whose erudition was as exact as his genius was sublime.