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Carmine qui tragico vilem certavit ob hircum,
The tragic bard, a goat his humble prize,
Satire, then, was originally a clownish dialogue in loose iambics, so called because the actors were disguised like satyrs, who not only recited the praises of Bacchus, or some other deity, but interspersed their hymns with sarcastic jokes and altercation. Of this kind is the Cyclop of Euripides, in which Ulysses is the principal actor. The Romans also had their Atellanæ or interludes of the same nature, so called from the city of Atella, where they were first acted; but these were highly polished in comparison of the original entertainment, which was altogether rude and innocent. Indeed, the Cyclop itself, though composed by the accomplished Euripides, abounds with such impurity as ought not to appear on the stage of any civilized nation.
It is very remarkable, that the Atellanæ, which were in effect tragi-comedies, grew into such esteem among the Romans, that the performers in these pieces enjoyed several privileges which were refused to the ordinary actors. They were not obliged to unmask, like the other players, when their action was disagreeable to the audience. They were admitted into the army, and enjoyed the privileges of free citizens, without incurring that disgrace which was affixed to the characters of other actors.' The poet Laberius, who was of equestrian order, being pressed by Julius Cæsar to act a part in his own performance, complied with great reluctance, and complained of the dishonour he had incurred in his prologue preserved by Macrobius, which is one of the most elegant morsels of antiquity.
Tragedy and comedy flowed from the same fountain, though their streams were soon divided. The same entertainment which under the name of tragedy, was rudely exhibited by clowns, for the prize of a goat, near some rural altar of Bacchus, assumed the appellation of comedy when it was transferred into cities, and represented with a little more decorum in a cart or waggon that strolled from street to street, as the name xwuwdía implies, being derived from záun a street, and wds a poem. To this origin Horace alludes in these lines:
Dicitur et plaustris vexisse poemata Thespis,
Thespis, inventor of dramatic art,
Thespis is called the inventor of the dramatic art, because he raised the subject from clownish altercation to the character and exploits of some hero : he improved the language and versification, and relieved the chorus by the
' Cum artem ludicram, scenamque totam probro ducerent genus id hominum non modo honore civium reliquorum carere, sed etiam tribu moveri notatione censoria voluerunt.Cic. apud S. Aug. de Civit. Dei.
dialogue of two actors. This was the first advance towards that consummation of genius and art which constitutes what is now called a perfect tragedy. The next great improver was Æschylus, of whom the same critic says,
Post hunc personæ pallæque repertor honestæ
Then Æschylus a decent vizard used;
· The dialogue which Thespis introduced was called the episode, because it was an addition to the former subject, namely, the praises of Bacchus; so that now tragedy consisted of two distinct parts, independent of each other; the old recitative, which was the chorus, sung in honour of the gods; and the episode, which turned upon the adventures of some hero. This episode being found very agreeable to the people, Æschylus, who lived about half a century after Thespis, still improved the drama, united the chorus to the episode, so as to make them both parts or members of one fable, multiplied the actors, contrived the stage, and introduced the decorations of the theatre; so that Sophocles, who succeeded Æschylus, had but one step to surmount in order to bring the drama to perfection. Thus tragedy was gradually detached from its original institution, which was entirely religious. The priests of Bacchus loudly complained of this innovation by means of the episode, which was foreign to the intention of the chorus; and hence arose the proverb of Nihil ad Dionysium, « Nothing to the purpose.» Plutarch himself mentions the
episode as a perversion of tragedy from the honour of the gods to the passions of men. But, notwithstanding all opposition, the new tragedy succeeded to admiration ; because it was found the most pleasing vehicle of conveying moral truths, of meliorating the heart, and extending the interests of humanity.
Comedy, according to Aristotle, is the younger sister of tragedy. As the first originally turned upon the praises of the gods, the latter, dwelt on the follies and vices of mankind. Such, we mean, was the scope of that species of poetry which acquired the name of comedy, in contradiction to the tragic muse; for in the beginning they were the same. The foundation upon which comedy was built, we have already explained to be the practice of satirical repartee or altercation, in which individuals exposed the follies and frailties of each other on public occasions of worship and festivity.
The first regular plan of comedy is said to have been the Margites of Homer, exposing the idleness and folly of a worthless character; but of this performance we have no remains. That division which is termed the ancient comedy, belongs to the labours of Eupolis, Cratinus, and Aristophanes, who were contemporaries, and flourished at Athens about four hundred and thirty years before the Christian era. Such was the license of the muse at this period, that far from lashing vice in general characters, she boldly exhibited the exact portrait of every individual who had rendered himself remarkable or notorious by his crimes, folly, or debauchery. She assumed every circumstance of his external appearance, his very attire, air, manner, and even his name'; according to the observation of Horace,
The comic poets, in its earliest age,
Eupolis is said to have satirized Alcibiades in this manner, and to have fallen a sacrifice to the resentment of that powerful Athenian; but others say he was drowned in the Hellespont, during a war against the Lacedemonians; and that in consequence of this accident the Athenians passed a decree, that no poet should ever bear arms.
The comedies of Cratinus are recommended by Quintilian for their eloquence; and Plutarch tells us, that even Pericles himself could not escape the censure of this poet.
Aristophanes, of whom there are eleven comedies still extant, enjoyed such a pre-eminence of reputation, that the Athenians by a public decree honoured him with a crown made of a consecrated olive-tree, which grew in the citadel, for his care and success in detecting and exposing the vices of those who governed the commonwealth. Yet this poet, whether impelled by mere wantonness of genius, or actuated by malice and envy, could not refrain from employing the shafts of his ridicule against Socrates, the most venerable character of Pagan antiquity. In the comedy of the Clouds, this virtuous philosopher was exhibited on the stage under his own name, in a cloak exactly resembling that which Socrates wore, in a mask modelled