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that insolence should be chastised and retribution inflicted for the destruction of Antigone: nothing less than the utter ruin of Creon's whole house and his own despair can be a worthy death-offering for the sacrifice of a life so costly. Therefore the king's wife, hitherto not even mentioned, must appear quite towards the conclusion of the play, merely to hear the tale of woe and make away with herself. To Grecian feelings it would have been impossible to look upon the poem as properly closed by the death of Antigone, without any penal retribution.
The case is similar in Ajax. His arrogance, for which he is punished with dishonourable frenzy, he has atoned for by the deep shame which drives him even to self-murder. Beyond this the persecution of the unhappy man ought not to go; and when some would wish to dishonour his very corpse by the refusal of burial, Ulysses interposes; that same Ulysses whom Ajax accounted his deadly foe, and to whom Minerva in the terrific introductory scene has shown, in the example of the frantic Ajax, the nothingness of mankind : he appears as the personification, so to speak, of that moderation, the possession of which would have saved Ajax from his fall.
Self-murder is of frequent occurrence in the ancient mythology, at least in the tragic transformation of mythology; but it occurs for the most part, if not in madness, yet in a state of passion, after some sudden calamity which leaves no possibility of surviving it. Such self-murders as Jocasta's, Hæmon's, Eurydice's, and lastly Dejanira's, occur only as subordinate accessories in the tragic pictures of Sophocles; the self-murder of Ajax is a deliberate resolve, a free act, and therefore worthy of being the main subject. It is not the last deadly crisis of a creeping sickliness of soul, as is so often the case in these puny modern times; still less, that more theoretical disgust of life, grounded on the conviction of its vanity, which induced many later Romans, on Epicurean as well as Stoical principles, to shorten their days. Through no unmanly faintheartedness does Ajax turn unfaithful to his rude heroism. His delirium is gone by, and so are the first comfortless feelings upon his awaking therefrom: not until after the most complete return to himself, when he measures the depth of the abyss into which his overweening, through a divine decree, has precipitated him, when he surveys his situation and finds it one of irretrievable ruin-his honour wounded by the verdict which refused him the armour of Achilles, the burst of his vindictive resentment turned aside from its aim to fall, in his infatuation, upon defenceless herds, himself, after a long and blameless career as a hero, become to his enemies a diversion, to the Greeks a mockery and an abomination, and to his honoured father, should he thus return to him, a disgrace-not until he has reviewed all this, does he conclude with himself, agreeably to his motto, “gloriously to live, or gloriously to die," that only the last resource is left him. Even the pretence, perhaps the first in his life, by which he pacifies his comrades that he may execute his purpose undisturbed, must be imputed to him as strength of mind. His infant son, the future comfort of his own bereft parents, he commits to Teucer's guardianship, and dies, like Cato, not before he has set in order the affairs of all who belong to him. As Antigone in her womanly tenderness, so he in his wild fashion, seems in his last speech to feel yet the glory of the sunshine, from which he is departing. His rude courage disdains compassion, and excites it all the more irresistibly. What a picture of an awakening from the tumult of passion, as the tent opens, and in the midst of the slaughtered herds he sits on the ground, bewailing himself !
As Ajax, in an indelible sense of shame, flings away his life in the haste of a vehement resolve, so Philoctetes bears its wearisome burden through years of suffering with persevering endurance. As Ajax is ennobled by his despair, so is Philoctetes by his constancy. Where the instinct of self-preservation is not brought into conflict with any moral motive, it must needs display itself in all its strength. Nature has furnished with this instinct all things that breathe, and the energy with which they repel from their life the encounter of all inimical powers, is a proof of their excellence. It is true, in the presence of that human community which has thrust him out, and left dependent on their superior power, Philoctetes would have no more wished to live than Ajax did. But he finds himself alone with Nature face to face; he desponds not because her countenance is to him so forbidding, but forces his way in spite of all to the motherly bosom of that loving
Banished to a desert island, tortured by an incurable wound, lonely and helpless as he is, his bow procures him
sustenance from the birds of the wood, the rock bears soothing medicinal herbs, the fountain offers a fresh beverage, his cave ensures a shelter and coolness in the summer, in the frost of winter the noon-day sun or a fire of kindled boughs warms him, even the raging attacks of his bodily pain must needs at last spend themselves and relax into refreshing slumber. Ah ! the sophisticating refinements, the burdensome languorous superfluity,—these are the things that make men indifferent to the value of life: strip it of all borrowed accessories, overload it with suffering, so that scarcely the naked being remains, and still shall its sweetness flow from the heart with every pulse through all the veins. Poor unfortunate! Ten years he has stood it out, and he lives still, he clings still to life and to hope. What heartfelt truth speaks in all this ! But what affects us most deeply on behalf of Philoctetes is the circumstance, that thrust out from society by an abuse of power, as soon as society again approaches him he has to encounter its second more deadly evil, falsehood. The anxiety the spectator feels lest he should be robbed of his bow, would be too painful, were there not a foreboding from the very first that the open straightforward Neoptolemus will never be able to act out to the end the deceitful part he has learned with such repugnance. Not without reason does the sufferer turn away from mankind to those inanimate companions with whom the instinctive craving for society has made him intimate. He calls upon the island and its volcano to bear witness to this new wrong, he thinks his beloved bow feels pain at being wrested from him; at last he bids farewell, with pathetic emotion, to his hospitable cave, the fountains, even the surge-beaten rock from which he had so often gazed out in vain upon the sea. So loving is the undissipated mind of man.
With respect to Philoctetes' corporeal sufferings and the manner in which they are visibly exhibited, Lessing in his “ Laocoon” controverts Winckelmann; and Herder, again, in his Sylvæ Criticæ (Kritische Wälder) takes part against Lessing. Both upon this occasion have made many otherwise apt remarks, but we must agree with Herder that Winckelmann was right in saying that Sophocles' Philoctetes suffers like Laocoon in the famous group; that is to say, with the suppressed agony of an heroic soul never altogether succumbing.
The Trachinian Women-Schools of Dramatic Art.
The Trachinian Women seems to me so far inferior in value to the other extant plays of Sophocles, that I wished to find something to favour the conjecture, that this tragedy was composed in the age, indeed, and in the school of Sophocles, but by his son lophon, and was by mistake attributed to the father. There are several suspicious circumstances not only in its structure and plan, but even in the style of writing; different critics have already remarked, that the uncalled-for soliloquy of Dejanira at the commencement has not the character of the Sophoclean prologues. Even if, in the general structure, the maxims of this poet are observed, it is but a superficial observance; the profound mind of Sophocles is missing. But as the genuineness of the poem seems never to have been called in question by the ancients, and moreover Cicero confidently quotes the sufferings of Hercules from this drama, as from a work of Sophocles, we must perhaps content ourselves with saying, that the tragedian has in this one instance remained below his usual elevation.
And here a general question arises, which may engage the attention of the critic much more in relation to the works of Euripides : how far the invention and execution of a drama must exclusively emanate from one individual, that he may be considered its author. In Dramatic Literature there are numerous instances of plays composed by several persons jointly. Euripides is known to have availed himself of the help of a learned attendant, Cephisophon, in respect of the details in the composition of his plays; perhaps he laid the plan also in conjunction with him. It seems, at all events, that schools of Dramatic Art had at that time arisen, as indeed they usually do, when poetical talents are called into exercise by public competition, and in great abundance and activity: Schools of Art, which contain scholars so excellent and of such congenial spirit, that the master may entrust them with a part of the composition, nay, even of the plan, and still without any disparagement to his fame, give his name to the whole. Such was the nature of the schools of painters in the sixteenth century, and everybody knows what acuteness of discrimination it requires to make out, for instance in many pictures of Raphael, how much of the work properly emanates from the artist whose name it bears. Sophocles had trained his son lophon to the
tragic art, and therefore might easily receive assistance from him in the actual labour of composition, especially as the tragedies which were to contend for the prize must be finished and rehearsed by a fixed time. Again, in his turn, he might work passages of his own here and there into plays designed by his son, and it was but natural that the poems so resulting, as they exhibited traits of the master-mind which could not be mistaken, would soon obtain currency under the more illustrious name.