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with infinite cleverness and good sense, the quibbling sophistry, the rhetorical display and philosophical cant; the immorality and debauching softness, the excitement of mere animal emotion. As our modern judges of poetry have for the most part set Aristophanes down as no better than an exaggerating slanderous buffoon, and had no notion of eliciting from his sportive mummeries the truths which lie beneath, it is no wonder they have given small heed to his voice.
But after all, it must be remembered that Euripides was nevertheless a Greek, and contemporary too with many of Greece's most famous names in politics, philosophy, history, and the fine arts. If, when compared with his predecessors, he must rank far below them, he in his turn appears great beside many modern poets. He is particularly strong in his delineations of a soul diseased, misguided, franticly abandoned to its passions. He is excellent where the subject leads mainly to pathos and urges no higher claims; still more so, where the pathos itself requires moral beauty. Few of his works are without passages of ravishing beauty. Indeed, it is by no means my intention to deny him astonishing talent: I only affirn that it was not coupled with a mind supremely reverencing the strictness of moral principle and the sacredness of religious feelings.
The relation which Euripides bears to his two great predecessors will be set in the clearest light by a comparison between their three plays, which happily are still extant, upon the same subject, namely, Clytæmnestra's death by the avenging hand of Orestes.
The scene of Æschylus' Choëphoræ is laid in front of the royal palace; the tomb of Agamemnon appears on the stage. Orestes enters with his trusty Pylades, and opens the play (which unhappily is somewhat mutilated at the beginning) with a prayer to Mercury and a promise of revenge to his father, to whom he consecrates a lock of his hair. He sees a procession of females clad in mourning attire issuing from the palace; and thinking he recognizes his sister among them, he steps aside with Pylades, to reconnoitre them before he shows himself. The Chorus, consisting of captive Trojan maidens, in a speech accompanied by gestures of woe, reveal the occasion of their mission to Agamemnon's tomb, namely, a frightful dream of
Clytæmnestra's: they add their own dark presentiments of vengeance impending over the blood-guilty pair, and bewail their lot in being obliged to serve unrighteous lords. Electra consults the Chorus whether she shall do the bidding of her hostile mother, or pour out the offering in silence, and then by their advice she too addresses a prayer to infernal Mercury and the soul of her father, for herself and the absent Orestes, that he may appear as the avenger. During the pouring out of the libation, she and the Chorus make a lament for the departed hero. Presently, discovering the lock of hair, of a colour resembling her own, and foot-prints round about the tomb, she lights upon the conjecture that her brother has been there; and while she is beside herself with joy at the thought, he steps forward, and makes himself known. Her doubts he completely overcomes by producing a garment woven by her own hand; they abandon themselves to their joy; he addresses a prayer to Jupiter, and makes known how Apollo, under most terrible menaces of persecution by his father's furies, has called upon him to destroy the authors of Agamemnon's death, in the same manner as they had destroyed him, namely, by subtilty. Now follow odes of the Chorus and Electra, consisting partly of prayers to the deceased king and to the infernal deities, partly calling to mind all the motives to the act enjoined upon Orestes, and, above all, the murder of Agamemnon. Orestes inquires about the vision which induced Clytæmnestra to send the offerings, and is informed that she dreamed she had a child in the cradle, which child was a dragon which she laid to her breast, and suckled with her own blood. He, then, will be this dragon; and he explains more particularly how he will steal into the house as a disguised stranger, and take both Ægisthus and herself at unawares. With this intention he departs, accompanied by Pylades. The subject of the ensuing ode is, the boundless audacity of mankind, and especially of women in their unlawful passions; which it confirms with dreadful examples from mythic story, and shows how avenging Justice is sure to overtake them at last. Orestes, returning as a stranger with Pylades, craves admission into the palace; Clytæmnestra comes out, and being informed by him that Orestes is dead, at which tidings Electra makes a show of lamentation, she invites him to enter and be her guest. After a short prayer of the Chorus, enters Orestes' nurse, and makes a lament for her nursling; the Chorus inspires her with a hope that he yet lives, and advises her to send Ægisthus, for whom Clytæmnestra has dispatched her, not with, but without, his body-guard. As the moment of danger draws near, the Chorus offers a petition to Jupiter and Mercury that the deed may prosper. Ægisthus enters, holding conversation with the messenger, cannot yet quite persuade himself of an event so joyful to him as Orestes' death, and therefore hastens into the house, where, after a short prayer of the Chorus, we hear his dying cry. A servant rushes out, and gives the alarm before the door of the women's abode, to warn Clytæmnestra. She hears it, comes out, calls for a hatchet to defend herself; but as Orestes without a moment's delay advances upon her with the bloody sword, her courage fails, and most affectingly she holds before him the breast at which she, his mother, suckled him. Hesitatingly he asks counsel of Pylades, who in a few lines urges him on by the most powerful considerations : after a brief dialogue of accusation and self-vindication, he drives her before him into the palace to slay her beside the corpse of Ægisthus. The Chorus, in a solemn ode, exults in the consummated retribution. The great doors of the palace are thrown open, and disclose, in the chamber, the slain pair laid together on a bed. Orestes orders the servants to unfold, that all may see it, the long trailing garment in which his father, as he drew it on and was muffled in its folds, received the murderous stroke of the axe: the Chorus beholds on it the stains of blood, and breaks out into lamentation for Agamemnon's murder. Orestes, feeling that his soul is already becoming confused, avails himself of the time that is still left to vindicate his act: he declares that he will repair to Delphi, there to be purified from his blood-guiltiness, and forthwith flees, full of horror, before his mother's Furies, whom the Chorus does not yet see, and deem a phantom of his brain, but who leave him no more rest. The Chorus concludes the play with a reflection on the scene of murder thrice repeated in that royal house since the Thyestean banquet.
The scene of Sophocles' Electra is also laid in front of the palace, but without Agamemnon's tomb. At day-break enter as from abroad, Pylades, Orestes, and his keeper, who on that bloody day had been his preseryer. The latter gives him
instructions, as he introduces him to the city of his fathers : Orestes replies with a speech upon the commission given him by Apollo, and the manner in which he means to execute it, and then addresses a prayer to the gods of his native land, and to the house of his fathers. Electra is heard sobbing within ; Orestes wishes to greet her immediately, but the old man leads him away to present an offering at the grave of his father. Electra comes out; in a pathetic address to heaven she pours forth her griefs, and, in a prayer to the infernal deities, her unappeased longing for revenge. The Chorus, consisting of virgins of the land, approaches to administer consolation. Electra, alternating song and speech with the Chorus, makes known her unabatable sorrow, the contumely of her oppressed life, her hopelessness on account of Orestes' many lingerings, notwithstanding her frequent exhortations, and gives faint hearing to the encouraging representations made by the Chorus. Chrysothemis, Clytæmnestra's younger, more submissive, and favourite daughter, comes with a grave-offering, which she is commissioned to bear to her father's sepulchre. An altercation arises between the sisters concerning their different sentiments: Chrysothemis tells Electra that Ægisthus, now absent in the country, has come to the severest resolutions respecting her; to which the other bids defiance. Then she proceeds to relate how Clytæmnestra has had a dream that Agamemnon was come to life again, and planted his sceptre in the floor of the house, whence there sprang up a tree that overshadowed the whole land; whereby she was so terrified, that she commissioned her to be the bearer of this grave-offering. Electra advises her not to regard the commands of her wicked mother, but to offer at the tomb a prayer for herself, her brother and sister, and for the return of Orestes to take vengeance: she adds to the oblation her own girdle and a lock of her hair. Chrysothemis promises to follow her advice and departs. The Chorus augurs from the dream that retribution is nigh, and traces back the crimes committed in this house to the arch-sin of its first founder, Pelops. Clytæmnestra chides her daughter, to whom, however, perhaps from the effect of the dream, she is milder than usual: she justifies what she did to Agamemnon; Electra attacks her on that score, but without violent altercation on either side. After this, Clytamnestra, standing beside the altar in front of the house, addresses
her prayer to Apollo for welfare and long life, and secretly for the destruction of her son. Now enters the keeper of Orestes, and, in the character of messenger from a Phocian friend, announces the death of Orestes, entering withal into the most minute details, how he lost his life at the chariot-race in the Pythian games. Clytämnestra scarcely conceals her exultation, although at first a touch of maternal feeling comes over her, and she invites the messenger to partake of the hospitality of her house. Electra, in touching speeches and songs, abandons herself to her grief; the Chorus in vain attempts to console her. Chrysothemis returns from the tomb overjoyed, with the assurance that Orestes is near at hand, for she has found there the lock of his hair, his drink-offering, and wreaths of flowers, Electra's despair is renewed by this account; she tells her sister the dreadful tidings which have just arrived, and calls upon her, now that no other hope is left them, to take part with her in a daring deed, and put Ægisthus to death; this proposal Chrysothemis, not possessing the courage, rejects as foolish, and, after a violent altercation, goes into the house. The Chorus
a bewails Electra now so utterly desolate; Orestes enters with Pylades and some servants who bear the urn which, it is pretended, contains the ashes of the dead youth. Electra prevails upon him by her entreaties to give it into her hands, and laments over it in the most touching speeches; by which Orestes is so overcome, that he can no longer conceal himself: after some preparation, he makes himself known to her, and confirms the discovery by showing her the signet-ring of their father. She gives vent, in speech and song, to her unbounded joy, until the old man comes out, rebukes them both for their imprudence, and warns them to refrain themselves. Electra with some difficulty recognizes in him the faithful servant to whom she had entrusted Orestes for preservation, and greets him thankfully. By the old man's advice, Orestes and Pylades hastily betake themselves with him into the house to surprise Clytæmnestra while she is yet alone. Electra offers a prayer in their behalf to Apollo: the ode of the Chorus announces the moment of retribution. From within the house is heard the shriek of the dismayed Clytæmnestra, her brief entreaties, her wailings under the deathblow. Electra, from without, calls upon Orestes to finish the deed : he comes out with bloody hands. The Chorus sees