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evening. The actors used partial maskscleverly fitted to the real face; I did not find, notwithstanding the smallness of the theatre, that they occasioned any loss of vivacity of expression. The mask was especially favourable to the jokes of the roguish slave: his grotesque physiognomy, as well as his garb, stamped him at once as a man of a peculiar species, as in fact the slaves were, partly even by extraction, and therefore his speech and gestures might be allowed to differ from those of the others.
From the limited sphere of civil and domestic life, from the simple theme of the assigned characters, the inventive genius of the Greek comedians managed to educe an inexhaustible multiplicity of variations; and yet, which is very praiseworthy, they remained true to the national costume, even in those particulars on which they grounded the artificial complication and unravelment of their plots.
The circumstances of which they availed themselves for this purpose were pretty much as follows. Greece consisted of a number of small separate states, lying round about upon coasts and islands. Navigation was frequent, piracy not uncommon, and one of its objects was a supply of men and women for the slave-trade. Thus freeborn children might be kidnapped, or, in virtue of the rights allowed to parents, they might be exposed, and being unexpectedly preserved, might be subsequently restored to their families. All this forms a groundwork, in the Greek comedies, for the recognition between parents and children, brothers and sisters, and the like; a means of unravelling the plot, which the comedians borrowed from their tragic brethren. The complicated intrigue is played in the scene of the present; but the strange and seemingly-improbable incident, on which its plan is grounded, is thrown back into the distance of place and time, and thus the comedy, though formed out of every-day life, has often a kind of marvellous romantic back-ground.
The Greek comedians were acquainted with Comedy in its whole extent, and wrought with equal diligence upon all its varieties, the play of intrigue, of fine and of exaggerated character, even including the serious drama. They had moreover a very charming species of play, of which no specimen is extant. We learn from the titles of the plays and other indications, that they sometimes introduced historical personages; for
4 These also were not unusual among the ancients, as is proved by a variety of comic masks, which instead of the mouth have a much wider, and circular opening, through which the mouth and adjacent features were displayed, the living distortions of which contrasted with the fixed distortions of the rest of the countenance, no doubt, had a very ludicrous effect.
; instance, the poetess Sappho, with Anacreon's and Alcæus' passion for her, and her's for Phaon; the story of her leap from the Leucadian rock perhaps took its origin solely from the invention of the comedians. In respect of their subject matter, such comedies would approach the style of the romantic drama, and the mixture of beautiful passion with the reposeful grace of the usual comic manner must doubtless have been very attractive.
In what has been said, I think I have given a true picture of the Greek New Comedy. I have not disguised its defects and limitations. The ancient Tragedy, and the Old Comedy, are inimitable, unattainable, unique in the whole domain of art. But in New Comedy we certainly might attempt to compete with the Greeks, nay, even to surpass them. When once we descend from the Olympus of pure poetry to the common earth, when once we blend with the ideal inventions of fancy the prose of a definite reality, then it is no longer the genius alone and the poetic faculty that determines the success of the productions, but the more or less favourable aspect of circumstances. The images of the gods in the Grecian sculpture exist as perfect types for all times. The sublime employment of refining the human form into the perfection of that ideal model was undertaken, once for all, by the imagination ; the most it can now do, even with a like degree of genius, is only to repeat the attempt. But, in respect of personal, individual resemblance, the modern artist vies with the ancient; this is no purely artistic creation; observation must here come to the task; and the artist, with all his science, solidity, and gracefulness of execution, is tied down to the reality which he actually has before his eyes.
In the excellent portrait-statues of two of the most famous comedians, Menander and Posidippus (in the Vatican), the physiognomy of the Greek New Comedy seems to me to be almost visibly and personally expressed. They are seated in arm-chairs, clad with extreme simplicity, and holding a roll in
their hand; with that ease and careless self-possession which always mark the conscious superiority of the Master; in that maturity of years which befits the calm impartial observation that Comedy requires, but sound and active and free from all symptoms of decay; one sees in them that hale and pithy vigour of frame, which bears witness to an equally vigorous constitution of mind and temper; no lofty enthusiasm, but no silliness or extravagance; on the contrary, a sage earnestness dwells on the brow, wrinkled not with care, but with the exercise of thought, while in the searching eye, and the mouth ready for a smile, there is a light irony which cannot be mistaken.
Roman Theatre. Native varieties. Atellane Fables, Mimes, Comædia Togata.
Greek Tragedy transplanted to Rome. Tragedians of the more Ancient epoch, and of the Augustan age. Idea of a kind of Tragedy peculiarly Roman, but which never was realized. Why the Romans were never particularly happy in Tragic Art. Seneca.
In treating of the Dramatic Literature of the Romans, whose Theatre is every way immediately attached to that of the Greeks, we have only to remark, properly speaking, one vast chasm, partly arising from the want of proper creative genius in this department, partly from the loss of almost all their written performances, with the exception only of a few fragments. The
a only extant works of the good classical age are those of Plautus and Terence, of whom I have already spoken as imitators of the Greeks.
Poetry in general had no native growth in Rome. It was not till those later times, in which the original Rome, by aping foreign manners, was drawing nigh to her dissolution, that poetry came to be artificially cultivated among the other devices of luxurious living. In the Latin we have an instance of a language modelled into poetical expression, altogether after foreign forms of grammar and metre. This approximation to the Greek was at first effected with much violence: the Græcism extended even to rude interpolation of foreign words and phrases. Gradually the poetic style was softened: of its former harshness we may perceive in Catullus the last vestiges, which however are not without a certain rugged charm. The language rejected those syntactical constructions, and especially the compounds, which were too much at variance with its own interior structure, and could not be lastingly agreeable to Roman ears; and at last the poets of the Augustan age succeeded in effecting the happiest possible incorporation between the native and the borrowed elements. But scarcely was the desired equipoise
obtained, when a pause ensued: all free development was impeded, and the poetical style, notwithstanding its apparent elevation into a bolder and more learned character, had irretrievably imprisoned itself within the round of the phraseology it had once adopted. Thus the Latin language in poetry enjoyed but a brief interval of bloom between its unfashioned state and its second death. With the spirit also of their poetry it fared no better.
It was not by the desire to enliven their holiday leisure by exhibitions, which bear away one's thoughts from the real world, that the Romans were led to the invention of theatrical amusements; but in the disconsolateness of a dreary pestilence, against which all remedies seemed unavailing, they first caught at the theatrical spectacle, as an experiment to propitiate the wrath of the gods, the exercises and games of the circus having till then been their only public exhibitions. But the Histriones, whom for this purpose they called in from Etruria, were only dancers, and probably not mimetic dancers, but merely such as endeavoured to amuse by the adroitness of their movements. Their oldest spoken dramas, those which were called the Atellane Fables, the Romans borrowed from the Oscans, the original inhabitants of Italy. With these Saturæ (so called because they were at first improvisatory farces, without dramatic coherence, for Satura means a medley) they rested satisfied till Livius Andronicus, more than five hundred years after the building of Rome, began to imitate the Greeks, and introduced the regular kinds of drama, namely, Tragedy, and New Comedy, for the Old was from its nature incapable of being transplanted.
Thus the Romans were indebted to the Etruscans for the first notion of the stage-spectacle, to the Oscans for the effusions of sportive humour, to the Greeks for a higher cultivation. In the comic department, however, they showed more original genius than in Tragedy. The Oscans, whose language, early extinct, survived only in those farces, were at least so near akin to the Romans, that their dialect was immediately intelligible to Latin hearers : for how else could the Atellane Fables have afforded them any entertainment? So completely indeed did they naturalize this diversion among themselves, that noble Roman youths exhibited the like performances at the festivals : on which