The Lyrical Dramas of Aeschylus, translated into English Verse by John Stuart Blackie (London: J.M. Dent, 1906). http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/1039,
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A collection of the major plays of the great Athenian playwright Aeschylus.
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“In der Beurtheilung des Hellenischen Alterthums soll der Scharfsinnige nicht aus sich herauszuspinnen suchen, was nur aus der Verbindung mannichfacher Ueberlieferungen gewonnen werden kann.”
The reader will have observed that the word tragedy, which is generally associated with the works of Æschylus, does not occur either in the general title-page of this translation, or in the special superscriptions of the separate pieces; in the one place the designation “Lyrical Dramas” being substituted, and in the other “Lyrico-dramatic Spectacle.” This change of the common title, by which these productions are known in the book-world, was not made from mere affectation, or the desire of singularity, but from the serious consideration that “the world is governed by names,” and that the word “tragedy” cannot be used in reference to a serious lyrico-dramatic exhibition on the ancient Greek stage, without importing a host of modern associations that will render all healthy sympathy with the Æschylean drama, and all sound criticism, extremely difficult. Names, indeed, are a principal part of the hereditary machinery with which the evil Spirit of Error in the region of thought, as well as in that of action, juggles the plain understandings of men that they become the sport of every quibble, and believe a lie. By means of names the plastic soul of man contrives at first, often crudely enough, to express some part of a great truth, and make it publicly recognised; but when, in the course of natural growth and progress the thing has been altered, while the word, transmitted from age to age, and itinerant from East to West, remains; then the vocal sign performs its natural functions as a signifier of thought no longer, but is as a mask, which either tells a complete lie, or looks with the one-half of its face a meaning which the other half (seen only by the learned) is sure to contradict. I have, therefore, thought it convenient to do away with this cause of misunderstanding in the threshold: and the purpose of the few remarks that follow is to make plain to the understanding of the most unlearned the reason of the terminology which I have adopted, and guard him yet more fully against the misconceptions which are Edition: current; Page:  sure to arise from suffering his chamber of thought to be preoccupied by the echoes of a false nomenclature.
If the modern spectator of a tragedy of Shakespere or Sheridan Knowles comes from the vivid embodiments of a Faucit or a Macready, to the perusal of what are called the “tragedies of Æschylus,” and applies the subtle rules of representative art there exemplified, to the extant remains of the early Greek stage, though he will find some things strikingly conceived and grandly expressed, and a general tone of poetic elevation, removed alike from what is trivial, and what is morbid; yet he must certainly be strangely blinded by early classical prepossessions, if he fails to feel that, as a whole, a Greek tragedy, when set against the English composition of the same name, is exceedingly narrow in its conception, meagre in its furniture, monotonous in its character, unskilful in its execution, and not seldom feeble in its effort. No doubt a generous mind will be disposed to look with a kindly and even a reverent sympathy on the inferiority of the infant fathers of that most difficult of all the poetic arts, which has now, in this late age of the world, under the manly British training, exhibited such sturdiness of trunk, such kingliness of stature, and such magnificence of foliage; it may be also, that the novelty and the strangeness of some things in the Greek tragedy—to those at least who have not had their appetite palled by early Academic appliances—may afford a pleasant compensation for what must appear its glaring improprieties as falling under the category of a known genus of poetic art; still, to the impartial and experienced frequenter of a first-rate modern theatre, the first effect of an acquaintance with the old Greek tragedy is apt to be disappointment. He will wonder what there is in these productions so very remarkable that the select youth of Great Britain should, next to their mother’s milk, be made to suck in them, and and them only, as the great intellectual nutriment of the freshfledged soul, till, in the regular course of things, they are fit to be fed on Church and State controversies and Parliamentary reports, and other diet not always of the lightest digestion; and he will be apt to imagine that in this, as in other cases, an over-great reverence for antiquity has made sensible men bow the knee to idols—that learned professors, like other persons, have their hobby-horses, which they are fond of over-riding—and that no sane man should believe more than the half of what is said by a professional trumpeter. All this will be very right in the circumstances, and very true so far. But the frequenter of the modern theatre must consider farther—if he wishes to be just—whether he be not violating one of Edition: current; Page:  the great proprieties of nature, in rushing at once from the narrow confined gas-lighted boxes of a modern theatre into the large sweeping sun-beshone tiers of an ancient one. No man goes from a ball-room into a church without a certain decent interval, and, if possible, a few moments of becoming preparation So it is with literary excursions. We must be acclimatized in the new country before we can feel comfortable We must not merely deliver our criticism thus (however common such a style may be)—I expected to find that, I find this; and I am disappointed, but we must ask the deeper and the only valuable question — What ought I to have expected to find, what shall I surely find of good, and beautiful, and true, if my eyes are open, and my free glance pointed in the right direction? In short, if a man will enjoy and judge a Greek “tragedy,” he must seek to know not what it is in reference to the general idea of tragedy which he brings with him from modern theatrical exhibitions, but what it was to the ancient Greeks, sitting in the open air, on their wooden bench, or on their seat hewn from the native rock, with the merry Bacchic echoes in their ears, long before Aristotle laid down those nice rules of tragic composition which only Shakespere might dare to despise.
Let us inquire, therefore, setting aside alike Shaksperian examples and Aristotelian canons, what the τραγῳδία, or “tragedy,” was to the ancient Greeks. Nor have we far to seek. The name, when the modern paint is rubbed off, declares its own history; and we find that the main idea of the old word τραῳδία—as, by the way, the only idea of the modern word τραγουδι*—is a song. Of the second part of this word, we have preserved the root in our English words ode, melody, monody, thenody, and the other half of the word means goat; whether that descriptive addition to the principal substantive came from the circumstance that the song was originally sung by persons habited like goats,† or from other circumstances connected with the worship of Dionysus, to whom this animal was sacred, is of no importance for our present purpose. The main fact to which we have to direct attention, is that the word tragedy, when analysed, bears upon its face, and in the living Greek tongue proclaims loudly to the present hour, that the essential character of this species of poetry—when the name was originally given to it—was lyrical, and Edition: current; Page:  not at all dramatic or tragic, in the modern sense of these words. A drama, in modern language, means an action represented by acting persons; and a tragedy is such a represented action, having a sad issue; but neither of these elements belonged to the original Greek tragedy, as inherited from his rude predecessors by Æschylus, nor (as we shall immediately show) do they form the prominent or characteristic part of that exhibition, as transmitted by him to his successors. With regard to the origin of the Greek “goat-song,” and its condition previous to the age of Æschylus, there is but one uncontradicted voice of tradition on the subject; the curious discussions and investigations of the learned affecting only certain minute points of detail in the progress, which have no interest for the general student. That tradition is to the effect that the Greek lyrical drama, as we find it in the extant works of Æschylus, arose out of the Dithyrambic hymns sung at the sacred festivals of the ancient Hellenes in honour of their god Dionysus, or, as he is vulgarly called, Bacchus; hymns which were first extemporized under the influence of the stimulating juice of the grape,* and then sung by a regularly trained Chorus, under the direction of the famous Methymnean minstrel, Arion.† The simplest form which such hymns, under such conditions, could assume, was that of a circular dance by a band of choristers round the statue or the altar of the god in whose honour the hymn was sung. This is not a matter peculiar to Greece, but to be found at all times, and all over the world, wherever there are men who are not mere brutes. So in the description of the religious practices of the ancient Mexicans, our erudite poet Southey has the following beautiful passage, picturing a sacred choral dance round the altar of sacrifice:—
Now, according to the general tradition of old Greek commentators and lexicographers, the Dithyramb or Bacchic Hymn was also called a Circular Hymn,* an expression which a celebrated Byzantine writer has interpreted to mean “a hymn sung by a chorus standing in a ring round the altar.”† It is, no doubt, true that the phrase χορὸς κύκλιος, or circular chorus, does not necessarily mean a chorus of this description; the term, as has been ingeniously observed,‡ like our own word roundelay, and the German Rund-gesang, being capable of an equally natural application to a hymn composed of parts, that run back to the point from which they started, and form, as it were, a circle of melody. But, whatever etymologists may make of the word, the fact that there were hymns sung by the ancient Greeks in chorus round the altars of their gods is not denied; and seems, indeed, so natural and obvious, that we shall assume it as the first form of the “goat-song,” in which form it continued up to a period which it is impossible to define; the only certainty being that, whereas, in olden times, it was composed of fifty men, it was afterwards diminished to twelve or fifteen, and arranged in the form of a military company in regular rank and file.§ Such a chorus, therefore, was the grand central trunk out of which the Attic tragedy branched and bloomed to such fair luxuriance of verbal melody. We shall now trace, if we can, the natural steps of progress.
Let us suppose that the Leader of a Chorus, trained to sing hymns in honour of the gods, is going to make them sing publicly a hymn Edition: current; Page:  in honour of Ζεύς [Editor: illegible character]κέσιος—Jove, in his benign character as the friend of the friendless, and the protector of suppliants. Instead of a vague general supplication in the abstract style to which we are accustomed in our forms of prayer, what could be more natural than for a susceptible and lively Greek to conceive the persons of the Chorus as engaged in some particular act of supplication, well known in the sacred traditions of the people, whose worship he was leading, and to put words in their mouths suitable to such a situation? This done, we have at once drama, according to the etymological meaning of the word; that is to say, a represented action. The Chorus represents certain persons, we shall say, the daughters of Danaus, fugitives from their native Libya, arrived on the stranger coast of Argolis, and in the act of presenting their supplications to their great celestial protector. Such an exhibition, if we will not permit it to be called by the substantive name of drama, is, at all events, a dramatized hymn; an ode so essentially dramatic in its character, that it requires but the addition of a single person besides the Chorus to form a complete action; for an action, like a colloquy, is necessarily between two parties—meditation, not action, being the natural business of a solitary man. Now, the single person whose presence is required to turn this dramatized hymn into a proper lyrical drama is already given. The Leader of the Chorus, or the person to whom the singing band belonged, and who superintended its exhibitions, is such a person. He has only, in the case supposed, to take upon himself the character of the person, the king of the Argives, to whom the supplication is made, to indicate, by word or gesture, the feelings with which he receives their address, and finally to accept or reject their suit; this makes a complete action, and a lyrical drama already exists in all essentials, exactly such as we read the skeleton of it at the present hour, in the Suppliants of Æschylus. To go a step beyond this, and add (as has been done in our play) another actor to represent the party pursuing the fugitives, is only to bring the situation already existing to a more violent issue, and not essentially to alter the character of the exhibition. Much less will the mere appendage of a guide or director to the main body of the Chorus, in the shape of a father, brother, or other accessory character, change the general effect of the spectacle. The great central mass which strikes the eye, and fills ear and heart with its harmonious appeals, remains still what it was, even before the leader of the band took a part in the lyric exhibition. The dramatized lyric, and the lyrical drama, differ from one another only according to the simile already used, as a tree with two or three branches differs from a tree with a simple stem. Edition: current; Page:  The main body and stamina are the same in each. The Song is the soul of both.
The academic student, who is familiar with these matters, is aware that what has been here constructed hypothetically, as a natural result of the circumstances, is the real historical account of the origin and progress of the Greek tragedy, as it is shortly given in a well-known passage of Diogenes Laertius. “In the oldest times,” says that biographer of the philosophers, “the Chorus alone went through the dramatic exhibition (διεδραματ[Editor: illegible character]ζεν) in tragedy; afterwards Thespis, to give rest to the Chorus, added one actor distinct from the singers; then Æschylus added a second, and Sophocles a third; which gave to tragedy its complete development.”* The reason mentioned here for the addition of the first actor by Thespis, is a very probable one. The convenience or ease of the singers contributed, along with the lively wit of the Greeks, and a due regard for the entertainment of the spectators, to raise the dramatized ode, step by step, into the lyrical drama.
In the above account, two secondary circumstances connected with this transition, have not been mentioned The first is, that the jocund and sometimes boisterous hymn, in honour of the wine-god, should have passed into the lyrical representation of an action generally not at all connected with the worship or history of that divinity; and, secondly, that this action should have changed its tone from light to grave, from jocular to sad, and become, in fact, what we, in the popular language of modern times, call tragic. Now, for the first of these circumstances, I know nothing that can be said in the way of historical philosophy, except that man is fond of variety, that the Greek genius was fertile, and that accident often plays strange tricks with the usages and institutions of mortal men. For the other point, there can be no doubt that the worship of the god of physical and animal joy, being violent in its character, had its ebb as well as its flow, its broad-gleaming sunshine not without the cloud, its wail as well as its rejoicing. Whether Dionysus meant the sun, or only wine, which is the produce of the solar heat, or both, it is plain that his worshippers would have to lament his departure, at least as often as they hailed his advent; and, in this natural alternation, a foundation was laid for the separation of the original Dithyrambic Edition: current; Page:  Chorus into a wild, sportive element, represented by the Aristophanic comedy, and a deeply serious, meditative element represented by tragedy But we must beware, in reference to Æschylus at least, of supposing that the lyrical drama, as exhibited by him, however solemn and awe-inspiring, was necessarily sad, or, as we say, tragic in its issue. Aristotle indeed, in his famous treatise, lays down the doctrine that the main object of tragic composition is to excite pity and terror, and that Euripides, “though in other respects he manages badly, is in this respect the most tragic of the tragedians, that the most of his pieces end unfortunately.”* But there is not the slightest reason, in the nature of things, why a solemn dramatic representation, any more than a high-toned epical narrative, should end unfortunately. The Hindoo drama, for one, never does;† and, in the case of our poet, it is plain that the great trilogy, of which the Orestes is the middle piece, is constructed upon the principle of leading the sympathizing spectator through scenes of pity and terror, as stations in a journey, but finally to a goal of moral peace and harmonious reconciliation. That the great trilogy of the Prometheus, of which only one part remains, had an equally fortunate termination, is not to be doubted. Here, therefore, we see another impertinence in that modern word tragedy, which, in the superscriptions of these plays, I have been so careful to eschew.
We shall now examine one or two of the Æschylean pieces by a simple arithmetical process, and see how essentially the lyrical element predominates in their construction. Taking Wellauer’s edition, and turning up the Suppliants, I find that that play, consisting altogether of 1055 lines, is opened by a continuous lyric strain of 172 lines. Then we have dialogue, in part of which the Chorus uses lyric measures to the extent of 22 lines Then follows a short choral song of only 20 lines. The next Chorus comprises 76 lines, and the next 70. After this follows another dialogue, in which the Chorus, being in great mental agitation, use, according to the uniform practice of Æschylus, lyric measures to the extent altogether of 20 verses. Then follows another regular choral hymn of 47 lines. After that a violent lyrical altercation between the Chorus and a new actor, to the amount of 74 lines, in the most impassioned lyrical rhythm. Then follow 14 lines of anapæsts; and the whole concludes with a grand lyrical finale of 65 lines: altogether 580—considerably more than the half of the piece by bare arithmetic, and equal to two-thirds of it fully, if we consider how much more time the singing, with the musical accompaniments, must have occupied than the simple Edition: current; Page:  declamation. No more distinct proof could be required how essentially the account of Diogenes Laertius is right; how true it is that the choral part of the Æschylean drama is both its body and its soul, while the dialogic part, to use the technical language of Aristotle’s days, was, in fact, only an ἐπεισόδιον (from which our English word Episode) or thing thrown in between the main choral acts of the representation, for the sake of variety to the spectators, and, as the writer says, of rest to the singers. We thus see, also, what an incorrect and indefinite idea of the Æschylean drama Aristotle had when he says—so far as we can gather his meaning—that “Æschylus first added a second actor; he also abridged the chorus, and made the dialogue the principal part of tragedy.”* The last article, so far as the play of the Suppliants is concerned, is simply not true. Let us make trial of another play. The Agamemnon, which, for many reasons, is one of the best for testing the mature genius of the bard, contains about 1600 lines; and, without troubling the reader with details, it will be found that about the half of this number is written in lyric measures. When we consider, further, that the most splendid imaginative pictures, and the wildest bursts of passion, all the interest, the doubt, and the anxiety, the fear, the terror, the surprise, and the final issue, are, according to the practice of Æschylus, regularly thrown into lyric measures, we shall be convinced that Aristotle (if we rightly apprehend him) was altogether mistaken when he led the moderns to imagine that the father of tragedy had really given such a preponderance to the dialogic element, that the lyric part is to be looked on, in his productions, as in any way subordinate. Unless it be the Prometheus, I do not know a single extant play of Æschylus in which the lyric element occupies a position which, in actual representation, would justify the dictum of the Stagyrite. And even in this play, let it be observed, how grandly the poet makes his anapæsts swell and billow with sonorous thunder in the finale; as if to make amends for the somewhat prolix epic recitals with which he had occupied the spectator, and to prove that a Greek tragedy could never be true to itself, unless it left upon the ear, in its last echoes, the permanent impression of its original character as a Song
Three observations strike me, that may conveniently be stated as corollaries from the above remarks. First, That those translators have erred who, whether from carelessness, or from ignorance, or from a desire to accommodate the ancient tragedy as much as possible to the modern, have given an undue predominance to blank Edition: current; Page:  verse in their versions, making it appear as if the spoken part of the Æschylean tragedy bore a much larger proportion, than it really does, to the sung. Second, Those critics have erred who, applying the principles of modern theatrical criticism to the chaunted parts of the ancient lyrical drama, have found many parts dull or wearisome, extravagant, and even ridiculous, which, there can be no doubt, with their proper musical accompaniment, were the most impressive, and the most popular parts of the representation. Third, We err altogether, when we judge of the excellence of an ancient Greek drama as a composition, by its effect on us when reading it. The Suppliants, for instance, is generally considered a stupid play; because it wants grand contrasts of character and striking dramatic situations, and contains so much of mere reiterated supplication. But this reiteration, though wearisome to us who read the text-book of the lost opera, was, in all probability, that on which the ravished ears of the devout ancient auditors dwelt with most voluptuous delight. In general, without re-creating some musical accompaniment, and dwelling with ear and heart on the frequent variations of the lyric burden of the piece, a man is utterly incapable of passing any sane judgment on an Æschylean drama. Such a piece may contain in abundance everything that the auditors desired and enjoyed, and yet be very stupid now to us who merely read and criticise.
The fact of the matter is, that the marshalled band of singers, however satisfactory to an ancient audience, who looked principally for musical excitement in their tragedies, and not for an interesting plot, was not at all calculated for allowing a dramatic genius to bring out those tragic situations in which the modern reader delights; but rather stood directly in the way of such an effect The fine development of character under the influence of various delicate situations, and in collision with different persons, all acting their part in some complex knot of various-coloured life, could not be exhibited in a performance where a band of singers on whom the eye of the spectators principally rested, and who formed the great attraction for the masses,* constantly occupied the central ground, and constantly interfered with every thing that was either said or done, whether it was convenient for them to do so or not. For a perfect tragedy, as conceived scientifically by Aristotle, and executed with a grand practical instinct by Shakespere, the Chorus was, in the very nature Edition: current; Page:  of the thing, an incumbrance and an impediment. It was only very seldom that the persons of that body could form such an important part of the action, and come forward with such a startling dramatic effect as in the Eumenides. Too often they were obliged to hang round the action as an atmosphere, or look at it as spectators; spectators either impartial altogether, and then too wise for dramatic sympathy, or half-partial, and then, by indecision of utterance, often making themselves ridiculous, as in a noted scene of the Agamemnon (Vol I p. 79), or contemptible, as in the Antigone* The proper position of the Chorus in a regularly constructed drama, is, like the witches in Macbeth, to form a mysterious musical background (not a fore-ground, as in the Greek tragedy), or to circle, as in the opera of Masaniello, the principal character with a band of associates naturally situated to assist and cheer him on to his grand enterprise. But the Greek Chorus, even in the time of Sophocles and Euripides, who enlarged the spoken part, was too independent, too stationary, too central a nucleus of the representation, not to impede the movements of the acting persons who performed the principal parts. As a form of art, therefore, the Greek tragedy, so soon as it attempted to assume the scientific ground so acutely seized on by the subtle analysis of Aristotle, was necessarily clumsy and incongruous. The lyric element, which was always the most popular element, refused to be incorporated with the acting element, and yet could not be altogether displaced, a position of scenic affairs which has strangely perplexed not a few modern critics, looking for a dramatic plot with all the dramatic proprieties in a composition where the old Hellenic spectator only felt a hymn to Jove; and curiously tasking their wits to find excuses for a poet like Euripides, who, with blossoming lyrics and sonorous rhetoric, might gain the prize of the “goat-song,” even over the head of a Sophocles, and yet, in point of dramatic propriety, as we demand it in our modern plays, be constantly perpetrating enormities which a clever schoolboy at Westminster or Eton might avoid.†Edition: current; Page: 
So much for the artistic form of the Æschylean drama. As for the matter, it was essentially a combination of mythologial, legendary, and devotional elements, such as naturally belonged to a people whose religion was intimately blended with every passion of the human heart, and every chance of human life, and whose gods were only a sort of glorified men, as their men sometimes were nothing less than mortal gods The Greek lyrical dramas were part of the great public exhibitions at the great feasts of Bacchus, which took place, some in the winter season, and some in the spring of the year;* and in this respect they bear a striking resemblance both to the Hindoo dramas (for which see Wilson), to the so-called mysteries and moralities of mediæval piety, and to the sacred dramas of Metastasio, exhibited to the court at Vienna. And what sort of an aspect does ancient polytheistic piety present, what sort of an attitude does it maintain, in these compositions? An aspect surprisingly fair, considering what motley confusion it sprang from, an attitude singularly noble, seeing how nearly it was allied to mere animal enjoyment, and how prone was its degeneration into the mire of the grossest sensuality. The pictured pages of Livy, and brazen tablets of the grave Roman senate still extant, tell only too true a tale into what a fearful mire of brutishness the fervent worship of Dionysus might plunge its votaries. And yet out of this Bacchantic worship, so wild, so animal, and so sensual, arose the Greek tragedy, confessedly amongst the most high-toned moral compositions that the history of literature knows. Our modern Puritans, who look upon the door of a theatre (according to the phrase of a famous Edinburgh preacher) as the gate of hell, might take any one of these seven plays which are here presented in an English dress, and with the simple substitution of a few Bible designations for Heathen ones, find, so far as moral and religious doctrine is concerned, that, with the smallest possible exercise of the pruning-knife, they might be exhibited in a Christian Church, and be made to subserve the purposes of practical piety, as usefully as many a sermon The following passage from the Agamemnon is not a solitary gem from a heap of rubbish, but the very soul and significance of the Æschylean drama:—
The only serious charge that, to my knowledge, has ever been made against the morality of the Greek drama, is that in it “an innocent person, one in the main of a virtuous character, through no crime of his own, nay not by the vices of others, but through mere Fatality and Blind Chance, is involved in the greatest of all human miseries.” This is the critical judgment of Dr. Blair (lecture xlvi.) in reference to the famous Labdacidan story of Œdipus.* Now, though the personal history of Œdipus contains many incidents that expose it justly to criticism, especially when brought upon the stage in a modernized dress by modern French or other poets (which abuse the learned Doctor no doubt had principally in view); yet, as applied to the whole Labdacidan story, or to the subjects of the Greek drama generally, the allegation is either extremely shallow, or altogether false, There is no destiny or fatality of any kind in the Æschylean drama, other than that which, according to the Mosaic record, drove Adam out of Paradise; that destiny which a divine decree, seeing the end in the beginning, has prepared, and that fatality which makes a guilty man not merely the necessary architect of his own misery, but the propagator of a moral contagion, more or less, to the offspring that inherits his pollution and his curse. On this subject I need make no lengthened observations here, as I have brought it and other points of moral and religious feeling prominently forward, both in the introductory observations to the separate plays, and in various places of the notes. I shall only say that the reader who does not find a high moral purpose and a deep religious meaning in the specimens of ancient Greek worship now submitted to his inspection, has no eye for what is best in these pages, and had better throw the book down. The Germans, who look deeper into these matters than we have either time, inclination, or, in the general case, capacity to do, have written volumes on the subject.† To me it has seemed more suitable to the genius of the English reader merely to hint the existence of this rich mine of moral wealth, leaving to the quiet thinker where, amid our various political and ecclesiastical clamour, he may have found a corner, to work out the vein with devout spade and mattock for himself.Edition: current; Page: 
A few words must now be said on the Dance, as an essential part of the lyrical element of the Greek tragedy. Our sober British, stern Protestant, and precise Presbyterian notions, make it very difficult for us to realize this peculiarity. Even the old Heathen Roman could say, “Nemo fere saltat sobrius, nisi forte insanit”;* much more must it be hard for a modern Presbyterian Christian to recognise, in the twinkling-footed celerity of the merry dance, an exercise which a pious old Dorian could look upon as an indispensable part of an act of public worship. To read the weighty moral sentences of a solemn Æschylean Chorus, and then figure to ourselves their author as a dancing-master, is an unnatural and almost painful transition of thought to a Christian man in these times; and yet Athenæus tells us, that the author of the Prometheus really was a professor of the orchestric art, and a very cunning one too.† The fundamental truth of the case is, that the religion of the Greeks was not, like ours, a religion only of moral emotions and theological principles, but a religion of the whole man, with rather too decided a tendency, in some parts, it must be confessed, towards a disturbance of the equipoise on the side of the senses. But, whatever may be thought of Bacchic orgies and other associate rites, with regard to dancing, there is plainly nothing in the exercise, when decorously conducted, inconsistent either with dignity, or with piety; and the feelings of ancient Romans and modern Presbyterians on the subject, must be regarded as the mere products of arbitrary association. Certain it is, that all the Greek philosophers looked upon dancing as an essential element, not only in the education of a gentleman, but in the performance of public worship; nay, even among the severe Jews, we read that David, on occasion of a great religious festival, danced before the Lord; and only an idle woman called him an idle fellow for doing so. We need not be surprised, therefore, if among the merry Greeks, professing a religion fully as much of physical enjoyment as of moral culture, orchestric evolutions, along with sacred hymns, formed an essential part of the tragic exhibitions belonging to the feasts of the great god Dionysus. On the details of this matter, we are sadly wanting in satisfactory information; but that the fact was so, there can be no doubt.‡ The only point with regard to which there is room for a serious difference of opinion is, whether every performance of the Edition: current; Page:  Chorus in full band included dancing, or whether it was only introduced occasionally, as the ballet in our modern operas. On this point, the greatest authority in Greek Literature at present living has declared strongly in favour of the latter view; and, in doing so, he has been followed by one of the first philologers of our own country;* and as I have not been led, in the course of my studies, to make any particular examination of this subject, I am loath to contradict anything proceeding from such an authoritative quarter. One great branch of the evidence, I presume, on which this view is supported, lies in the words of the old Scholiast to the choral chaunt in the Phœnissae of Euripides, beginning with these words, Τύριον διδμα λιπονˆ[Editor: illegible character] ἒβαν. “This chaunt,” says the annotator, “is what is called a στάσιμον, or standing chorus; for when the Chorus, after the πάροδος, remaining motionless, sings a hymn arising out of the subject of the play, this song is called a στάσιμον. A πάροδος, on the other hand, is a song sung as they are marching into the orchestra on the first entrance.”† Now, no doubt, if this matter be taken with a literal exactitude, the expression, ἀκίνητος, or without moving, will exclude dancing; but if we merely take it generally, as opposed to the great sweeping evolutions of the Chorus, and as implying only a permanent occupation of the same ground in the centre of the orchestra, by the band, as a whole, while the individual members might change their places in the most graceful and beautiful variety of forms, we are thus saved from the harshness of giving to the orchestric element, in many plays, a subordinate position, equally at variance with the original character of the Chorus, and with the place which the dance held as a prominent part of Greek social life‡ With regard to Æschylus, in particular, I do not see how I should be acting in consistency with the testimony of Athenæus just quoted, if I were to assign such a small proportion of the choric performances to orchestric accompaniment, as Boeckh and Donaldson have done in their editions of the play of Sophocles, which the genius of Miss Faucit has rendered so dear to the friends of the drama in this country. It would be easy to show, from internal evidence such as Boeckh finds in what he calls the Orchestric Chorus, or ἐμμέλεια of the Antigone, that certain choruses of Æschylus are more adapted for violent and extensive orchestric movements than others. But I have thought it more prudent, considering Edition: current; Page:  the general uncertainty that surrounds this matter, not to make any allusion to dancing in any one performance of the Chorus more than another; contenting myself with carefully distinguishing everywhere between the anapæstic parts where the Chorus is plainly making extensive movements, and the Choral Hymn with regular Strophe and Antistrophe, which is sung when they are placed in their proper position in a square band round the Thymele (θυμέλη), or Bacchic altar, in the centre of the orchestra.*
Having said so much with regard both to the form and substance of the lyric portion of the Æschylean drama, I have said almost all that I was anxious to say; for, in stating this matter clearly, I have brushed out of the way the principal part of that host of modern associations which is so apt to disturb our sympathetic enjoyment of the great masterpieces of Hellenic art. Anything that might be said in detail on the Iambic or dialogic part of ancient tragedy would only serve to set in a yet stronger light the grand fact which has been urged, that the strength of the Greek drama lies in the singing, and not in the acting. It were easy to show by an extensive analysis, that the classical “goat-singers” had but very imperfect notions on the subject of stage dialogue; and that it was a light thing for them to deal at large in mere epic description, or rhetorical declamation, without offending the taste of a fastidious audience, or sinning grossly against the understood laws of the sort of composition which they exhibited.† Notwithstanding Aristotle’s nicely-drawn distinction, the narrated, or purely epic parts of the Greek tragedy, are often the best This is the case not seldom even with Æschylus, whose native dramatic power the voice of a master has judged to be first-rate.‡ But with him the infant state of the art, and the insufficient supply of actors,§ combined with a radical faultiness of structure, produced, in not a few instances, the same anti-dramatic results as the want of dramatic genius in Euripides. Further, to Edition: current; Page:  use the language of Mr. Donaldson—“the narrowness and distance of the stage rendered any (free and complex) grouping unadvisable. The arrangement of the actors was that of a processional bas relief. Their movements were slow, their gesticulations abrupt and angular, and their delivery a sort of loud and deep-drawn sing-song, which resounded throughout the immense theatre. They probably neglected everything like by-play and making points, which are so effective on the English stage. The distance at which the spectators were placed would prevent them from seeing those little movements and hearing those low tones which have made the fortune of many a modern actor. The mask, too, precluded all attempts at varied expression, and it is probable that nothing more was expected from the performer than was looked for from his predecessor, the rhapsode—viz., good recitation.” These observations, flowing from a realization of the known circumstances of the case, will sufficiently explain to the modern reader the extreme stiffness and formality which distinguishes the tragic dialogue of the Greeks from that dexterous and various play of verbal interchange which delights us so much in Shakespere and the other masters of English tragedy. Every view, in short, that we can take, tends to fix our attention on the musical and the religious elements, as on the life-blood and vital soul of the Hellenic τραγῳδία; forces us to the conclusion that, with a due regard to organic principle, its proper designation is sacred opera,* and not tragedy, in the modern sense of the word Edition: current; Page:  at all; and leads us to look on the dramatic art altogether in the hands of Æschylus, not as an infant Hercules strangling serpents, but as a Titan, like his own Prometheus, chained to a rock, whom only, after many ages, a strong Saxon Shakespere could unbind.
To conclude. If these observations shall seem to any conceived in a style too depreciatory of the masterpieces of Hellenic art, such persons will observe, that what has been here said of a negative character has reference only to the form of these productions as works of art, and not to their poetic contents. An unfortunate external arrangement is often, as in the case of the German writer Richter, united in intimate amalgamation with the richest and most exuberant energy of intellectual and moral life. However imperfect the Greek “tragedies” are as forms of artistic exhibition, they are not the less admirable, for the mass of healthy poetic life of which they are the embodiment, and the grand combination of artistic elements which they present As among the world’s notable men there are some who are great rather by a harmonious combination of the great healthy elements of humanity, than by the gigantic development of any one faculty, so in literature there are phenomena which must be measured by the mass of inward life which they concentrate, not by the structural perfection of form which they exhibit. The lyrical tragedy of the Greeks presents, in a combination elsewhere unexampled, the best elements of our serious drama, our opera, our oratorio, our public worship, and our festal recreations. The people who prepared and enjoyed such an intellectual banquet were not base-minded. Had their stability been equal to their susceptibility, the world had never seen their equal. As it is, they are like to remain for ages the great Hierophants of the intellectual world, whose influence will always be felt even by those who are ignorant or impudent enough to despise them; and among the various branches of art and science which owed a felicitous culture to their dexterous and subtle genius, there is certainly no phenomenon in the wide history of imaginative manifestation more imposing and more significant than that which bears on its face the signature of the rude god of wine, and his band of shaggy and goat-footed revellers.
The richest heritage that a great dramatic poet can receive from the past, is a various store of legendary tradition, in the shape of ballads or popular epos; the greatest present blessing that can happen to him from Heaven, is to live in an age when every mighty thought to which he can give utterance finds a ready response in the hearts of the people, urged by the memory of great deeds recently achieved, to aspire after greater yet to come. Both these blessings were enjoyed by the founder of the serious lyrical drama of the Greeks. In Homer, Æschylus recognised his heritage from the past.* Marathon and Salamis were the first sublime motions of those strong popular breezes by which the flight of his eagle muse was sustained
The Parian marble, more trustworthy than the discordant statements of ill-informed, or ill-transcribed lexicographers and scholiasts, enables us to fix the date of Æschylus, in the year 525 before Christ. Born an Athenian, in the deme of Eleusis, of an ancient and noble family, he had ample opportunity, by the contagion of the place, in his boyish days, of brooding over those lofty religious ideas which formed the characteristic inspiration of his drama.† Pausanias (I. 21) relates of him that, on one occasion, when he was watching the vineyards as a mere boy, Dionysus appeared to him and ordered him to write dramas. Of this story, we may say that it either is true, literally, or invented to symbolize something that must have been true. The next authentic fact in the life of the poet, testified by Suidas, is that in his twenty-fifth year (499, b c.), the same in which Sardes was burnt by the Ionians, he first appeared as a competitor for the tragic prize. But, as the strongest intellectual genius is often that which, like the oak, grows slowest, we do not find him registered as having actually gained the prize in such a competition till the lapse of sixteen years. Meanwhile, the soul of Greece had been called out at Marathon to prepare the world, as it were, for Edition: current; Page:  that brilliant display of self-dependence which was afterwards made at Salamis. At both these victories, which belonged to the world as much as to Greece, Æschylus was present, as also, according to some accounts, at Artemisium and Platæae—learning in all these encounters how much more noble it is to act poetry than to sing it, and borrowing from them certain high trumpet-notes of martial inspiration that stirred the soul deeper than any that could have been fetched from the fountains of Helicon, or the double peak of Parnassus Braced in this best school of manhood, he continued his exertions as a dramatic poet, bringing gradually to firmness and maturity the dim broodings of his early years, till, in the year 484, according to the marble already quoted, he was publicly declared victor in that species of composition, of which, from the great improvement he made in it, he was afterwards to be celebrated as the father In a few years after this, he, with his brother Ameinias, performed a distinguished part at the battle of Salamis; and this victory he eight years afterwards celebrated in his play of the Persians, the earliest of his extant productions, of which the date is certainly known* The next mention that we find of the poet, among the few stray and comparatively unimportant notices that remain, is that some time between the year 478, that is, two years after the battle of Salamis, and the year 467, he paid a visit to Sicily, and along with Pindar, Bacchylides, Simonides, and other famous poets, was hospitably entertained by Hieron the famous tyrant of Syracuse. The two dates mentioned are those which mark the beginning and the end of the reign of that ruler; within which period, of course, the visit to Sicily must have taken place. Plutarch, in his life of Cimon (c. 8), connects Æschylus’ departure for Sicily with the first tragic victory gained by the young Sophocles in the year preceding the death of Hiero; but it is possible that this precise date may have no other foundation than the story which attributed the Sicilian journey of the elder bard to his envy of the rising greatness of the younger; an instance of that sort of impertinence in which small wits constantly indulge when they busy themselves to assign motives for the actions of great ones. But the precise period is of small moment When in Sicily, we are told Edition: current; Page:  that Æschylus re-exhibited his play of the Persians,* and also wrote a play called the Aetneans, to celebrate the foundation of the new city of Etna by his patron. This event, we are informed by Diodorus (xi 49), took place in the year 476, a date which would require the presence of the poet in Sicily six years before the date mentioned by Plutarch. Connected with Sicily, there is worthy of mention also, in a life of Æschylus, the notable eruption of Etna, which took place in the year 479—the same in which the battle of Platæae took place†—because there is a distinct allusion to this in the Prometheus Bound (vol. II p. 34), which enables us to say that this famous drama could not have been written before the forty-seventh year of the poet’s life—that is to say, the full maturity of his powers. The next date in the life of the poet, according to the recently discovered διδασκαλία to the Seven against Thebes,‡ is the representation of the great Oedipodean tetralogy in the year 467; and the next date is a yet more important one, the year of the representation of that famous trilogy, still extant, which has always been looked on as his masterpiece. The argument of the Agamemnon fixes the exhibition of the trilogy of which it is the first piece, to the year of the archonship of Philocles, b.c. 458. It is known, also, that the poet died at Gela, in Sicily, two years after wards, in the sixty-ninth year of his age, the date being given in the marble; and there can be little doubt that the cause of this, his final retirement to that island, must have been a growing distance between him and the Athenian public, arising from diversity of political feeling, and the state of parties in the Attic capital. In that city, democracy had been in steady advance from the time of Cleisthenes (b.c 509), and was now ebullient under the popular inspiration of the recent Persian wars, and glorified by the captainship of Pericles The tendencies of the poet of the Eumenides (as explained in the introduction to that play) were all aristocratic; and it is in the highest degree probable that the reception given by democratic spectators to his eulogy of the aristocratic Court of the Areopagus, in the play just mentioned, may have been such as to induce him to consult his own comfort, if not his safety, by withdrawing altogether from a scene where his continual presence might only tend to irritate those whom it could not alter.
After his death the Athenians testified their esteem for his character by decreeing—what was quite an extraordinary privilege Edition: current; Page:  according to their stage practice—that his dramas might be exhibited at the great Dionysiac festivals, when their author could be no longer a competitor for the prize* The people of Gela, justly proud that the bones of so great a man should repose in their soil, erected a monument to his memory with the following inscription:—
With regard to the great merits of Æschylus both as a poet and as the creator of the tragic stage, there is but one testimony among the writers of antiquity. He not only introduced, as we have elsewhere stated, a second, and afterwards a third actor—without which there was no scope for the proper representation of an action—but he made the greatest improvements in the whole machinery and decorations of the stage, gave dignity to the actors by a minute attention to their masks, dresses, and buskins,† besides attending specially to the graceful culture of the dance, according to the testimony of Athenæus above quoted. As a dramatist he is distinguished by peculiar loftiness of conception and grandeur of phraseology. His style is sometimes harsh and abrupt, but it is always manly and vigorous; his metaphors are bold and striking, with something at times almost oriental in their cast; and, though not free from the offence of mixing incongruous metaphors—the natural sin of an imagination at once fearless and fertile—I do not think he can be fairly charged with turgidity and bombast; for, as Aristophanes remarks, in the Frogs, there is a superhuman grandeur about his characters which demands a more than common elevation of phrase.‡ As to the obscurity with which he has been charged, Edition: current; Page:  the comparative clearness of those plays which have been most frequently transcribed is a plain indication that this fault proceeds more from the carelessness of stupid copyists, than from confusion of thought or inadequate power of expression in the writer. In some cases, as in the prophecy of Calchas in the opening scene of the Agamemnon, the obscurity is studied and most appropriate Poetry, like painting, will have its shade. But the great excellence of Æschylus, as a poet, is the bracing tone of thorough manhood, noble morality, and profound piety which pervades his works Among those who are celebrated by Virgil as walking with Orpheus and Musæus in blissful Elysium—
“Quique pii vates et Phoebo digna locuti,”
the poet of the Eumenides deserves the first rank. There is a tradition current, in various shapes, among the ancient writers that he was brought before the Court of the Areopagus (so nobly eulogised by himself), on the charge of impiety, but that he was acquitted That the Athenians might have taken offence at the freedom and boldness with which he handled religious, as other topics, is possible, though certainly by no means probable, considering how little of fixed doctrine there was in their imaginative theology; but it is more like the truth, according to the accounts which we have, that the offence which he gave consisted in some purely accidental allusion occurring in one of his plays, to some points that were, or seemed to be connected with the awful Eleusinian mysteries.* Certain it is that no writer could be less justly charged with impiety or irreligion In his writings, religion is the key-note; and the noblest moral sentiments spring everywhere from the profoundest faith in a system of retribution carried on by the various personages of the great celestial aristocracy, of which Jove is the all-powerful and the all-wise head. So sublime, indeed, is the Æschylean theology, that certain modern writers, as if unwilling to think that such pure notions could co-exist with a belief in the popular religion, have concluded that the poet, like Euripides afterwards, must have been a free-thinker; and have imagined that they have found sure indications to this effect in his writings. But, though Æschylus was a Pythagorean (Cic. Tusc. II. 10), we have no proof that the Pythagoreans, any more than their successors, the Platonists, were given to scepticism. The seriousness of a poetic mind like that of Æschylus is, at all times, naturally inclined to faith; and the multiform Edition: current; Page:  polytheism of the Greeks was as pliable in the hands of pure men for pure purposes, as in the hands of gross men, to give a delusive ideality to their grossness1
Chorus of Argive Elders.
Clytemnestra, Wife of Agamemnon.
Agamemnon, King of Argos and Mycenæ.
Cassandra, a Trojan Prophetess, Daughter of Priam.
Ægisthus, Son of Thyestes.
Scene—The Royal Palace in Arges.
Of all that rich variety of Epic materials with which the early minstrel-literature of Greece supplied the drama of a future age, there was no more notable cycle among the ancients than that which went by the popular name of Νόστοι, or the Returns; comprehending an account of the adventures that befell the various Hellenic heroes of the Trojan war in their return home To this cycle, in its most general acceptation, the Odyssey itself belongs; though the name of Νόστοι, according to the traditions of the ancient grammarians, is more properly confined to a legendary Epic, composed by an old poet, Agias of Troezene, of which the return of Agamemnon and Menelaus forms the principal subject. Of this Epos the grammarian Proclus* gives us the following abstract:—
“Athena raises a strife between Agamemnon and Menelaus concerning their voyage homeward Agamemnon remains behind, in order to pacify the wrath of Athena; but Diomede and Nestor depart, and return in safety to their own country After them Menelaus sails, and arrives with five ships in Egypt; the rest of his vessels having been lost in a storm Meanwhile, Calchas and Leonteus and Polypœtes go to Colophon, and celebrate the funeral obsequies of Tiresias, who had died there. There is then introduced the shade of Achilles appearing to Agamemnon, and warning him of the dangers that he was about to encounter. Then follows a storm as the fleet is passing the Capharean rocks, at the south promontory of Eubœa, on which occasion the Locrian Ajax is destroyed by the wrath of Athena, whom he had offended. Neoptolemus, on the other hand, under the protection of Thetis, makes his way overland through Thrace (where he encounters Ulysses in Maronea), to his native country, and proceeding to the country of the Molossi, is there recognised by his grandfather, the aged Peleus, the father of Achilles. The poem then concludes with an account of the murder of Agamemnon by Ægisthus and Clytemnestra, of the revenge taken on her by Orestes and Pylades, and of the return of Menelaus to Lacedæmon.”†Edition: current; Page: 
The last sentence of this curious notice contains the Epic germ of which the famous trilogy—the Agamemnon, the Choephorœ, and the Eumenides of Æschylus—the three plays contained in the present volume, present the dramatic expansion. The celebrity of the legends with regard to the return of the mighty Atridan arose naturally from the prominent situation in which he stood as the admiral of the famous thousand-masted fleet; and, besides, the passage from the old Troezenian minstrel just quoted, is sufficiently attested by various passages—some of considerable length—in the Odyssey, which will readily present themselves to the memory of those who are familiar with the productions of the great Ionic Epopœist. In the very opening of that poem, for instance, occur the following remarkable lines:—
And the same subject is reverted to in the Third Book (v. 194), where old Nestor, in Pylos, gives an account to Telemachus, first of his own safe return, and then of the fate of the other Greeks, so far as he knew; and, again, in the Fourth Book (v. 535) where Menelaus is informed of his brother’s sad fate (slain “like a bull in a stall”) by the old prophetic Proteus, the sea harlequin of the African coast; and, also, in the Eleventh Book (v. 405), where Ulysses, in Hades, hears the sad recital from the injured shade of the royal Atridan himself.
The tragic events by which Agamemnon and his family have acquired such a celebrity in the epic and dramatic annals of Greece, are but the sequel and consummation of a series of similar events commencing with the great ancestor of the family; all which hang together in the chain of popular tradition by the great moral principle so often enunciated in the course of these dramas, that sin has always a tendency to propagate its like, and a root of bitterness once planted in a family, will grow up and branch out luxuriantly, till, in the fulness of time, it bears those bloody blossoms, and fruits of perdition that are its natural product. The guilty ancestor, in the present case, is the Edition: current; Page:  well-known Tantalus, the peculiar style of whose punishment in the infernal regions has been stereotyped, for the modern memory, in the shape of one of the most common and most expressive words in the English language. Tantalus, a son of Jove, a native of Sipylos in Phrygia, and who had been admitted to the table of the gods, thinking it a small matter to know the divine counsels, if he did not, at the same time, gratify his vanity by making a public parade of his knowledge before profane ears, was punished in the pit of Tartarus by those tortures of ever reborn and never gratified desire which every schoolboy knows. His son, Pelops, an exile from his native country, comes with great wealth to Pisa; and having, by stratagem, won, in a chariot race, Hippodamia, the daughter of Oernomaus, king of that place, himself succeeded to the kingdom, and became so famous, according to the legend, as to lend a new name to the southern peninsula of Greece which was the theatre of his exploits.* In his career also, however, the traces of blood are not wanting, which soil so darkly the path of his no less famous descendants. Pelops slew Myrtilus, the charioteer by whose aid he had won the race that was the beginning of his greatness; and it was the Fury of this Myrtilus—or “his blood crying to Heaven,” as in Christian style we should express it—that, according to one poet (Eurip Orest. 981), gave rise to the terrible retributions of blood by which the history of the Pelopidan family is marked Of Pelops, according to the common account, Atreus and Thyestes were the sons. These having murdered their stepbrother, Chrysippus, were obliged to flee for safety to Mycenæ, in Argolis, where, in the course of events, they afterwards established themselves, and became famous for their wealth and for their crimes. The bloody story of these hostile brothers commences with the seduction, by Thyestes, of Aerope, the wife of Atreus; in revenge for which insult, Atreus recalls his banished brother, and, pretending reconciliation, offers that horrid feast of human flesh—the blood of the children to the lips of the father—from which the sun turned away his face in horror. The effect of this deed of blood was to entail, between the two families of Thyestes and Atreus, a hereditary hostility, the fruits of which appeared afterwards in the person of Ægisthus, the son of the former, who is found, in this first play of the trilogy, engaged with Clytemnestra in a treacherous plot to avenge his father’s wrongs, by the murder of his uncle’s son
Agamemnon, the son, or, according to a less common account (for which see Schol. ad Iliad II. 249), the grandson of Atreus, being Edition: current; Page:  distinguished above the other Hellenic princes for wealth and power, was either by special election appointed, or by that sort of irregular kingship common among half-civilized nations, allowed to conduct the famous expedition against Troy that in early times foreshadowed the conquests of Alexander the Great, and the influence of the Greek language and letters in the East. Such a distant expedition as this, like the crusades in the middle ages, was not only a natural living Epos in itself, but would necessarily give rise to that intense glow of popular sympathy, and that excited state of the popular imagination, which enable the wandering poets of the people to make the best poetic use of the various dramatic incidents that the realities of a highly potentiated history present. Accordingly we find, in the very outset of the expedition, the fleet, storm-bound in the harbour of Aulis, opposite Eubœa, enabled to pursue its course, under good omens, only by the sacrifice of the fairest daughter of the chief. This event—a sad memorial of the barbarous practice of human sacrifice, even among the polished Greeks—formed the subject of a special play, perhaps a trilogic series of plays,* by Æschylus. This performance, however, has been unfortunately lost; and we can only imagine what it may have been by the description in the opening chorus of the present play, and by the beautiful, though certainly far from Æschylean, tragedy of Euripides. For our present purpose, it is sufficient to note that, in the Agamemnon, special reference is made to the sacrifice of Iphigenia, both as an unrighteous deed on the part of the father, for which some retribution was naturally to be expected, and as the origin of a special grudge in the mind of the mother, which she afterwards gratifies by the murder of her husband
As to that deed of blood itself, and its special adaptation for dramatic purposes, there can be no doubt; as little that Æschylus has used his materials in the present play in a fashion that satisfies the highest demands both of lyric and dramatic poetry, as executed by the first masters of both. The calm majesty and modest dignity of the much-tried monarch; the cool self-possession, and the smooth front of specious politeness that mark the character of the royal murderess the obstreperous bullying of the cowardly braggart, who does the deed with his heart, not with his hand; the half-wild, half-tender ravings of the horror-haunted Trojan prophetess; these together contain a combination of highly wrought dramatic elements, Edition: current; Page:  such as is scarcely excelled even in the all-embracing pages of our own Shakespere As far removed from common-place are the lyrical—in Æschylus never the secondary—elements of the piece The sublime outbreak of Cassandra’s prophetic horror is, as the case demanded, made to exhibit itself as much under the lyric as in the declamatory form; while the other choral parts, remarkable for length and variety, are marked not only by that mighty power of intense moral feeling which is so peculiarly Æschylean, but by the pictorial beauty and dramatic reality that distinguish the workmanship of a great lyric master from that of the vulgar dealer in inflated sentiment and sonorous sentences.
[The beacon is seen shining.]
Enter Chorus in procession. March time.
The Chorus, having now arranged themselves into a regular band in the middle of the Orchestra, sing the First Choral Hymn.
The Greeks have taken Troy. Can I speak plainer?
Joy o’er my heart creeps, and provokes the tear.
Thine eye accuses thee that thou art kind.
What warrant of such news? What certain sign?
Both sign and seal, unless some god deceive me.
Dreams sometimes speak; did suasive visions move thee?
Where the soul sleeps, and the sense slumbers, there Shall the wise ask for reasons?
Thou speak’st as one who mocks a simple girl.
Old Troy is taken? how?—when did it fall?
The self-same night that mothers this to-day.
But how? what stalwart herald ran so fleetly?
Hail soldier herald, how farest thou?
Doubtless thy love of country tried thy heart?
To see these shores I weep for very joy.
And that soul-sickness sweetly held thee?
Smitten with love of them that much loved thee.
Say’st thou? loved Argos us as we loved Argos?
Ofttimes we sorrowed from a sunless soul.
Whom should’st thou quail before, the chiefs away?
I could have used thy phrase, and wished to die.
[Exit.Edition: current; Page: 
Enter Agamemnon with attendants; Cassandra behind.
My wish and will thou shalt not lightly mar.
Hast thou a vow belike, and fear’st the gods?
If e’er man knew, I know my will in this.
Had Priam conquered, what had Priam done?
His feet had trod the purple; doubt it not.
But popular babble strengthens Envy’s wing.
Thou must be envied if thou wilt be great.
Is it a woman’s part to hatch contention?
For once be conquered; they who conquer may Yield with a grace.
’Tis even so: for once give me the reins.
Even this to know, Apollo stirred my breast.
Apollo! didst thou strike the god with love?
Till now I was ashamed to hint the tale.
And hast thou children from divine embrace?
I gave the word to Loxias, not the deed
Hadst thou before received the gift divine?
I had foretold my countrymen all their woes
Did not the anger of the god pursue thee?
It did; I warned, but none believed my warning.
If it must be, but may the gods forefend!
Pray thou, and they will have more time to kill.
What man will dare to do such bloody deed?
I spake not of a man: thy thoughts shoot wide
The deed I heard, but not whose hand should do it.
And yet I spake good Greek with a good Greek tongue.
Thou speakest Apollo’s words: true, but obscure.
I’m in the net. Time will not break the meshes.
But the last moment of sweet life is honoured.
My hour is come, what should I gain by flight?
Thou with a stout heart bravely look’st on fate.
Bravely thou praisest: but the happy hear not Such commendations.82
Woe’s me, the father and his noble children!
Whither now? What father and what children? Speak.
What means this woe? What horrid fancy scares thee?
Blood-dripping murder reeks from yonder house.
How? ’Tis the scent of festal sacrifice.
The scent of death—a fragrance from the grave.
Soothly no breath of Syrian nard she names.
O wretched maid! O luckless prophetess
[From within.] O I am struck! struck with a mortal blow!
Hush! what painful voice is speaking there of strokes and mortal blows?
O struck again! struck with a mortal blow!
[The scene opens from behind, and discovers Clytemnestra standing over the dead bodies of Agamemnon and Cassandra.]
Nay, if thou for brawls art eager, and for battle, thou shalt know—
I can also hold a hilted dagger—not afraid to die.
Die!—we catch the word thou droppest, lucky chance, if thou wert dead!
Ill beseems our Argive mettle to court a coward on a throne.
Shielded now, be brave with words; my deeds expect some future day.
Ere that day belike some god shall bring Orestes to his home.
Feed, for thou hast nothing better, thou and he, on empty hope.
Glut thy soul, a lusty sinner, with sin’s fatness, while thou may’st.
Thou shalt pay the forfeit, greybeard, of thy braggart tongue anon.
Oh, the cock beside its partlet now may crow right valiantly!
modified thus by Orelli—
With a reference to Menelaus and not to Helen. In doing so, I am not at all moved by any merely philological consideration; but I may observe that the remark made by Well., Peile, and Con, that the words cannot refer to Menelaus, because he has not yet been mentioned, can have little weight in the present chorus, in the first antistrophe of which Paris is first alluded to, by dim indications, and afterwards distinctly by name This method of merely hinting at a person, before naming him, is common in all poetry, but peculiarly characteristic of Æschylus. Besides, it is impossible to deny that the πόθος in the next line refers to Menelaus, and can refer to no other. Con., who refers the words to Helen, translates thus—
to which I have this further objection, that it is contrary to the poet’s intention and to the moral tone of the piece, to paint the fair fugitive with such an engaging look of reluctance to leave her husband; on the contrary, he blames her in the strongest language, ἄτλητα τλα̂σα, and represents her as leaving Argos with all the hurry of a common elopement, where both parties are equally willing for the amorous flight, βέβακε ρίμϕα διὰ πυλα̂ν. After which our fancy has nothing to do but imagine her giving her sails to the wind as swiftly as possible, and bounding gaily over the broad back of ocean with her gay paramour. In this connection, to say “she stands,” appears quite out of place. In my view of this “very difficult and all but desperate passage” (Peile) I am supported by Sym. in an able note, which every student ought to read, by Med. and Sew., Buck., Humb., and Droys. Neither is Fr. against me, because, though following a new reading of Hermann,
he avoids all special allusions to Menelaus, it is evident that the picture of solitary desolation given in his translation can have no reference but to the palace of the king of Sparta—
Orestes, Son of Agamemnon.
Pylades, Friend of Orestes
Chorus of Captive Women.
Electra, Sister of Orestes.
Nurse of Orestes.
Clytemnestra, Mother of Orestes.
Scene as in the preceding piece. The Tomb of Agamemnon in the centre of the Stage.
The right of the avenger of blood, so familiar to us from its prominency in the Mosaic Law (see Numbers, chap. 35), is a moral phenomenon which belongs to a savage or semi-civilized state of society in all times and places; and appears everywhere with the most distinct outline in the rich records of the early age of Greece, which we possess in the Homeric poems. No doubt, the most glowing intensity, and the passionate exaggeration of the feeling, from which this right springs, is found only among the hot children of the Arabian desert;* and in no point of his various enactments were the wisdom and the humanity of their great Jewish lawgiver more conspicuous than in the appointment of sacerdotal cities of refuge, which set certain intelligible bounds of space and time to the otherwise interminable prosecution of family feuds, and the gratification of private revenge. But the great traits of the system of private revenge for manslaughter, stand out clearly in the Iliad and Odyssey; and the whole of the ancient heroic mythology of Greece is full of adventures and strange chances that grew out of this germ. Out of many, I shall mention only the following instance. In the twenty-third book of the Iliad (v. 82), when the shade of Patroclus appears at the head of his sorrowful, sleeping friend, after urging the necessity of instant funeral, for the peace of his soul, he proceeds to make a further request, as follows:—
In these verses, we see the common practice of the heroic ages in Greece, with regard to manslaughter. No matter how slight the occasion might be out of which the lethal quarrel arose; how Edition: current; Page:  innocent scever of all hostile intention the unhappy offender; the only safety to him from the private revenge of the kinsman of the person unwittingly slain, was to flee to a country that acknowledged some foreign chief, and find both a friend and a country in a distant land. All this, too, in an era of civilization, when courts of law and regular judges (as from various passages of Homer is apparent) were not altogether unknown; but nature is stronger than law, and passion slow to yield up its fiery right of summary revenge, for the cold, calculating retribution of an impartial judge.
The person on whom the duty of avenging shed blood, according to the heroic code of morals, fell, was the nearest of kin to the person whose blood had been shed; and accordingly we find (as stated more at large by Gesenius and Michaelis*) that in the Hebrew language, the same word means both an avenger of blood and a kinsman, while in the cognate Arabic the term for an avenger means also a survivor—that is, the surviving kinsman. In the same way, when Clytemnestra, as we have just seen in the previous drama, had treacherously murdered her husband Agamemnon, the code of social morality then existing laid the duty of avenging this most unnatural deed on the nearest relation of the murdered chieftain, viz.—his son, Orestes; a sore duty indeed, in this case, as the principal offender was his own mother: so that in vindicating one feeling of his filial nature the pious son had to do violence to another; but a duty it still remained; and there does not appear the slightest trace that it was considered one whit the less imperative on account of the peculiar relation that existed here between the dealer of the vengeful blow and the person on whom it was dealt. Whoso sheddeth man’s blood by man shall his blood be shed was the old patriarchal law on the subject, proclaimed without limitation and without exception; and the cry of innocent blood rose to Heaven with peculiar emphasis when the sufferer was both a father and a king.
“Good, how good, when one who dies unjustly leaves a son behind him To avenge his death!”
is the wisdom of old Nestor with regard to this subject and this very case: and the wise goddess Athena, the daughter of the Supreme Councillor, in whom “all her father lives,” stamps her distinct approval on the deed of Orestes, by which Clytemnestra was murdered, and holds him up as an illustrious example to Telemachus, by which his own conduct was to be regulated in Edition: current; Page:  reference to the insolent and unjust suitors who were consuming his father’s substance.
Public opinion, therefore, to use a modern phrase, not only justified Orestes in compassing the death of his mother, but imperatively called on him to do so. Public opinion, however, could not control Nature, nor save the unfortunate instrument of paternal retribution from that revulsion of feeling which must necessarily ensue, when the hand of the son is once red with the blood of her whose milk he had sucked. Orestes finds himself torn in twain by two contrary instincts, the victim of two antagonist rights. No sooner are the Furies of the father asleep, than those of the mother awake; and thus the bloody catastrophe of the present piece prepares the way for that tragic conflict of opposing moral claims set forth with such power in the third piece of this trilogy—the Eumenides.
The action of this play is the simplest possible, and will, for the most part, explain itself sufficiently as it proceeds. Clytemnestra, disturbed in conscience, and troubled by evil dreams, sends a chorus of young women to offer libations at the tomb of Agamemnon, which, in the present play, may fitly be conceived as occupying the centre of the stage.* These “libation-bearers” give the name to the piece. In their pious function, Electra, the daughter of Agamemnon, joins; and as she is engaged in the solemn rite, her brother Orestes (who had been living as an exile in Phocis with Strophius, married to Anaxibia, the sister of Agamemnon) suddenly arrives, and making himself known to his sister, plans with her the murder of Ægisthus and Clytemnestra—which is accordingly executed. Scarcely is this done, when the Furies of the murdered mother appear, and commence that chase of the unhappy son from land to land, which is ended in the next piece only by the eloquent intercession of Apollo, and the deliberative wisdom of the blue-eyed virgin-goddess of the Acropolis
As a composition, the Choephoræ is decidedly inferior both to Edition: current; Page:  the Agamemnon which precedes, and the Eumenides which follows it; and the poet, as if sensible of this weakness, following the approved tactics of rhetoricians and warriors, has dexterously placed it in a position where its deficiencies are least observed. At the same time, in passing a critical judgment on this piece we must bear in mind two things—first, that some parts of this play that appear languid, long-drawn, and ineffective to us who read, may have been overflowing with the richest emotional power in their living musical exhibition; and, secondly, that many parts, especially of the choral chaunts, have been so maimed and shattered by time that the modern commentator is perhaps as much chargeable with the faults of the translation as the ancient tragedian.
Enter Orestes and Pylades.
[They go aside.
Chorus, dressed in sable vestments, bearing vessels with libations.
Speak thus devoutly, and thou’lt answer well.
Who are they?
Thyself the first, and whoso hates Ægisthus.
That is myself and thou.
Thyself may’st judge.
Hast thou none else to swell the scanty roll?
One far away, thy brother, add—Orestes.
’Tis well remembered, very well remembered.
Nor them forget that worked the deed of guilt.
Ha! what of them? I’d hear of this more nearly.
Pray that some god may come, or mortal man.
Judge or avenger?
And may I pray the gods such boon as this?
In what? Within me leaps my heart for fear.
Seest thou this lock of hair upon the tomb?
A man’s hair is it, or a low-zoned maid’s?16
Few points there are to hit. ’Tis light divining
I am thine elder, yet I fain would reap Instruction from young lips
’Tis like, O strange! how like!
Like what? What strange conception stirs thy brain?
But how should he have dared to tread this ground?
Sayest thou? What cause have I to thank the gods?
Even here before thee stands thine answered prayer.
One man I wish to see: dost know him—thou?
Thy wish of wishes is to see Orestes.
Even so: but wishing answers no man’s prayer.
Nay, but this is some plot?
That were to frame a plot against myself.
Unkind, to scoff at my calamities!
To scoff at thine, were scoffing at mine own.
And can it be? Art thou indeed Orestes?
O father, help thy friends, when helping thee!
My tears, if they can help, shall flow for thee.
Now might with might engage, and right with right!
And the gods justly the unjust shall smite.
The bath that drank thy life remember, father.
The close-drawn meshes of thy death remember.
Then when with treacherous folds they curtained thee.
Wake, father, wake to avenge thy speechless wrongs!
Lift, father, lift thy dear-loved head sublime!
What saw she in her dream?
A serpent, say’st thou?
Eager for food, doubtless, the new-born monster?
The nurturing nipple herself did fearless bare.
How then? escaped the nipple from the bite?
[Exeunt.Edition: current; Page: 
[appearing at the door]. Enough I hear thee. Who art thou, and whence?
[Exeunt into the house.
What say’st thou, Nurse? how shall thy master come?
How say’st thou? how shall I receive the question?
Alone, I mean, or with his guards?
How? hast thou news to a different tune?
[Exit into the house.
[from within]. Ah me! I fall. Ah! Ah!
Well! what’s the matter? why this clamorous cry?
He, who was dead, has slain the quick. ’Tis so.
Enter Orestes, dragging in the dead body of Ægisthus; with him Pylades.
Thee next I seek. For him, he hath enough.
Ah me! my lord, my loved Ægisthus dead!
I nursed thy childhood, and in peace would die.60
Spare thee to live with me—my father’s murderer?
Not I; say rather Fate ordained his death.
The self-same Fate ordains thee now to die.
My curse beware, the mother’s curse that bore thee.
That cast me homeless from my father’s house.
Nay; to a friendly house I lent thee, boy.
Being free-born, I like a slave was sold.
I trafficked not with thee. I gat no gold.
Worse—worse than gold—a thing too foul to name!
Name all my faults; but had thy father none?
Hard was my lot, my child, alone, uncherished.
Thou wilt not kill me, son?
I kill thee not. Thyself dost kill thyself.
Beware thy mother’s anger-whetted hounds.*
My father’s hounds have hunted me to thee.
Ah me! I nursed a serpent on my breast.
[He drives her into the house, and there murders her.
Enter Orestes, with the body of Clytemnestra.
[The Furies appear in the background.
Here we have a notable example of the terms of that sort of excommunication which the religious and social feeling of the ancients passed against the perpetrators of atrocious crimes. See Introductory Remarks to the Eumenides.
“All strangers and beggars come from Jove.”
—See Butler’s Notes.
The Pythoness of the Temple of Apollo in Delphi.
The Shade of Clytemnestra.
Chorus of Furies.
Judges of the Court of Areopagus (Mute).
Convoy of the Furies.
Scene—First at Delphi in the Temple of Apollo; then on the Hill of Mars, Athens.
Though the ancient Greek religion, there can be no question, was too much the creation of mere imagination, and tended rather to cultivate a delicate sense of beauty than to strike the soul with a severe reverence before the awful majesty of the moral law, yet it is no less certain that to look upon it as altogether addressed to our sensuous emotions, however convenient for a certain shallow school of theology, would lead the calm inquirer after moral truth far away from the right track. As among the gods that rule over the elements of the physical world, Jove, according to the Homeric creed, asserts a high supremacy, which restrains the liberty of the celestial aristocracy from running into lawless licence and confusion; so the wild and wanton ebullitions of human passion, over which a Bacchus, a Venus, and a Mars preside, are not free from the constant control of a righteous Jove, and the sacred terror of a retributive Erinnys. The great lesson of a moral government, and a secret order of justice pervading the apparent confusion of the system of things of which we are a part, is sufficiently obvious in the whole structure of the two great Homeric poems; but if it exists in the midst of that sunny luxuriance of popular fancy as a felt atmosphere, it is planted by Æschylus, the thoughtful lyrist of a later age, on a visible elevation, whence, as from a natural pulpit, enveloped with dark clouds, or from a Heathen Sinai, involved in fearful thunders and lightnings, it trumpets forth its warnings, and hurls its bolts of flaming denunciation against Sin. The reader, who has gone through the two preceding pieces of this remarkable trilogy, without discovering this their deep moral significance, has read to little purpose; but it is here, in the concluding piece, that the grand doctrine of the moral government of the world is most formally enunciated; it is in the person of the Furies that the wrathful indignation of Jove against the violators of the moral law manifests itself, in the full panoply of terror, and stands out as the stern Avatar of an inexorable Justice. Here, therefore, if we will understand the moral seriousness, of which the gay Hellenic Polytheism was not without its background, let us fix our gaze. If the principles of “immutable morality,” of which our great English Platonist talks so comprehensively, are to be found anywhere, they are to be found here.Edition: current; Page: 
The Furies (or the Εὐμενίδες, i.e. the Gracious-minded, as they are called by a delicate euphemism) are generally looked upon as the impersonations of an evil conscience, the incarnated scourges of self-reproach. In this view there is no essential error; but it may be beneficial, in entering on the perusal of the present piece, to place before the modern reader more literally the true Homeric idea of these awful Powers. In the Iliad and Odyssey, frequent mention is made of the Erinnyes; and from the circumstances, in which their names occur, in various passages of these poems, there can be no doubt that we are to view them primarily as the impersonation of an imprecation or curse, which a person, whose natural rights have been grossly violated, pronounces on the person, by whom this violation comes.* Thus the father of Phoenix (Il. ix. 453), being offended by the conduct of his son in relation to one of his concubines, “loads him with frequent curses, and invokes the hated Furies”—
Πολλὰ κατηρατο, στυγερὰς δ’ ἐπίκεκλετ Εριννῠς,
and “the gods,” it is added, “gave accomplishment to his curse, the subterranean Jove, and the awful Persephone” In the same book we find, in the narration of the war, between the Curetes and the Ætolians, about Calydon, how Althaea, the mother of Meleager, being offended with her son on account of his having slain her brother, cursed him, and invoked Pluto and Proserpine that he might die, and
Both these instances relate to offences committed against the revered character of a parent; but the elder brother also has his Erinnys.—(Il. xv. 204), and even the houseless beggar—(Od. xvii. 575), and, more than all, he to whose prejudice the sacred obligation of truth and honour have been set at nought by the perjured swearer—
says Agamemnon—(Il. xix. 257)—in restoring the intact Briseis to Achilles.
Thus, according to Homer’s idea, wherever there is a cry of righteous indignation, rising up to Heaven from the breast of an injured person, there may be a Fury or Furies; for they are not Edition: current; Page:  limited or defined in any way as to number. It is not, however, on every petty occasion of common offence that these dread ministers of divine vengeance appear. Only, when deeds of a deeper darkness are done, do these daughters of primeval Night (for so Æschylus symbolises their pedigree) issue forth from their subterranean caverns. There is something volcanic in their indignation, whose eruption is too terrible to be common. They chiefly frequent the paths, that are dabbled with blood. A murdered father, or a murdered mother especially, were never known to appeal to them in vain, even though Jove’s own prophet, Apollo, add his sanction to the deed. An Orestes may not hope to escape the bloody chase, which the “winged hounds,” invoked by a murdered Clytemnestra, are eager to prepare—the sacred precincts of an oracular Delphi may not repel their intrusion—the scent of blood “laughs in their nostrils,” and they will not be cheated of their game. Only one greatest goddess, in whose hands are the keys of her father’s armoury of thunder, may withstand the full rush of these vindictive powers. Only Pallas Athena, with her panoply of Olympian strength, and her divine wisdom of reconciliation can bid them be pacified.
In order to understand thoroughly the situation of the matricide Orestes, in the present play, we must consider further the ancient doctrine of pollution attaching to an act of murder, and the consequent necessity of purification to the offender. The nature of this is distinctly set forth by Orestes himself in a reply to his sister Iphigenia, put into his mouth by Euripides. “Loxias,” he says, “first sent me to Athens, and
Like an unclean leper among the Jews, the man polluted with human blood wandered from land to land, as with a Cain’s mark upon his brow, and every fellow-being shrank from his touch as from a living plague.
Under the ban of such a social excommunication as this, the first act of readmission into the fraternity of human society was performed by the sprinkling of swine’s blood on the exile, a ceremony described particularly in the following passage of Apollonius Rhodius, where Jason and Medea are purified by Circe from the taint of the murder of Absyrtus:—
The other “pure libations” here mentioned include specially water, of which particular mention is made in the legend of Alcmæon, which bears a remarkable resemblance to that of Orestes, and in which it is in the sacred stream of the Achelous alone that purification is at length found, from the deeply-engrained guilt of matricide.—(Apollodor, Lib. III., c. 7.) All this, however, availed only to remove the unhallowed taint, with which human blood had defiled the murderer. It was necessary, further, that he should be tried before a competent court, and formally acquitted, as having performed every atonement and given every satisfaction that the nature of the case required. According to the consuetudinary law of Athens, there were various courts in which different cases of murder and manslaughter were tried; but of all the courts that held solemn judgment on shed blood, none was more venerable in its origin, or more weighty in its authority, than the famous court of the Areopagus; and here it is, accordingly, that, after being wearied out by the sleepless chase of his relentless pursuers, Orestes, with the advice and under the protection of Apollo, arrives to gain peace to his soul by a final verdict of acquittal from the sage elders of Athens, acting by the authority and with the direction of their wise patron-goddess, Athena.
The connection of Athena and the Areopagus with the Orestean legend gives to the present play a local interest and a patriotic hue of which the want is too often felt in the existing remains of the Attic tragedy. But Athena and the grave seniors of the hill of Ares are not the only celestial personages here, in whom an Athenian audience would find a living interest. The Furies themselves enjoyed a special reverence in the capital of Athens, under the title of Σεμνὰι θεαι, or the dread goddesses, and the principal seat of this worship, whether by a happy conjunction or a wise choice, was situated on Edition: current; Page:  the north-east side (looking towards the Acropolis) of that very hill of the war god, where the venerable court that bore his name held its solemn sessions on those crimes, which it was the principal function of the Furies to avenge. Up to the present hour, the curious traveller through the wreck of Athenian grandeur sees pointed out the black rift of the rock into which the awful virgins, after accepting the pacification of Athena, are reported to have descended into their subterranean homes;* and it is with this very descent, amid flaming torch-light and solemn hymns, that the great tragedian, mingling peace with fear, closes worthily the train of startling superhuman terrors which this drama exhibits.
But Æschylus is not a patriot only, and a pious worshipper of his country’s gods in this play, he is also, to some small extent at least, manifestly a politician. The main feature of the constitutional history of Athens in the period immediately following the great Persian war, to which period our trilogy belongs, was the enlargement and the systematic completion of those democratic forms, of which the timocratic legislation of Solon, about a century and a-half before, had planted the first germs. Of these changes, Pericles, the man above all others who knew both to understand and to control his age, was the chief promoter; and in a policy whose main tendency was the substitution of a numerous popular for a narrow professional control of public business, it could not fail to be a main feature, that the authority of the judges of the old aristocratic courts was curtailed in favour of those bodies of paid jurymen, the institution of which is specially attributed to Pericles and his coadjutor Ephialtes.† Whether these changes were politic or not, in the large sense of that word, need not be inquired here; Mr. Grote has done much to lengthen the focus of those short-sighted national spectacles, through which the English eye has been accustomed to view the classic democracies; but let it be that Pericles kept within the bounds of a wise liberty in giving a fair and a large trial to the action of democratic principles at that time and place; or let it be, on the other hand, that he overstepped the line
in either case, where decision was so difficult, and discretion so delicate, no one can accuse the thoughtful tragic poet of a stolid conservatism, when he comes forward, in this play, as the advocate of Edition: current; Page:  the only court of high jurisdiction in Athens, now left unshaken by the great surge of those popular billows, that were yet swelling everywhere with the eager inspiration of Marathon and Salamis.* The court of Areopagus was not now, since the legislation of Solon, and the further democratic movement of Cleisthenes, in any invidious or exclusive sense an aristocratic assembly, such as the close corporations of the old Roman aristocracy before the series of popular changes introduced by Licinius Stolo; it was a council, in fact, altogether without that family and hereditary element, in which the principal offence of aristocracy has always lain; its members were composed entirely (not recruited merely like our House of Lords) of those superior magistrates—archons annually elected by the people—who had retired from office. To magnify the authority of such a body, and maintain intact the few privileges that had now been left it, was, when an obvious opportunity offered, not only excusable in a great national tragedian, but imperative. One thing his political attitude in this matter certainly proves, that he was not a vulgar hunter after popularity, delighting to swell to the point of insane exaggeration the cry of the hour, but one of those men of high purpose, who prove a greater strength of patriotism by stemming the popular stream, than by swimming with it.
Besides the championship of the Court of the Areopagus, there is another political element in this rich drama, which, though of less consequence, must not be omitted. No sooner had the Persian invaders been fairly driven back from the Hellenic shore, than that old spirit of narrow local jealousy, which was the worm at the heart of Grecian political existence, broke out with renewed vigour, and gave ominous indications in the untoward affair of Tanagra, of that terrible collision which shook the two great rival powers a few years afterwards in the famous Peloponnesian war. Sparta and Athens, opposed as they were by race, by geographical position, and by political character, after some public attempts at co-operation, in which Cimon was the principal actor, shrunk back, as in quiet preparation for the great trial of strength, into a state of isolated antagonism. But, though open hostility was deferred, wise precaution could not sleep; and, accordingly, we find the Athenians, about this time, anxious to secure a base of operations, so to speak, against Sparta in the Peloponnesus, by entering into an alliance with Argos. As a genuine Athenian, Æschylus, whatever his political feelings might be towards Cimon and the Spartan party, could not but look with Edition: current; Page:  pleasure on the additional strength which this Argive connection gave to Athens in the general council of Greece; and, accordingly, he dexterously takes advantage of the circumstance of Orestes being an Argive, to trace back the now historical union of the two countries to a period where Fancy is free to add what links she pleases to the brittle bonds of international association
Such is a rapid sketch of the principal religious and political relations, some notion of which is necessary to enable the general English reader to enter with sympathy on the perusal of the very powerful and singular drama of the Eumenides The professional student, of course, will not content himself with what he finds here, but will seek for complete satisfaction in the luminous pages of Thirlwall and Grote—in the learned articles of Dr. Smith’s Dictionary of Antiquities, in the notes of Schoemann, and, above all, in the rare Dissertations of Ottfried Muller, accompanying his edition of the Eumenides—a work which I have read once and again with mingled admiration and delight—from which I have necessarily drawn with no stinted hand in my endeavours to comprehend the Orestean trilogy for myself, and to make it comprehensible to others; and which I most earnestly recommend to all classical students as a pattern-specimen of erudite architecture raised by the hand of a master, from whom, even in his points of most baseless speculation (as what German is without such?), more is to be learned than from the triple-fanged certainties of vulgar commentators.
Scene.—In front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
[She goes into the Temple, but suddenly returns.
The interior of the Delphic Temple is now presented to view. Orestes is seen clinging to the navel-stone; the Eumenides lie sleeping on the seats around. In the background Hermes beside Orestes. Enter Apollo.
[Exit Hermes, leading Orestes. Apollo retires.
Enter the Shade of Clytemnestra.
[The Chorus moans.
[The Chorus moans again.
[The Chorus groans.
[The Chorus groans again.
[with redoubled groans and shrill cries].
Hold! seize him! seize him! seize there! there! there! hold!
Chorus,19 starting up in hurry and confusion.
Awake! awake! rouse her as I rouse thee!
Shame on me, too: a bootless, fruitless shame!
The snare hath sprung: flown is the goodly game.
Thou being young dost overleap the old.20
Apollo’s shrine a mother-murderer’s hold!
How so? Speak!
Thine was the voice that bade him kill his mother.
Mine was the voice bade him avenge his father.
All reeking red with gore thou didst receive him.
Not uninvited to these halls he came.
The man is mine already. I will keep him.
He’s gone; and thou’lt but waste thy toil to follow.
Thy words shall not be swords, to cut my honors.
Crowned with such honors, I would tear them from me!
The scene changes to the Temple of Pallas in Athens. A considerable interval of time is supposed to have elapsed between the two parts of the Play.
Look, sisters, look!
I know you, and the dreaded name ye bear.
Our sacred office, too—
That I would hear.
The guilty murderer from his home we hunt.
And the hot chase, where ends it?
He slew his mother—dared the worst of crimes.
There are two parties. Only one hath spoken.
He’ll neither swear himself, nor take my oath.34
How? Speak—thou so rich in wisdom.
Oaths are no proof, to make the wrong the right.
Prove thou. A true and righteous judgment judge.
Enter Athena, behind a Herald.
I did the deed. This fact hath no denial.
Once worsted! With three fits I gain the trial.
Boast, when thou seest me fall. As yet I stand.
This answer now—how didst thou do the deed.
Who the bloody deed advised?
The god of oracles. Here he stands to witness.
Commanding murder with prophetic nod?
Ay! and even now I do not blame the god.
My murdered sire will aid me from the tomb.
Trust in the dead; in thy dead mother trust.
She died, with two foul blots well marked for vengeance.
How so? This let the judges understand
The hand that killed her husband killed my father.
If she for her crimes died, why livest thou?
If her thou didst not vex, why vex me now?
She slew a man, but not of kindred blood.
Now judges, as your judgment is, I charge you, So vote the doom. Words we have had enough.
Our quiver’s emptied. We await the doom.
How should the sentence fall to keep me free Of your displeasure?
The Aeropagites advance; and, as each puts his pebble into the urn, the Chorus and Apollo alternately address them as follows:
We sink to shame, or to more honor rise.
Sovran Athena, what sure home receives me?
A home from sorrow free. Receive it freely.
And when received, what honors wait me then?
No house shall prosper where thy blessing fails.
This by thy grace is sure?
This pledged for ever?
I cannot promise what I not perform
Here harboured thou wilt number many friends.
Say, then, how shall my hymn uprise to bless thee?
Convoy, conducting the Eumenides in festal pomp to their subterranean temple, with torches in their hands:
Might and Force, Ministers of Jove.
Hephaesthus or Vulcan, the God of Fire.
Prometheus, Son of Iapetus, a Titan.
Chorus of Oceanides.
Io, Daughter of Inachus, King of Argos.
Hermes, Messenger of the Gods.
Scene—A Rocky Desert in European Scythia.
In the mythology of the ancient Greeks, as of many other nations, we find the earlier periods characterised by a series of terrible mundane struggles—wars in Heaven and wars on Earth—which serve as an introduction to, and a preparation for the more regularly ordered and more permanent dynasty that ultimately sways the sceptre of Olympus. In the theological poem of Hesiod, as in the prose narration of Apollodorus, Heaven and Earth are represented as the rulers of the first celestial dynasty; their offspring, called Titans, in the person of one of their number, Kronos, by a violent act of dethronement, forms a second dynasty; while he, in his turn, after a no less violent struggle, gives place to a third sceptre—viz., that of Jove—who, in the faith of the orthodox Athenian, was the supreme ruler of the world of gods, and men, now, after many throes and struggles, arrived, at its normal state, not henceforward to be disturbed. The general character which this succession of dynasties exhibits, is that of order arising out of confusion, peace out of war, and wisely-reasoned plan triumphing over brute force—
This representation of the philosophic lyrist of a late age is in perfect harmony with the epithets μητιόεις and μητιέτα given to Jove by the earliest Greek poets, and with the allegory by which Μη̂τις, or Counsel personified, is represented as one of the wives of the Supreme Ruler. It is worthy of notice also, in the same view, that the legends about the Titans, Giants, and other Earth-born monsters, warring with Jove, are often attached to districts—such as Campania and Cilicia—in which the signs of early volcanic action are, even at the present day, unmistakeable; plainly indicating that such mythic narrations were only exhibitions, in the historical form (according to the early style), of great elemental convulsions and physical changes taking place on the face of the Earth.Edition: current; Page: 
Among the persons most prominent in that primeval age of gigantic “world-strife” (if we may be allowed to Anglicize a German compound) stands Prometheus; not, however, like his Titan brethren in character, though identical with them in descent, and in the position which he finally assumed towards the god in whose hands the supreme government of the world eventually remained. Prometheus, as his name denotes, strives against the high authority of Jove, not by that “reasonless force which falls by its own weight,” but by intelligence and cunning. Viewed in this character, he was the natural ally, not of the serpent-footed Giants and the flame-breathing Typhon, but of the All-wise Olympian; and such, indeed, Æschylus, in the present piece (v. 219, p. 189 below), represents as having been his original position: but, as “before honor is humility, and before pride comes a fall,” so the son of Iapetus, like Tantalus, and so many others in the profoundly moral mythology of the Hellenes, found himself exalted into the fellowship of the blissful gods, only that he might be precipitated into a more terrible depth of misery. He was wise; nay, benevolent ([Editor: illegible character]κακητα, Hesiod. Theog., 614); his delight was to exercise his high intellect in the elevation of the infant human race, sunk in a state of almost brutish stupidity; he stood forward as an incarnation of that practical intellect (so triumphant in these latter days), which subjects the rude elements of nature, for human use and convenience, to mechanical calculation and control; but, with all this, he was proud, he was haughty; his Titanic strength and his curious intellect he used, to shake himself free from all dependence on the highest power, which the constitution of things had ordered should stand as the strong key-stone of the whole Not to ruin mankind, but to save them, he sinned the sin of Lucifer; he would make himself God; and, as in the eye of a court-martial, the subaltern who usurps the functions of the commander-in-chief stands not acquitted, because he alleges that he acted with a benevolent intent, or for the public good, so, in the faith of an orthodox Athenian, Prometheus was not the less worthy of his airy chains because he defied the will of Jove in the championship of mankind Neither man nor god may question or impugn the divine decree of supreme Jove, on grounds of expediency or propriety. With the will of Zeus, as with the laws of nature, there is no arguing. In this relationship the first, second, and third point of duty is submission Such is the doctrine of modern Christian theology; such, also, was the doctrine of the old Hellenic theologer, Hesiod—Edition: current; Page: 
Those who are acquainted with the philological learning on this subject, which I have discussed elsewhere,* or even with the common ideas on the legend of Prometheus brought into circulation by the productions of modern poetry, are aware that the view just given of the moral significance of this weighty old myth, is not the current one, and that we are rather accustomed to look upon Prometheus as a sort of proto-martyr of liberty, bearing up with the strength of a god against the punishment unjustly inflicted on him by the celestial usurper and tyrant, Jove But Hesiod, we have just seen, looks on the matter with very different eyes, and the unquestioned supremacy of Jove that stands out everywhere, from the otherwise not always consistent theological system of the Iliad, leads plainly to the conclusion that Homer also, had he had occasion to introduce this legend, would have handled it in a spirit altogether different from our Shelleys and Byrons, and other earth-shaking and heaven-scaling poets of the modern revolutionary school. As little is there any ground (see the life of Æschylus, vol. I.) for the supposition that our tragedian has taken up different theological ground in reference to this myth, from that which belonged to the two great expositors of the popular creed, not to mention the staring absurdity of the idea, that a grave tragic poet in a serious composition, at a public religious festival, should have dared, or daring, should have been allowed, to hold up their supreme deity to a nation of freemen in the character of a cruel and unjust tyrant. Thrown back, therefore, on the original Hesiodic conception of the myth, we are led to observe that the imperfect and unsatisfactory ideas so current on this subject in modern times, have taken their rise from the practice (so natural under the circumstances) of looking on the extant piece as a complete whole, whereas nothing is more certain than that it is only a fragment; the second part, in fact, of a dramatic trilogy similar in conception and execution to that, of which we have endeavoured to present a reflection in the preceding pages. Potter, in his translation published a hundred years ago, prefaced his version of the present piece with the well-known fact, that Æschylus wrote three plays on this subject—the Fire-bringing Prometheus, the Prometheus Bound, and the Prometheus Unbound—but this intimation Edition: current; Page:  was not sufficient to prevent his readers, with the usual hastiness of human logic, from judging of what they saw, as if it were an organic whole, containing within itself every element necessary for forming a true conception of its character. The consequence was, that the hero of the piece, who, of course, tells his own story in the most favourable way for himself, was considered as having passed a final judgment on the case, as the friend and representative of man, he naturally seemed entitled to the gratitude of men; while Jove, being now only an idol in the world (perhaps a devil), and having no advocate in the heart of the modern reader, was made to stand—on the representation of the same Prometheus—as the type of heartless tyranny, and the impersonation of absolute power combined with absolute selfishness. This is Shelley’s view; but that such was not the view of Æschylus we may be assured, both from the consideration already mentioned, and from the poet’s method of reconciling apparently incompatible claims of opposite celestial powers, so curiously exhibited in the Eumenides. In the trilogy of the preceding pages, Orestes stands in a situation, so far as the development of the plot is concerned, precisely analogous to that of Prometheus in the present piece. His conduct, as submitted to the moral judgment of the spectator, produces the same conflict of contrary emotions of which his own bosom is the victim. With the one-half of our heart we approve of his avenging his father’s murder; with the other half, we plead that a son shall, on no ground of offence, allow his indignation to proceed so far as to imbrue his hands in the blood of her whose milk he had sucked. This contrariety of emotions excited in the second piece of the trilogy, produces the tragic knot, which it is the business of the poet to unloose, by the worthy interposition of a god. “Nec Deus intersit, nisi dignus vindice nodus.”—Exactly so in the second piece of the Promethean trilogy, our moral judgment praises the benevolence of the god, who, to elevate our human race from brutish degradation, dared to defy omnipotent power, and to deceive the wisdom of the omniscient; while, at the same time, we cannot but condemn the spirit of unreined independence that would shake itself free from the great centre of moral cohesion, and the reckless boldness that casts reproach in the face of the great Ruler of the universe. In this state of suspense, represented by the doubtful attitude of the Chorus* through the whole play, the present fragment of the great Æschylean Promethiad leaves the well-instructed modern reader; and it admits Edition: current; Page:  not, in my view, of a doubt that, in the concluding piece, it remained for the poet to effect a reconciliation between the contending interests and clashing emotions, somewhat after the fashion of which we possess a specimen in the Eumenides. By what agency of individuals or of arguments this was done, it is hopeless now to inquire; the fragmentary notices that remain are too meagre to justify a scientific restoration of the lost drama; they who wish to see what erudite imagination can do in this direction may consult Welcker and Schoemann—Welcker, in the shape of prose dissertation in his Trilogie, p. 28; and Schoemann, in the shape of a poetical restoration of the lost poem, in the Appendix to his very valuable edition of this play. About one thing only can we be certain, that, in the ultimate settlement of disputed claims, neither will Prometheus, on the one hand, be degraded from the high position on which the poet has planted him as a sort of umpire between gods and men, nor will Jove yield one whit of his supreme right to exact the bitterest penalties from man or god who presumes to act independently of, and even in opposition to his will. The tragic poet will duly exercise his grand function of keeping the powers of the celestial world—as he does the contending emotions of the human mind—in due equipoise and subordination.*
The plot of the Prometheus Bound is the simplest possible, being not so much the dramatic progression of a course of events, as a single dramatic situation presented through the whole piece under different aspects. The theft of fire from Heaven, or (as the notice of Cicero seems to indicate) from the Lemnian volcano of Mosychlos,† having been perpetrated in the previous piece, Might and Force, two allegorical personages, the ministers of Jove’s vengeance, are now introduced, along with Hephaestus, the forger of celestial chains, nailing the benevolent offender to a cold craggy rock in the wastes of European Scythia. In this condition when, after a long silence, he at length gives vent to his complaint, certain kindred divine persons—first, the Oceanides, or daughters of Ocean, and then their hoary sire himself, are brought on the scene, with words of solace and friendly exhortation to the sufferer.‡ When all the arguments that these parties have to advance are exhausted in vain, another mythic personage, of a different character, and for a Edition: current; Page:  different purpose, appears. This is Io, the daughter of Inachus, the primeval king of Argos, who, having enjoyed the unblissful distinction of stirring the heart of Jove with love, is, by the jealous wrath of Hera, transmuted into the likeness of a cow,* and sent wandering to the ends of the Earth, fretted into restless distraction by the stings of a malignant insect. This character serves a threefold purpose. First, as a sufferer, tracing the origin of all her misery from Jove, she both sympathizes strongly with Prometheus, and exhibits the character of Jove in another unfavourable aspect; secondly, with her wild maniac cries and reinless fits of distraction, she presents a fine contrast to the calm self-possession with which the stout-hearted Titan endures the penalty of his pride; and, in the third place, as the progenitrix of the Argive Hercules, the destined instrument of the delivery of Prometheus, she connects the middle with the concluding piece of the trilogy. Last of all, when this strange apparition has vanished, appears on the scene the great Olympian negotiator, Hermes; who, with the eloquence peculiar to himself, and the threatened terrors of his supreme master, endeavours to break the pride and to bend the will of the lofty-minded offender. In vain. The threatened terrors of the Thunderer now suddenly start into reality; and, amid the roar of contending elements, the pealing Heaven and the quaking Earth, the Jove-defying son of Iapetus descends into Hell.
The superhuman grandeur and high tragic sublimity which belongs to the very conception of this subject, has suffered nothing in respect of treatment from the genius of the bard who dared to handle it. The Prometheus Bound, though inferior in point of lyric richness and variety to the Agamemnon, and though somewhat overloaded with narrative in one place, is nevertheless felt throughout to be one of the most powerful productions of one of the most powerful minds that the history of literature knows. No work of a similar lofty character certainly has ever been so extensively popular. The Prometheus Unbound of Shelley, and Lord Byron’s Manfred, bear ample witness, of which we may well be proud, to the relationship which exists between the severe Melpomene of ancient Greece, and the lofty British Muse.
Enter Might and Force, leading in Prometheus; Hephaestus, with chains.
But, my friend, my kinsman—
O thrice-cursed trade, that e’er my hand should use it!
I know it, and am dumb.
The irons here are ready.
The work speeds well, and lingers not.
This arm is fast.
None but the victim can reprove my zeal.
’Tis done, and quickly done.
Harsh is thy tongue, and, like thy nature, hard.
Let us away. He’s fettered limb and thew.
[Exeunt all, except Prometheus, who is left chained.
The Oceanides approach, borne through the air in a winged car.
Certes no sight am I for friends to look on.
Was this thy sole offence?
Nay more, I gave them fire.
And flame-faced fire is now enjoyed by mortals?22
Enjoyed, and of all arts the destined mother.
None, but his own pleasure.
Most bootless toil, and folly most inane.
Seem fool, seem wise, I, in the end, am blamed.
Thy reckless words reluctant send me home.
Beware, lest love for me make thyself hated.
In this, thy fate shall warn me.
And who is lord of strong Necessity?34
The triform Fates, and the sure-memoried Furies.
And mighty Jove himself must yield to them?
No more than others Jove can ’scape his doom.35
What doom?—No doom hath he but endless sway.
’Tis not for thee to know: tempt not the question.
Dost hear the plaint of the ox-horned maid?
I pray thee speak to the weary way-worn maid.
I have but ceased rehearsing all my wrongs.
And dost thou then refuse the boon I ask?
What boon? ask what thou wilt, and I will answer.
Say, then, who bound thee to this ragged cliff?
Stern Jove’s decree, and harsh Hephaestus’ hand.
And for what crime?
Let what I’ve said suffice.
Then why so slow to answer?
I would not crush thee with the cruel truth.
Fear not; I choose to hear it.
Ah! wretched me!
What! more? her cup of woes not full?
Jove from his tyranny hurled—can such thing be?
Doubtless ’twould feast thine eyes to see’t?
Jove’s own empty wit.
From evil marriage reaping evil fruit.
Marriage! of mortal lineage or divine?
Ask me no further. This I may not answer.
Shall his spouse thrust him from his ancient throne?
The son that she brings forth shall wound his father.
And hath he no redemption from this doom?
None, till he loose me from these hated bonds.
But who, in Jove’s despite, shall loose thee?
When generations ten have passed, the third.44
Thou speak’st ambiguous oracles.
Wilt thou hold forth a hope to cheat my grasp?
I give thee choice of two things: choose thou one.
What things? Speak, and I’ll choose
I both speak truth and wish the truth to be.
But who can think that Jove shall find a master?
He shall be mastered! Ay, and worse endure.
Dost thou not blench to cast such words about thee?
How should I fear, being a god and deathless?
But he can scourge with something worse than death.
Even let him scourge! I’m armed for all conclusions.
Yet they are wise who worship Adrastéa49
Thou dost delight in miseries; thou art wanton.
Must I, too, share the blame of thy distress?
Thou’rt mad, clean mad, thy wit’s diseased, Prometheus.
Most mad! if madness ’tis to hate our foes.
Alas! this piercing pang!
“Alas!”—this word Jove does not understand.
As Time grows old he teaches many things.
Yet Time that teaches all leaves thee untaught.
Untaught in sooth, thus parleying with a slave!
It seems thou wilt not grant great Jove’s demand.
Dost beard me like a boy? Beware.
Bethink thee well: thy vaunts can help thee nothing.
I speak not rashly: what I said I said.
Chorus of Danaides.
Pelasgus, King of Argos, and Attendants.
Danaus, according to the received Greek story, was an Egyptian, who founded a colony in Argos, at some date between the age of the oldest Argive king Inachus, and the Trojan war. In the reality of this sea-faring adventurer, modern historians, following the faith of the ancient Greeks, have generally acquiesced, till, latterly, the Germans, with that instinctive hostility to external tradition which characterises them, have boldly ventured to explain both the Egyptian and his colony away into a symbol, or an inanity. Of our most recent writers, however, Thirlwall, after considering all the German speculations on the subject, is not ashamed to say a word in favour of the possibility or probability of an Egyptian colony in Argos;* while Clinton† (Introd pp. 6, 7), boldly announces the principle that “we may acknowledge as real persons all those whom there is no reason for rejecting. The presumption is in favour of the early tradition. . . . Cadmus and Danaus appear to be real persons; for it is conformable to the state of mankind, and perfectly credible that Phœnician and Egyptian adventurers, in the ages to which these persons are ascribed, should have found their way to the coasts of Greece.” Grote, however, seems to have acted most wisely in refusing to decide whether any particular legend of the earliest times is mythical or historical, on the ground that, though many of the legends doubtless contain truth, they contain it only “in a sort of chemical combination with fiction, which we have no means of decomposing”—(II. p. 50). This play of Æschylus, therefore, cannot boast of any accessory historical superadded to the principal poetic interest.
Danaus, the legend tells, though an Egyptian born, was not of Egyptian descent. The original mother of his race was Io, daughter of Inachus, king of Argos, and priestess of Hera in that place. How this much-persecuted maid found her way from the banks of the “Erasinus old” to the shores of the nurturing Nile, we have seen in the previous piece. Danaus had a brother called Ægyptus, the father of fifty sons, as himself was of fifty daughters. These fifty sons Ægyptus sought to unite in wedlock to the equal-numbered progeny of his brother; but the chaste maidens, whether because they actually thought it unholy (as it certainly is, in the general case, unadvisable) for first cousins to marry first cousins, or Edition: current; Page:  because the suit was pressed in a manner not the most respectful, or from a combination of both motives, refused to enter into the bond; and, to escape the importunities of their stronger male suitors, fled, under the guidance of their father, over the seas to Greece As kind chance, or, rather, Divine Providence, would have it, they were wafted to that very part of Greece whence their famous ancestress Io had originally proceeded, when the god-sent gadfly drove her, in a career of tempestuous wanderings, through great part of Europe and Asia, to Egypt. With their landing on this coast the present opera commences; and the action which it represents is the very simple one of the reception of the Libyan fugitives, by the Argive monarch Pelasgus (otherwise called Gelanor), and their participation in the rights and privileges of Argive citizenship. The transference of their affections from Nile to Erasinus is solemnly sung in the concluding chaunt. The Danaides are now Argives.
Considered by itself, the action of this piece is the most meagre that can be conceived, and, as the poet has handled it, contains little that can stir the deeper feelings of the heart, or strike the imagination strongly That the king of the Argives should feel serious doubts as to the propriety of receiving such a band of foreigners into his kingdom, formidable not in their own strength, indeed, but in respect of the pursuing party, by whom they were claimed, was most natural; equally natural, however, and, in a poetic point of view, necessary, that his political fears should finally be outweighed by his benevolent regard for the rights of unprotected virgins, and his pious fear of the wrath of Jove, the protector of suppliants The alternation of mind between these contending feelings, till a final resolve is taken on the side of the right, affords no field for the higher faculty of the dramatist to display itself As we have it, accordingly, the Suppliants is, perhaps, the weakest performance of Æschylus. But the fact is, there is the best reason to believe that the great father of tragedy never meant this piece to stand alone, but wrote it merely to usher in the main action, which followed in the other pieces of a trilogy; the names of which pieces—Ἀιγύπτιοι, and Δαναίδες—are preserved in the list of the author’s pieces still extant. Of this, the whole conclusion of the present piece, and especially the latter half of the last choral chaunt, furnishes the most conclusive evidence.
The remainder of the story, which formed the main action of the trilogy, is well known. Immediately after the reception of the fugitives, by the Argives, their pursuers arrive, and land on the coast This arrival is announced in the last scene of the present piece. On Edition: current; Page:  this, Danaus, unwilling to lead his kind host into a war, pretends to yield to the suit still as eagerly pressed, and the marriage is agreed on. But a terrible revenge had been devised. At the very moment that he hands over his unwilling but obedient daughters to the subjection of their hated cousins, he gives them secret instructions to furnish themselves each with a dagger, and, during the watches of the nuptial night, to dip the steel in the throats of their unsuspecting lords. The bloody deed was completed. Only one of all the fifty daughters, preferring the fame of true womanhood to the claims of filial homage, spared her mate Hypermnestra saved her husband Lynceus. This conduct, of course, brought the daughter into collision with her father and her father’s family; and one of those strifes of our mysterious moral nature was educed, which, as we have seen in the trilogy of the Orestiad, it was one great purpose of the Æschylean drama to reconcile. If the murder occupied the second piece, as the progress of the story naturally brings with it, a third piece, according to the analogy of the Eumenides, would be necessary to bring about the reconciliation, and effect that purifying of the passions which Aristotle points out as the great moral result of tragic composition That Aphrodite was the great celestial agent employed in the finale of the Suppliants, as Pallas Athena is in the Furies, has been well divined; a beautiful fragment in celebration of love, and in favour of Hypermnestra remains; but to attempt a reconstruction of these lost pieces at the present day, though an amusement of which the learned Germans are fond, is foreign to the habits of the British mind. Those who feel inclined to see what ingenuity may achieve in this region, are referred to Welcker’s Trilogie, and Gruppe’s Ariadne.
The moral tone and character of this piece is in the highest degree pleasing and satisfactory. The Supreme Jove, whose prominent attribute is power, here receives a glorification as the protector of the persecuted, and the refuge of the distressed On the duty of hospitality, under the sanction of Ζεύς ξἑνιος and ἱκεσιος, as practised among the ancient Greeks, I refer the reader with pleasure to Grote’s History of Greece, Vol. II., p. 114
“The scene,” says Potter, “is near the shore, in an open grove, close to the altar and images of the gods presiding over the sacred games, with a view of the sea and ships of Egyptus on one side, and of the town of Argos on the other, with hills, and woods, and vales, a river flowing between them: all, together with the persons of the drama, forming a picture that would have well employed the united pencils of Poussin and Claude.”
Chorus, entering the stage in procession. March time.
The Chorus assemble in a band round the centre of the Orchestra, and sing the Choral Hymn.
Even so; and with benignant eye look down!14
* * * *
Delay not. In performance show thy strength.
Even there where thou dost sit, I’d sit beside thee!
O Jove show pity ere pity come too late!
Jove willing, all is well.
May he with pity and with aid be near!
Whom next shall I invoke?
Here’s Hermes likewise, as Greece knows the god.17
Be he my herald, heralding the free!
And what did then the potent spouse of Jove?
She sent a watchman ringed with eyes to watch.
This all-beholding herdsman, who was he?
Argus the son of Earth, by Hermes slain.
How further fared the ill-fated heifer, say?
A persecuting brize was sent to sting her.
And o’er the wide earth goaded her the brize?
Just so, thy tale with mine accordant chimes.
Then to Canopus, and to Memphis came she?
There, touched by Jove’s boon hand, she bore a son.
The heifer’s boasted offspring, who was he?
* * * *26
Libya, dowered with a fair land’s goodly name.
And from this root divine what other shoots?
Belus, my father’s father, and my uncle’s.
Who is thy honoured father?
This brother who? Spare not to tell the whole.
But branch on branch well grafted goodlier grows
Justice will fight for him who fights for us.
The state’s high poop here crowned Revere.
The wrath of suppliant Jove28 is hard to bear.
Now hear the end of my respectful prayers.
I hear. Speak on. Thy words shall not escape me.
Thou see’st this sash, this zone my stole begirding.
Fit garniture of women. Yes; I see it.
This zone well-used may serve us well.
If thou refuse to pledge our safety, then—
Thy zone shall pledge it how?
Thou speak’st in riddles. Explain.
[Exeunt Attendants with Danaus.
This ample wood shall shade thee; wait thou here!
No sacred grove is this how should it shield me?
We will not yield thee to the vultures’ claws.
But worse than vultures, worse than dragons threat us.
Gently. To fair words give a fair reply.
I’m terror-struck. Small marvel that I fret.
Fear should be far, when I the king am near.*
With kind words cheer me, and kind actions too.
Chorus, in separate voices, and short hurried exclamations:51
Flee to the gods! to the altars cling!
Beneath thy wing shield us, O king!
Help, ho! help, ho! help!
Enter King with Attendants.
How wrong? Speak plainly.
Thy patrons* who, on this Pelasgian ground?
We too have gods in Argos.
I take no counsel, or from them, or thee.
Enter Danaus, attended by an Argive guard.
Eteocles, Son of Oedipus.
Chorus of Theban Virgins.
Ismene, } Sisters of Eteocles.
Antigone, } Sisters of Eteocles.
Scene—The Acropolis of Thebes.
One of the most indisputable laws of the moral world, and, when seriously considered, perhaps the most awful one, is that principle of hereditary dependence, which connects the sins of one generation, and often of one individual, by an indissoluble bond, with the fortunes of another. In the closely compacted machinery of the moral world no man can be ignorant, or foolish, or vicious to himself. The most isolated individual by the very act of his existence, as he necessarily inhales, so he likewise exhales, a social atmosphere, either healthy so far, or so far unhealthy, for the race. Nothing in the world is independent either of what co-exists with it, or of what precedes it. The present, in particular, is everywhere at once the child of the past, and the parent of the future. It is no doubt true that a foolish father does not always beget a foolish son. There are counteracting influences constantly at work to prevent the fatal tendency to degeneration, of which Horace speaks so feelingly—
but the “Delicta majorum immeritus lues” of the same poet remains a fearful reality in the daily administration of the world, which no serious-thinking man can afford to disregard. In the ancient law of Moses, as in the most famous systems of Christian theology, this principle plays a prominent part; and awful as its operation is, often sweeping whole generations into ruin, and smiting whole nations with a chronic leprosy, for the folly or extravagance of an ephemeral individual, we shall not be surprised to find it equally conspicuous in the literature of so subtle a people as the Greeks. The Hellenic mind, no doubt, was too sunny and too healthy to allow itself to be encased and imprisoned with this idea, as with an iron mail; but as a mysterious dark background of moral existence it was recognised in its highest power, and nowhere so distinctly, and with such terrible iteration, as in those lyrical exhibitions of solemn, religious, and legendary faith, which we call tragedy.Edition: current; Page: 
Among the other serious ethico-religious legends with which the scanty remains of the rich Greek tragedy have made us more familiar, the dark fates of two famous families—the Pelopidae and the Labdacidae—force themselves upon our attention with a marked distinctness. How the evil genius (ἀλάστωρ) of inherited guilt revealed itself in the blood-stained track of the descendants of Tantalus we have seen on the large scale of a complete trilogy in the first volume; the play to which we now introduce the reader is an exhibition of the same stern law of moral concatenation, in one of the scenes of the dark story of the Theban family of the Labdacidae. Labdacus, the father of this unfortunate race, is traced back in the legendary genealogy to the famous Phœnician settler, Cadmus, being removed from him by only one generation.* This head of the family appears tainted with no moral guilt of an extraordinary kind; but his son Laius figures in the legend, not like Pelops in the Pelopidan story, as a murderer, but as a licentious and a lustful character. Yielding to the violent impulses of unnatural passion,† he is said to have carried off from Elis, Chrysippus, the son of Pelops; whereupon the injured father pronounced against the unholy ravisher the appropriate curse that he should die childless, or, if he did beget children, that himself should lose his life by the hands of those to whom he had been the means of giving it. We see here exemplified that grand principle of retaliation (lex talionis), “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” which stands out so prominently in the laws of Moses, and is so agreeable to the moral instincts of the human heart. Laius was to perish by his own progeny, because, in the irregular gratification of the procreative instinct, he had sinned against Nature The curse spoken against him by Pelops was the wrathful expression of one of Nature’s greatest laws; in whatever way we seek violently to obtain happiness contrary to the sober course of the divine arrangements, in that way we are sure with our own hands to work our own destruction. This is inevitable. Accordingly, that the direct sanction of the gods might be added to the utterance of an aggrieved human heart, the legend represents the lustful offender as consulting the oracle of Delphi, whether he might not with safety disregard the imprecation of Pelops, and beget children by his wife Iocaste (called Epicaste in Homer, Od. XI. 271); and receiving the ominous answer—
But the divine oracle, as was to have been expected from the character of the questioner, was given in vain. Laius had consulted the oracle not that he might know and obey the divine will, but that he might, if possible, escape from the terrible consequences of the curse of Pelops, and yet gratify his natural desire of having offspring. The result was natural In a moment of forgetfulness, induced by the free use of that mother of many evils, wine, he neglected the divine warning; and, from his fatal embrace, a child was born, destined in the course of the accomplishment of the ancient curse, both to suffer many monstrous misfortunes in his own person, and to transmit guilt and misery to another generation. This child was Oedipus,† so named from the piercing of his feet by nails, and subsequent exposure on Mount Cithaeron, a device contrived by his father, in order to escape the fulfilment of the divine oracle But it is not possible, as Homer frequently inculcates, to deceive the mind of the gods. The helpless infant, the child of destiny, is found (like Romulus), by some shepherds, and by them taken to Polybus king of Corinth. Here the foundling is brought up as the son of that monarch; but, on one occasion, being taunted by some of his youthful comrades with the reproach that he is not really the son of Polybus, but a fatherless foundling, he goes forth to the oracle of Delphi, and to the wide world, to clear up what had been more wisely left in the dark; and here his god-sent misfortunes overtake him, and the evil genius of his father drives the innocent son blindfold into inevitable woe. The Pythoness, according to her wont, returned an answer more doubtful than the question. Oedipus was told not who his father was, but that a dark destiny hung over him, to kill his father, and to commit incest with his mother. Knowing no parents but those whom he had left at Corinth, he proceeded on his wanderings, in a direction the opposite of that by which he had come; and, on the road between Delphi and Daulis,‡ met a person of consequence, with a charioteer and an attendant, in a car. The charioteer immediately ordered the foot traveller, somewhat insolently, after the manner of aristocratic satellites, to get out of the way; which rudeness the hot youth resenting, a scuffle ensued, in which the charioteer Edition: current; Page:  and his master were slain, while the attendant fled. The murdered prince was Laius; and Oedipus, unwittingly, nay, doing everything he could to elude the fate, had slain his own father. But the ancient Fury, for a season, concealed her vengeance, and allowed a brief glory to be shed round her victim, that he might thereafter be plunged in more terrible darkness. The Sphynx, a monstrous creature, of Egyptian birth, half virgin, half lion, had been sent by wrathful Mars, to desolate the Theban country, devouring, with her bloody jaws, whosoever could not solve her famous riddle. When depopulation proceeded at a fearful rate from this cause, the Thebans promised locaste, the widow of Laius, and queen of the country, in marriage, to him who should succeed in explaining the enigma Oedipus was successful; and, becoming king of Thebes, was married, in ignorance, to his own mother. Thus the net of destiny was drawn closer and closer round its victim; but the hour of doom was not yet come. Joined in this unnatural wedlock, the unfortunate son of Laius became the father of two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, and of two daughters, Antigone and Ismene. Circumstances (which Sophocles narrates in his Oedipus Tyrannus) afterwards bringing the story of Oedipus’ life and the nature of his connection with locaste to light, the unfortunate old king looking upon himself as an object of hatred to the gods, and unworthy to look upon the day, tore out his eyes, and was confined by his sons—whether from cruelty or superstition—in a separate house, and treated otherwise in a manner that appeared to him disrespectful and unkind.* Enraged at this treatment, he pronounced an imprecation against them, that they should one day divide their inherited land by steel; whereupon they, to render any hostile collision impossible, made an agreement to exercise kingly authority over the whole Theban territory, each for a year at a time, while the other should leave the country. Eteocles, as the elder, reigned first; but when the appointed term came round, like other holders of power, he showed himself loath to quit; and Polynices, fleeing to Argos, sought assistance from Adrastus, king of that country. This prince, along with the Ætolian Tydeus, the father of Diomede, and other chiefs, marched against Thebes with a great armament, in order to force Eteocles to yield the yearly tenure of the throne to his brother, according to agreement. The appearance of this armament before the gates of the Cadmean city, and its sad issue, in the death, by their own Edition: current; Page:  hands, of the two hostile brothers, form the subject of the present play.
From this rapid sketch, the reader will see plainly that the dismal story of Laius and Oedipus, and his children, affords materials for a whole series of tragedies; and that, in fact, “The Seven against Thebes” is only one of the last acts of a great consecutive legendary history, of which each part is necessary to explain the other. This close connection of the subjects naturally suggests the question, whether our play, as we now have it, stood alone in dramatic representation, or whether it was not—like other pieces in this volume—only a subordinate part of a large dramatic whole. We know for certain that Æschylus wrote at least four plays, besides the present, of which the materials were taken from the cycle of this Theban legend—namely, Laius, Oedipus, The Sphynx, and the Eleusinians;* and it has been not unplausibly conjectured that some of his other plays, of which the names are preserved, belong to the same series† In what precise connection, however, the existing play stood to any of the rest in actual representation, there were, till very recently, no satisfactory means of judging; and accordingly no scanty wealth of erudite speculation (after the German fashion), made to look like science, was spent upon the subject. Now, at length it has been announced, that the διδασκαλία, containing the actual order of representation of four of these plays, has been discovered;‡ and, if the document be genuine, we are enabled to assert that, in the 78th Olympiad, Æschylus gained the tragic prize with the tetralogy, of Laius, Oedipus, The Seven Against Thebes, and the Sphynx, a satiric drama.
With regard to the merits of the present piece, while its structure exhibits, in the most striking manner, the deficient skill of the early dramatists, its spirit is everywhere manly and noble, and instinct with the soul of the warlike actions which it describes. The best parts are epic, not dramatic—namely, those in which the Messenger describes the different characters and appearance of the seven chiefs posted each at a separate gate of the Cadmean city. The drama concludes with a Theban coronach or wall over the dead bodies of the self-slain brothers; for the proper relishing of which, the imaginative reproduction of some appropriate music is indispensable. The introduction after this of the Herald, announcing the decree of the Theban senate, whereby burial is denied to the body of Polynices, Edition: current; Page:  and the heroic display of sisterly affection on the part of Antigone, are—if this really was the last piece of a trilogy—altogether foreign both to the action and to the tone of the tragedy, and must be regarded as a blunder. If Schiller, and even Shakespeare, on occasions, could err in such matters, much more Æschylus.
The Chorus5 enter the scene in great hurry and agitation.
The Chorus become more and more agitated. They speak one to another in short hurried exclamations, and in great confusion.
The Chorus crown the altars of the gods, and then, falling on their knees, sing the following Theban Litany, in one continuous chaunt.
The Litany is here interrupted by the noise of the besiegers storming the city, and is continued in a hurried irregular manner.
I hear the dread roll of the chariots of war!
O holy Hera!
And the axles harsh-creaking with dissonant jar!
O Artemis dear!
And the vext air is madded with quick-branished spears.
To Thebes, our loved city, what hope now appears?
And when shall the gods bring an end of our fears?
Hark! hark! stony hail the near rampart is lashing!
O blest Apollo!
And iron-bound shield against shield is clashing!
The Chorus unite again into a full band, and sing the Finale of the Litany in regular Strophe and Antistrophe.
Hark! the angry steeds are snorting.
Hear what thou wilt; but do not hear aloud
The walls are mine to uphold. Pray you, be silent.
And thou the loudest!—Peace!
Great council of the gods, O save us! save us!
Perdition seize thee! thy words flow like water.
O patron gods, save me from captive chains!
Thy fear makes captive me, and thee, and all.
O mighty Jove, fix with thy dart the foe!
O Jove, of what strange stuff hast thou made women!
Men are no better, when their city’s captured.
Dost clasp the gods again, and scream and howl?
Fear hurries on my overmastered tongue
One small request I have; beseech you hear me.
Speak: I am willing, if I can, to please thee
Please me by silence; do not fright thy friends.
I speak no more: and wait my doom with them.
Enter Messenger and Eteocles from opposite sides
We are but women: yet we pray thee hear us.
Speak things that may be, and I’ll hear. Be brief.
Fight not before the seventh gate, we pray thee.
My whetted will thy words may never blunt.
Why rush on danger? Victory’s sure without thee.
So speak to slaves; a soldier may not hear thee.
But brother’s blood—pluck not the bloody blossom.
If gods are just, he shall not ’scape from harm.
What sayst thou? What new ills to ancient Thebes?
Two men are dead—by mutual slaughter slain.
Who?—what?—my wit doth crack with apprehension.
Hear soberly: the sons of Oedipus—
O wretched me! true prophet of true woe.
Too true. They lie stretched in the dust.
Brother by brother’s hand untimely slain.
The impartial god smote equally the twain.