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ART. IV.-1. The Agamemnon of Eschylus, translated from the Greek, illustrated with a Dissertation on Grecian Tragedy. By John S. Harford, Esq. D.C.L. F.R.S.
2. The Agamemnon, translated by J. Medwin, Esq.
3. The Prometheus, by the same.
4. Chorusses of Sophocles. London. 1832.
WE joyfully embrace the opportunity afforded us by the publica tions we have placed at the commencement of this article, to retreat for a brief season from the distracting tumult and the painful realities of the present age, into the sweet and healthful serenity of the Grecian literature. It is consolatory to reflect, that amid all the changes of thought and feeling, by which the last fifty years have been so peculiarly distinguished, the respect for the ancient masters of poetry and art has undergone little, if any, diminution. Rarely have the Antique Burial Grounds been disturbed by an irreverent footstep, or their monuments defaced by the hand of the spoiler. The poets and philosophers of other lands have passed away like the morning shadows; but Eschylus still binds the enchanted memory to the fearful sufferings of Agamemnon and Orestes, and Plato continues to pour over the soul of the meek and faithful-hearted student the golden beauty of his poetical imagination. Kingdoms and dominations have glided away, and the place where they stood remembers them no more; but the poetry, and the philosophy, and the sculpture, and the history of Greece, still abide and shall abide amongst us for ever! and fortunate it is for us and for the community that they are so preserved. We are not blind and infatuated enthusiasts in our admiration, determined to applaud antiquity merely because it is antiquity; we insist upon a diligent study of the ancient models, because we consider their beauty and system and method to be the beauty and system and method of Nature herself. It was with this impression that the illustrious Raphael employed persons to travel through Italy to procure for his inspection the most valuable remains of ancient art. And let it be recollected, that the nature of the Greeks was of a most refined and harmonious character. The elements of their country appear to have imbibed the influence of the celestial Impersonations by which it was supposed to be inhabited. The extraordinary effects produced by climate upon the habits and sentiments, no less than the physical powers of man, have been often observed. The southern parts of Italy are said by Winckelman to produce men of a more majestic stature than the northern and western districts. The celebrated Herder, in his Philosophy of Man, has very ably com
mented upon this subject. The mental organization is in a great measure accordant with the bodily. If we look, for instance, at the inhabitants of the most northern countries, we discover a singular coolness of feeling, and an almost total absence of passion. Every thing with them is a dull unchangeable reality. They have no visions of beauty, no dreams of unattained excellence, no desires of enjoyment, except of a purely sensual description. But in proportion as the temperature becomes milder, the corporeal and mental form increase in beauty, until they expand into perfect symmetry. When we advance into Lapland, for example, we find the stolid, unmeaning rotundity of the features diminished, The cheeks are lengthened, and the eye assumes a darker and more expressive colour. But if we journey on into the kingdom of Cashmire, the very aspect of humanity seems to be altered. We are carried, as it were, out of a miserable village of mud cottages and wretched peasants into an Eden of enchantment. The men are noble, the women are models of loveliness; their ears are attuned to the combinations of sweet sounds; their delicate hands to the formation of the most elegant works; a gentle temperance of feeling diffuses a calm beauty over their countenances. It was from among these heights of Asia, says the German philosopher, that the tree of beauty was gradually carried into Greece, beneath whose kind and fruitful sky it flourished in perpetual verdure. Lord Bacon has remarked in his De Augment. Scient, that climate operates rather on masses than individuals; that it does not force, but incline. It is the balmy atmosphere nourishing the human plant, and cherishing life and warmth in every part. Pauw has speculated very ingeniously upon the peculiar effects of the enlarged state of the optic nerve among the Greeks generally. It is, we believe, a fact physically certain, that no people of this day have the orbit of the eye equally widened. With how much justice the surpassing excellence of the Grecian designs may be attributed to this faculty, we do not pretend to determine. An acuteness of organ scarcely credible is possessed, we know, by some of the oriental tribes: the Calmuc traces smoke when perfectly imperceptible to the straining eyes of the European, and the Arab hears sounds when to one less gifted the silent solitude of the desert is unbroken. We may believe that the balm and serenity of the Grecian clime were transfused into her literature.
We sit down to the perusal of a Grecian tragedy with a solemnity and silence of the mind. We endeavour to lull to sleep for a season all the memories of the world which surrounds us, and to address ourselves in all humbleness and teachableness to the noble instruction before us. A student of the ancient literature
without enthusiasm is like a dead man among the living. The eloquent Winckelman in the ardour of his imagination conceived himself to be transported into the midst of the Olympian Stadium, among the athletes and the chariots; he beheld the triumphant procession; he heard the echoing shout of victory. So it will always be with the genuine critic; he will study the dramas of Sophocles and the dreams of Plato with eyes which paint in the brightest colours every scene to his fancy. When he reads the Edipus the air he breathes will be laden with the perfume of the violets in Colonos, and the familiar sounds around his home will be sweetened with the songs of the nightingales in the poet's birth-place. The reasonings of Plato will bring before him the garden where that divinest of earthly philosophers imparted the phantasies of his mind to the enraptured disciples, and the name of the Parthenon will recall to his memory all that is glorious in art or magnificent in conception.
The first attempt to introduce a Greek play upon the English stage was made by George Gascoigne and Francis Kinwelmarsh, in their translation, or more properly speaking, adaptation, of the Jocasta from the Phanissa of Euripides. The interest of their labour will be increased, if we recollect that the Jocasta was the second dramatic performance in the language. A classical taste became very general soon after the accession of Elizabeth. The version of the Andria of Terence had been printed about thirty years before the commencement of her reign, and was followed at intervals by a series of translations from the same poet, the majority of which were published separately between the years 1559 and 1566. They were written for the most part in fourteen syllable Alexandrines, with the exception of the chorusses, in which metres are indiscriminately mingled. One of the earliest plays, -the Hercules Furens, was dedicated to one of the most munificent patrons of learning in those days, William Earl of Pembroke.
The merits of the Jocasta, considering the season of its production, are by no means contemptible. The scene in which the blind and exiled Edipus is led from the city by the affectionate Antigone, is, we think, very pathetically given. Warton objects with some justice to the unnecessary and weakening circumlocution employed to represent the terse and energetic brevity of the original. But surely the snip-snap style (as it has been happily called) of subsequent translators has not prejudiced us in favour of a line for line rendering. It was, however, by no means an
It is scarcely necessary to say that we allude to the splendid description of Colonos in the Edipus at Colonos.
uncommon boast of the earlier translators, that their version was comprised in exactly the same number of lines as the original.
Gascoigne and his associate appear to have arbitrarily omitted some of the beautiful choral songs of the original, and to have substituted compositions of their own. An extract from one of these interpolated poems may not be unpleasing, since, independent of its intrinsic merit, it furnishes a curious example of the harmony which characterized the works of that early season of the English drama.*
"O blissful Concord, bred in sacred breast
Of Him that guides the restless rolling sky,
As may command the mightiest gods to bend;
By thee alone the buds and blossoms spring;
Thou dost appoint the crop of summer's feed,
We are induced to add one stanza from another part of the Drama, on account of the very beautiful piety and sacred tenderness which it breathes.
"How fond is that man in his phantasie,
Who thinks that Jove, the master of us all,
O subject slaves to every ill that lights!
To 'scape such woe, such pain, such shame and scorn,
In conformity with the spirit and habits of the age, every Act
* We have in most places taken the liberty of adopting the modern orthography.
of the Jocasta is introduced by a Dumme Shew. The introduction to the first Act commences thus-" And before the beginning of the first act did sound a doleful and strange noise of violles, bandusion, and such like, during the which there came in upon the stage a king with an imperial crown upon his head, being richly apparelled, a sceptre in his right hand, sitting in a chariot very richly furnished, drawn in by foure kings in their doublettes and hosen with crownes also upon their heads." The doublets and hosen are very good, but they are exceeded by the Dumme Shew to the fourth act. "Before the beginning of the fourth act the trumpets sounded, the drummes and fifes, and a great peal of ordinance was shot off, in the which there entered upon the stage seven knights." We quote from the early and scarce edition. Among the earliest foreign translators of Greek poetry may be numbered Ludovico Dolce, who was born at Venice in 1508. Tiraboschi has left a portrait of him by no means flattering to the vanity of an author. Ludovico Dolce, says the laborious historian, was orator, grammarian, rhetorician, philosopher, a poet at once tragic and comic, epic, lyric, and satyric, editor, translator, and collector; he wrote in every style and excelled in none. Probably the most singular circumstance in his history is the fact of his having been buried in the same tomb with Ruscelli, a literary man with whom he had, through the greater part of his life, been continually and bitterly quarrelling. No less than seventy works are attributed to him, among others the tragedies of Medea, Didone, Ifigenia, Agamemnone, Thieste, Hecuba, and Mariana.
Italy indeed has been more than ordinarily prodigal in translations from Euripides. We have now before us three separate versions of the Cyclops, a work which possesses certainly far less poetical interest than almost any other production of the author. The first by Antonio Maria Salvini was published in 1728, the second by Girolamo Zanetti in 1749, and the third by Francesco Angiolini in 1782. We cannot resist the temptation of saying a few words upon Salvini, one of the dullest and most laborious litterateurs of any age or country. He was born at Florence in 1653, and applied himself with so much ardour to philological studies, particularly Greek and Latin, that at the early age of twenty-three he was named professor of Greek. He now took upon himself the difficult duties of translator, an occupation which he never afterwards relinquished. Salvini partook in the opinion, at that period and even now by no means uncommon among the learned, that nothing is wanting to form a translator but a knowledge of the original language, and certainly he rarely makes use of any other qualification. He almost always presents