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written Play upon the stage; i. e. the first writer whose plays were acted to a regular and precomposed music, And it is not, we know, very usual for the first essays in any art to be perfect. It should seem then, that the flexiones modorum, as opposed to the plainness of the old music, are here condemned, not so much in the view of a critic, estimating the true state of the stage; but, as was hinted, of a legislator, treading in the steps of Plato. Though indeed I have no doubt, that the music in those times was much changed, and had even suffered some degree of corruption. This I infer, not so much from any express authorities that have occurred, as from the general state of those times, which were degenerating apace into the worst morals, the sure forerunners of a corrupt and vitiated music; for, though it may indeed, in its turn, and doubtless does, when established, contribute much to help on the public depravity, yet that depravity itself is originally not the effect, but the cause of a bad music; as is more than hinted to be Cicero's real opinion in the place referred to, where, observing that the manners of many Greek states had kept pace with their music, he adds, that they had undergone this change, Aut hac dulcedine corruptelaque depravati, ut quidam putant; aut cum severitas eorum ob alia vitia cecidisset, tum fuit in auribus animisque mutatis etiam huic mutationi locus. [Leg, ii. 15.] But be this as it will, Horace, as we have seen, is no way concerned in the dispute about the ancient music,
219. SENTENTIA DELPHIS.]
Sententia is properly an aphorism taken from life, briefly representing either what is, or what ought to be the conduct of it: Oratio sumpta de vita, quæ aut quid sit, aut quid esse oporteat, in vita, breviter ostendit. [Ad Herenn. Rhet. 1. iv.] These aphorisms are here mentioned, as constituting the peculiar praise and beauty of the chorus. This is finely observed, and was intended to convey an oblique censure on the practice of those poets, who stuff out every part of the drama alike with moral sentences, not considering, that the only proper receptacle of them is the chorus, where indeed they have an extreme propriety; it being the peculiar office and character of the chorus to moralize. In the course of the action they should rarely be used; and that for the plain reason assigned by the author, just quoted, [for the rule holds on the stage, as well as at the bar] Ut rei actores, non vivendi præceptores, esse videamur. That there was some ground for this reproof of the Roman drama, is collected from the few remaining fragments of the old Latin plays, which have much of this sententious cast, and from what Quintilian expresly tells us of the old Latin poets, whose fame, it seems, was principally raised upon this merit. Tragœdiæ scriptores, Accius et Pacuvius, clarissimi gravitate sententiarum, &c. [. x. c. 1.] To how intolerable an extreme this humour of moralizing in plays was afterwards carried, Seneca has given us an example..
But here a question will be started, "Why then "did the Greeks moralize so much, or, if we con"demn. Accius and Seneca, how shall we defend
Sophocles and Euripides ?" An ingenious modern hath taken some pains to satisfy this difficulty, and in part, I think, hath succeeded. His solution, in brief, is, "That the moral and political aphorisms of the Greek stage generally contained "some apt and interesting allusion to the state of public affairs, which was easily catched by a quick, intelligent auditory; and not a dry, affected moral, "without further meaning, as for the most part was "that of the Latins." This account is not a little confirmed by particular instances of such acknowledged allusions, as well as from réflexions on the genius and government of the Athenians, at large. But this, though it goes some way, does not fully extricate the matter. The truth is, these sentences are too thick sown in the Greek writers, to be fully accounted for from the single consideration of their democratical views. Not to observe, that the very choice of this medium for the conveyance of their political applications, presupposes the prior acknowledged use and authority of it. I would then account for it in the following manner.
I. In the virtuous simplicity of less polished times, this spirit of moralizing is very prevalent; the good
g P. Brumoy, Disc. sur le parall. des Theat. p. 165. Amst. 1732.
sense of such people always delighting to shew itself in sententious or proverbial yauai, or observations, Their character, like that of the clown in Shakespear, is to be very swift and sententious. [As you like it, Act v. sc. 1.] This is obvious to common experience, and was long since observed by the philosopher, οἱ ἄγροικοι μάλιςα γνωμοτύποι εἰσὶ, καὶ ῥᾳdíws άtopάivortai, [Arist. Rhet. 1. ii. c. 21.] an observation, which of itself accounts for the practice of the elder poets in Greece, as in all other nations. A custom, thus introduced, is not easily laid aside, especially when the oracular cast of these sentences, so fitted to strike, and the moral views of writers themselves (which was more particularly true of the old dramatists) concurred to favour this taste. But, 2. there was added to this, more especially in the age of Sophocles and Euripides, a general prevailing fondness for moral wisdom, which seems to have made the fashionable study of men of all ranks in those days; when schools of philosophy were resorted to for recreation as well as instruction, and a knowledge in morals was the supreme accomplishment in vogue: The fruit of these philosophical conferences would naturally shew itself in certain brief, sententious conclusions, which would neither contradict the fashion, nor, it seems, offend against the ease and gaiety of conversation in those times.. Schools and pedantry, morals and austerity, were not so essentially connected, in their combinations of ideas, as they have been since; and a sensible
moral truth might have fallen from any mouth, without disgracing it. Nay, which is very remarkable, the very scholia, as they were called, or drinking catches of the Greeks, were seasoned with this moral turn; the sallies of pleasantry, which escaped them in their freest hours, being tempered for the most part, by some strokes of this national sobriety. During the course of their entertainments, says Athenæus, [1. xv. c. 14.] they loved to hear, from "some wise and prudent person, an agreeable song: "and those songs were held by them most agreeable, "which contained exhortations to virtue, or other instructions relative to their conduct in life."
And to give the reader a taste of these moral songs, I will take leave to present him with a very fine one, written by no less a person than Aristotle himself; and the rather, as I have it in my power to present him, at the same time, with an elegant translation of it. But its best recommendation will be that it comes from the same hand which has so agreeably entertained us of late with some spirited imitations of Horaceh.
Αρετὰ πολύμοχθε γένει βροτείῳ,
Σᾶς πέρι, Παρθένε, μορφᾶς
Καὶ θανεῖν ζηλωτὸς ἐν Ἑλλάδι πότμος,
Καὶ πόνες πλῆναι μαλερὲς ἀκάμαντας.
b Imitations of Horace by Thomas Nevile, M. A. Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, 1759.