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from the nature of the thing, and his own example (for he was ever reckoned intemperate in his jests, which by no means answer to the elegance of his character) but is certainly collected from what Quintilian, in his account of it, expresly observes of the old comedy, Nescio an ulla poesis (póst Homerum) aut similior sit oratoribus, aut ad oratores faciendos aptior. The reason, doubtless, was, that strength, and prompt and eloquent freedom, Vires et facundissima libertas, which he had before observed, so peculiarly belonged to it.
And this, I think, will go some way towards clearing an embarrassing circumstance in the history of the Roman learning, which I know not, if any writer hath yet taken notice of. It is, that though Menander and the authors of the new comedy were afterwards admired, as the only masters of the comic drama, yet this does not appear to have been seen, or, at least, so fully acknowledged, by the Roman writers, till after the Augustan age; notwithstanding that the Roman taste was, from that time, visibly declining. The reason, I doubt not, was, that the popular eloquence, which continued, in a good degree of vigour, to that time, participating more of the freedom of the old comic banter, and rejecting, as improper to its end, the refinements of the new, insensibly depraved the public taste; which, by degrees only, and not till a studied and cautious declamation had, by the necessary influence of absolute power, succeeded to the liberty
of their old oratory, was fully reconciled to the delicacy and strict decorum of Menander's wit. Even the case of Terence, which, at first sight, might seem to bear hard against it, confirms this account. This poet, struck with the supreme elegance of Menander's manner, and attempting too soon, before the public taste was sufficiently formed for it, to bring it on the stage, had occasion for all the credit, his noble patrons could give him, to support himself against the popular clamour. What was the object of that clamour, we learn from a curious passage in one of his prologues, where his adversary is made to object,
Tenui esse oratione et scriptura levi.
Prol. ad Phorm. The sense of which is not, as his commentators have idly thought, that his style was low and trifling, for this could never be pretended, but that his dialogue was insipid, and his characters, and, in general, his whole composition, without that comic heightening, which their vitiated tastes required. This further appears from those common verses of Cæsar, where, characterizing the genius of Terence's plays, as devoid of this comic spirit, he calls them lenia scripta :
LENIBUS atque utinam SCRIPTIS adjuncta foret vis
words, which are the clearest comment on the lines in question.
But this famous judgment of Cæsar deserves to be scrutinized more narrowly. For it may be said "that by vis comica I suppose him to mean the comic drollery of the old and middle comedy'; whereas it is more probable he meant the elegant but high humour of the best writers of the new, particularly of Menander; why else doth he call Terence, "Dimidiate Menander ?" There is the more force in this objection, because the elegant but high humour, here mentioned, is of the truest merit in comedy; and because Menander, of whom the ancients speak so honourably, and whom we only know by their encomiums, may be reasonably thought to have excelled in it. What occurs in answer to it, is this.
1. The Ancients are generally allowed to have had very little of what we now understand by comic humour. Lucian is the first, indeed the only one, who hath properly left us any considerable specimens of it. And he is almost modern with regard to the writers under consideration. But,
2. That Menander and the writers of the new comedy did not excel in it, is probable for these
1. The most judicious critic of antiquity, when he is purposely considering the excellencies of the Greek comedians, and, what is more, exposing the comparative deficiencies of the Roman, says not a word of it. He thinks, indeed, that Terence's, which yet he pronounces to be most
elegant, is but the faintest shadow of the Greek, comedy. But then his reason is, quod sermo ipse Romanus non recipere videatur illam solis concessam Atticis venerem. [L. x. 1.] It seems then as if the main defect, which this critic observed in Terence's comedy, was a want of that inexplicable grace of language, which so peculiarly belonged to the Greeks; a grace of so subtle a nature that even they could only catch it in one dialect-quando eam ne Græci quidem in alio genere linguæ non obtinuerint. [Ib.]"
2. Some of Terence's plays may be almost said to be direct translations from Menander. And the comic humour, supposed in the objection, being of the truest taste, no reason can be imagined why the poet should so industriously avoid to transfuse this last and highest grace into his comedy. Especially since the popular cry against him proceeded from hence, that he was wanting in comic pleasantry; a want, which by a stricter attention to this virtue of his great original, supposing Menander to have been possessed of it, he might so easily have supplied. And lest it should be thought he omitted to do this, as not conceiving any thing of this virtue, or as not approving it, we find in him, but rarely indeed, some delicate touches, which approach as nearly as any thing in antiquity to this genuine comic huOf which kind is that in the Hecyra : Tum tu igitur nihil adtulisti huc plus und sententiá?
For these reasons I should suppose that Menander and the writers of the new comedy, from whom Terence copied, had little of this beauty.
But what shall we say then to Cæsar's dimidiate Menander? It refers, I believe, solely to what Quintilian, as we have seen, observed, that, with all his emulation of Attic elegance, he was unable, through the native stubbornness of the Latin tongue, to come up to the Greek comedy. The very text of Cæsar leads to this meaning.
Tu quoque, tu in summis, 6 dimidiate Menander, Poneris, et merito, PURI SERMONIS AMATOR.
His excellence consisted in the purity and urbanity of his expression, in which praise if he still fell short of his master, the fault was not in him, but the intractability of his language. And in this view Cæsar's address carries with it the highest compliment. Quintilian had said in relation to this point, Vix levem consequimur umbram. But Cæsar, in a fond admiration of his merit, cries out,
Tu quoque, TU in summis, ô DIMIDIATE ME
His censure of him is delivered in the following lines:
Lenibus atque utinam scriptis adjuncta foret vis Comica, ut æquato virtus polleret honore
Cum Græcis, neque in hac despectus parte jaceres ; Unum hoc maceror et doleo tibi deesse, Terenti.