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and gods*. These are the features by which the greatest part of the compositions of Aristophanes will be known. In which it may be particularly observed, that not the least appearance of praise will be found, and therefore certainly no trace of flattery or servility.
This licentiousness of the poets, to which in some sort Socrates fell a sacrifice, at last was restrained by a law. For the government, which was before shared by all the inhabitants, was now confined to a settled number of citizens. It was ordered, that no man's name should be mentioned on the stage; but poetical malignity was not long in finding the secret of defeating the
purpose of the law, and of making themselves ample compensation for the restraint laid upon authors, by the necessity of inventing false names. They set themselves to work upon known and real characters, so that they had now the advantage of giving a more exquisite gratification to the vanity of poets, and the malice of spectators. One had the refined pleasure of setting others to guess, and the other that of guessing right by naming the masks. When pictures are so like, that the name is not wanted, nobody inscribes it. The consequence of the law, therefore, was nothing more than to make that done with delicacy, which was done grossly before ; and the art, which it was expected would be confined within the limits of duty, was only partly transgressed with more ingenuity. Of this Aristophanes, who was comprehended in this law, gives us good examples in some of his poems. Such was that which was afterwards called the middle comedy.
* It will be shewn how and in what sense this was allowed.
The new comedy,or that which followed, was again an excellent refinement, prescribed by the magistrates, who, as they had before forbid the use of real names, forbad afterwards real subjects, and the train of choruses * too much given to abuse : so that the poets saw themselves reduced to the necessity of bringing imaginary names and subjects upon the stage, which at once purified and enriched the theatre ; for comedy from that time was no longer a fury armed with torches, but a pleasing and innocent mirror of human life.
Chacun peint avec art dans ce nouveau miroir
The comedy of Menander and Terence is, in propriety of speech, the fine comedy. I do not repeat all this after. so many writers but just to recal it to memory, and to add to what they have said something which they have omitted, a singular effect of public edicts appearing in the successive progress of the art. A naked history of poets and of poetry, such as has been often given, is a mere body without soul, unless it be enlivened with an account of the birth, progress, and perfection of the art, and of the causes by which they were produced.
Perhaps the chorus was forbid in the middle age of the comedy. Platopius seems to say so.
+ Despreaux, Art, Poet, chant. 8.
The Latin Comedy. VI. To omit nothing essential which concerns this part, we shall say a word of the Latin Comedy. When the arts passed from Greece to Rome, comedy took its turn among the rest : but the Romans applied themselves only to the new species, without chorus or personal abuse; though perhaps they might have played some translations of the old or the middle comedy, for Pliny gives an account of one which was represented in his own time. But the Romani comedy, which was modelled upon the last species of the Greek, hath nevertheless its different ages, according as its authors were rough or polished. The pieces of Livius Andronicus *, more ancient and less refined than those of the writers who learned the art from him, may be said to compose the first age, or the old Roman comedy and tragedy. To him you must join Nevius his contemporary, and Ennius, who lived some years after him. The second age comprises Pacuvius, Cecilius, Accius, and Plautus, unless it shall be thought better to reckon Plautus with Terence, to make the third and highest age of the Latin comedy, which may properly be called the new comedy, especially with regard to Terence, who was the friend of Lelius, and the faithful copier of Menander.
But the Romans, without troubling themselves with this order of succession, distinguished their comedies by the dresses t of the players. The robe, called præte.cta, with large borders of purple, being the formal dress of magistrates in their dignity, and in the
* The year of Rome 514, the first year of the 135th Olympiad. + Prælextæ, Togate, Tabernarie.
exercise of their office, the actors, who had this dress, gave its name to the comedy. This is the same with that called Trabeata *, from Trabea, the dress of the consuls in peace, and the generals in triumph. The second species introduced the senators not in great offices, but as private men; this was called Toges from Togata. The last species was named Tabernaria, from the tunic, or the common dress of the people, or rather from the mean houses which were painted on the scene. There is no need of mentioning the farces, which took their name and original from Atella, an ancient town of Campania in Italy, because they differed from the low comedy only by greater licentiousness; nor of those which were called Palliates, from the Greek, a cloak in which the Greek characters were dressed upon the Roman stage, because that habit only distinguished the nation, not the dignity or character, like those which have been mentioned before. To say truth, these are but trifling distinctions; for, as we shall shew in the following pages, comedy may be more usefully and judiciously distinguished, by the general nature of its subjects. As to the Romans, whether they had, or had not, reason for these names, they have left us so little upon the subject which is come down to us, that we need not trouble ourselves with a distinction which affords us no solid satisfaction. Plautus and Terence, the only authors of whom we are in possession, give us a fuller notion of the real nature of their comedy, with respect at least to their own times, than can be received from names and terms, from which we have no real exemplification.
* Suet. de Claris Grammat, says, that C. Gelissus, librarian to Augustus, was the author of it.
The Greek Comedy is reduced only to Aristophanes.
VII. Not to go too far out of our way, let us return to Aristophanes, the only poet in whom we can now find the Greek comedy. He is the single writer, whom the violence of time has in some degree spared, after having buried in darkness, and almost in forgetfulness, so many great men, of whom we have nothing but the names and a few fragments, and such slight memorials as are scarcely sufficient to defend them against the enemies of the honour of antiquity; yet these memorials are like the last glimmer of the setting sun, which scarce affords us a weak and fading light : yet from this glimmer we must endeavour to collect rays of sufficient strength to form a picture of the Greek comedy approaching as near as possible to the truth.
Of the personal character of Aristophanes little is known; what account we can give of it must therefore be had from his comedies. It can scarcely be said with certainty of what country he was: the invectives of his enemies so often called in question his qualification as a citizen, that they have made it doubtful. Some said he was of Rhodes, others of Egena, a little island in the neighbourhood, and all agreed that he was a stranger. As to himself, he said that he was the son of Philip, and born in the Cydathenian quarter; but he confessed that some of his fortune was in Egena, which was probably the original seat of his family. He was, however, formally declared a citizen of Athens, upon evidence, whether good or bad, upon a decisive judgment, and this for