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this whole work. For, though it seems to be composed of pieces of which each may precede or follow without dependance upon the other, yet all the parts, taken together, form a system which would be destroyed by their disjunction. Which way shall we come at the knowledge of the ancients' shews, but by comparing together all that is left of them? The value and necessity of this comparison determined me to publish all, or to publish nothing. Besides, the reflections on each piece, and on the general taste of antiquity, which, in my opinion, are not without importance, have a kind of obscure gradation, which I have carefully endeavoured to preserve, and of which the thread would be lost by him who should slightly glance sometimes upon one piece, and sometimes upon another. It is a structure which I have endeavoured to make as near to regularity as I could, and which must be seen in its full extent and in proper succession. The reader who skips here and there over the book, might make a hundred objections which are either anticipated, oranswered in those pieces which he might have overlooked. I have laid such stress upon the connexion of the parts of this work, that I have declined to exhaust the subject, and have suppressed many of my notions, that I might leave the judicious reader to please himself by forming such conclusions as I supposed him like to discover, as well as myself. I am not here attempting to prejudice the reader by an apology either for the ancients, or my own manner. I have pot claimed a right of obliging others to determine, by my opinion, the degrees of esteem which I think due to the authors of the Athenian Stage ; nor do I think that their reputation in the present time, ought to depend upon my mode of thinking or expressing my thoughts, which I leave entirely to the judgment of the public.
Reasons why Aristophanes may be reviewed without
translating him entirely.
1. I WAS in doubt a long time, whether I should meddle at all with the Greek comedy, both, because the pieces which remain are very few, the licentiousness of Aristophanes, their author, is exorbitant, and it is very difficult to draw from the performances of a single poet, a just idea of Greek comedy. Besides, it seemed that tragedy was sufficient to employ all my attention, that I might give a complete representation of that kind of writing, which was most esteemed by the Athenians and the wiser Greeks*, particularly by Socrates, who set no valtie upon comedy or comic actors. But the very name of that drama, which in polite ages, and above all others in our own, has been so much advanced, that it has become equal to tragedy, if not preferable, incline me to think that I may be partly reproached with an imperfect work, if, after having gone as deep as I could into the na
* There was a law which forbud any judge of the Areopagus to tare of Greek tragedy, I did not at least sketch a draught of the comedy.
I then considered, that it was not wholly impossible to surmount, at least in part, the difficulties which had stopt me, and to go somewhat farther than the learned writers*, who have published in French some pieces of Aristophanes ; not that I pretend to make large translations. The same reasons which have hindered with respect to the more noble parts of the Greek drama, operate with double force upon my present subject. Though ridicule, which is the business of comedy, be not less uniform in all times, than the passions which are moved by tragic compositions; yet, if diversity of manners may sometimes disguise the passions themselves, how much greater change will be made in jocularities? The truth is, that they are so much changed by the course of time, that pleasantry and ridicule become dull and flat much more easily than the pathetic becomes ridiculous.
That which is commonly known by the term jocular and comic, is nothing but a turn of expression, an airy phantom, that must be caught at a particular point. As we lose this point, we lose the jocularity, and find nothing but dulness in its place. A lucky sally, which has filled a company with laughter, will have no effect in print, because it is shewn single and separate from the circumstance which gave it force. Many satirical jests, found in ancient books, have had the same fate; their spirit has evaporated by time, and has left nothing to us but insipidity. None but the most biting passages have preserved their points unblunted.
* Madame Dacier, M. Boivin.
But besides this objection, which extends universally to all translations of Aristophanes, and many alJusions of which time has deprived us, there are loose expressions thrown out to the populace to raise laughter from corrupt passions, which are unworthy of the curiosity of decent readers, and which ought to rest eternally in proper obscurity. Not every thing in this infancy of comedy was excellent, at least it would not appear excellent at this distance of time, in comparison of compositions of the same kind, which lie before our eyes; and this is reason enough to save me the trouble of translating, and the reader that of perusing. As for that small number of writers who delight in those delicacies, they give themselves
very little trouble about translations, except it be to find fault with them; and the majority of people of wit, like comedies that may give them pleasure, without much trouble of attention, and are not much disposed to find beauties in that which requires long deductions to find it beautiful. If Helen had not appeared beautiful to the Greeks and Trojans but hy force of argument, we had never been told of the Trojan war.
On the other side, Aristophanes is an author more considerable than one would imagine. The history of Greece could not pass over him, when it comes to touch upon the people of Athens ; this alone might procure him respect, even when he was not considered as a comic poet. But when his writings are taken into view, we find him the only author from whom may be drawn a just idea of the comedy of his age; and farther, we find in his pieces, that he often makes attacks upon the tragic writers, particu
larly upon the three chief, whose valuable remains we have had under examination ; and, what is yet worse, fell sometimes upon the state, and upon the gods themselves.
The chief heads of this discourse. II. These considerations have determined me to follow, in my representation of this writer, the same method which I have taken in several tragic pieces, which is that of giving an exact analysis as far as the matter would allow, from which I deduce four important systems. First, Upon the nature of the comedy of that age, without 'omitting that of Menander*. Secondly, Upon the vices and govern
* Meoander, an Athenian, son of Diopethes and Hegestrates, was apparently the most eminent of the writers of the new comedy. He had been a scholar of Theophrastus : his passion for the women brought infamy upon him: he was squint-eyed, and very lively. Of the one hundred and eighty comedies, or, according to Suidas, the eighty which he composed, and which are all said to be translated by Terence, we have now only a few fragments remaining. He flourished about the 115th Olympiad, 318 years before the Christian Æra. He was drowned as he was bathing in the of Pireus. I have told in another place, what is said of one Philemon, his antagonist, not so good a poet as himself, but one who often gained the prize. This Philemon was older than him, and was much in fashion in the time of Alexander the Great. He
expressed all his wishes in two lines, •To have health, and fortune, and • pleasure, and never to be in debt, is all I desire.' He was very covetous, and was pictured with his fingers hooked, so that he set his comedies at a high price, He lived about a hundred years, some say a hundred and one. Many tales are told of his death; Valerius Maximus says, that he died with laughing at a little incident: seeing an ass eating his figs, he ordered his servant to drive her away; the man made no great haste, and the ass eat them all. . Well done,' says Philemon, • now give her some wine.' Apuleius and Quintilian placed this writer much below Menander, but give him the second place,