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ment of the Athenians. Thirdly, Upon the notion we ought to entertain of Aristophanes, with respect to Eschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. Fourthly, Upon the jest which he makes upon the gods. These things will not be treated in order, as a regular discourse seems to require, but will arise sometimes separately, sometimes together, from the view of each particular comedy, and from the reflections which this free manner of writing will allow. I shall conclude with a short view of the whole, and so finish my design.
History of comedy. Who is author of comedy.
III. I shall not repeat here what Madame Dacier, and so many others before her, have collected of all that can be known relating to the history of comedy. Its beginnings are as obscure as those of tragedy, and there is an appearance that we take these two words in a more extensive meaning; they had both the same original, that is, they began among the festivals of the vintage, and were not distinguished from one another but by a burlesque or serious chorus, which made all the soul and all the body. But, if we give these words a stricter sense, according to the potion which has since been formed, comedy was produced after tragedy, and was in many respects a sequel and imitation of the works of Eschylus. It is in reality nothing more than an action set before the sight, by the same artifice of representation. Nothing is different but the object, which is merely ridicule. This original of true comedy will be easily admitted, if we take the word of Horace, who must
have known better than us the true dates of dramatic works. This poet supports the system which I have endeavoured to establish in the second discourse* so strongly as to amount to demonstrative proof,
Horace † expresses himself thus, “ Thespis is said to « have been the first inventor of a species of tragedy, " in which he carried about in carts, players smeared “ with the dregs of wine, of whom some sung and “others declaimed." This was the first attempt both of tragedy and comedy; for Thespis made use only of one speaker, without the least appearance of dialogue,
Eschylus afterwards exhibited them with more dig
nity. He placed them on a stage, somewhat above “ the ground, covered their faces with masks, put “ buskins on their feet, dressed them in trailing robes, “ and made them speak in a more lofty style.” Horace omits invention of dialogue, which we learn from Aristotle f. But, however, it may be well enough inferred from the following words of Horace; this completion is mentioned while he speaks of Eschylus, and therefore to Eschylus it must be ascribed: “ Then “ first appeared the old comedy, with great success “ in its beginning.” Thus we see that the Greek comedy arose after tragedy, and by consequence tragedy was its parent. It was formed in imitation of Eschylus, the inventor of the tragic drama; or, to go yet higher into antiquity, had its original from Homer, who was the guide of Eschylus. For, if we credit Aristotle §, comedy had its birth from the Margetes, a satirical poem of Homer, and tragedy
* Greek Theatre, part I. vol. I. I Poet. ch. 4.
+ Hor. Poet. v. 275.
from the Iliad and Odyssey. Thus the design and artifice of comedy were drawn from Homer and Eschylus. This will appear less surprising, since the ideas of the human mind are always gradual, and arts are seldom invented but by imitation. The first idea contains the seed of the second; this second, expand. ing itself, gives birth to a third; and so on. Such is the progress of the mind of man; it proceeds in its productions step by step, in the same manner as nature multiplies her works by imitating, or repeating her own 'act, when she seems most to run into variety. In this manner it was that comedy had its birth, its increase, its improvement, its perfection, and its diversity.
IV. But the question is, who was the happy author of that imitation, and that shew, whether only one, like Eschylus of tragedy, or whether they were several? for neither Horace, nor any before him, explained this*. This poet only quotes three writers
** The alterations, which have been made in tragedy, were per“ceptible, and the authors of them unknown; but comedy has lain
in obscurity, being not cultivated, like tragedy, from the time of its original: for it was long before the magistrates began to give comic choruses. It was first exhibited by actors, who played voluntarily, ' without orders of the magistrates. From the time that it began to
take some settled form, we know its authors, but are not informed • who first used masks, added prologues, increased the numbers of " the actors, and joined all the other things which now belong to it. * The first that thought of forming comic fables, were Epicharmus
and Phormys, and consequently this manner came from Sicily: * Crates was the first Athenian that adopted it, and forsook the
practice of gross raillery that prevailed before.' Aristot. ch. 5. Crates flourished in the 82d Olympiad, 450 years before our æra, 12 or 13 years before Aristophanes.
who had reputation in the old Comedy, Eupolis*, Cratinust, and Aristophanes, of whom he says, “That
they, and others who wrote in the same way, re“prehended the faults of particular persons with ex“ cessive liberty.” These are probably the poets of the greatest reputation, though they were not the first, and we know the names of many othersf. Among these three we may be sure that Aristophanes had the greatest character, since not only the king of Persia || expressed a high esteem of him to the Grecian ambassadors, as of a man extremely useful to his country, and Plato § rated him so high, as to say, that the graces resided in his bosom; but likewise because he is the only writer of whom any comedies have made their way down to us, through the confusion of times. There are not indeed any proofs that he was the inventor of comedy, properly so called, especially since he had not only predecessors who wrote in the same kind, but it is at least a sign, that he had contributed more than any other to bring comedy to the perfection in which he left it. We shall, therefore, not inquire farther, whether regular comedy was the work of a single mind, which seems yet to be unsettled, or of several contemporaries, such as these which Horace quotes. We must distinguish three forms which comedy wore, in consequence of the genius of the writers, or of the laws of the magistrates, and the change of the government of many into that of few.
* Eupolis was an Athenian ; his death, which we shall mention presently, is represented differently by authors, who almost all agree that he was drowned. Elian adds an incident which deserves to be mentioned : he says (book x. Of Animals), that one Augeas of Eleusis, made Eupolis a present of a fine mastiff, who was so faithful to his master as to worry to death a slave who was carrying away some of his comedies. He adds, that when the poet died at Egene, his dog staid by his tomb till he perished by grief and hunger.
+ Cratinus of Athens, who was son of Callimedes, died at the age of 97. He composed 20 comedies, of which 9 had the prize: he was a daring writer, but a cowardly warrior..
# Hertelius has collected the sentences of 50 Greek poets of the different ages of comedy.
| Interlude of the second act of the comedy, intitled The Acharniens. $ Epigram attributed to Plato.
The Old, Middle, and New Comedy. That comedy*, which Horace calls the ancient, and which, according to his account, was after Eschylus, retained something of its original state, and of the licentiousness which it practised, while it was yet without regularity, and uttered loose jokes and abuse upon the passers-by from the cart of Thespis. Though it was now properly modelled, as might have been worthy of a great theatre and a numerous audience, and deserved the name of a regular comedy, it was not yet much nearer to decency. It was a representation of real actions, and exhibited the dress, the motions, and the air, as far as could be done in a mask, of any one who was thought proper to be sacrificed to public scorn. In a city so free, or to say better, so licentious as Athens was at that time, nobody was spared, not even the chief magistrate, nor the very judges, by whose voice comedies were allowed or prohibited. The insolence of those performances reached to open impiety, and sport was made equally with men
* This history of the three ages of comedy, and their different characters, is taken in part from the valuable fragments of Platonius.