Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Januarius from bifrons Janus, one of whose faces was supposed to look towards the past, and the other towards the succeeding year; the other new month he called Februarius, from Februus, the deity presiding over lustrations ; this being the month for the religious rites of the Dii Manes, it was made to consist of twenty-eight days, being an even number; all the others, conformably to the superstition of the times, consisted of odd numbers as more propitious, and accordingly Martius, Maius, Quintilis, October, had each thirty-one days, and the other seven, twenty-nine days, so that the year thus regulated, had 355 days, and it was left to the priests to make up the residue with supplementary days.

This commission became a dangerous prerogative in the hands of the sacerdotal order, and was executed with much irregularity and abuse ; they lengthened and shortened the natural period of the year, as interest iniluenced them to accord to the prolongation or abbreviation of the annual magistracies dependent thereupon. In this state things were suffered to remain till Julius Cæsar succeeded to the pontificate; he then undertook a reform of the calendar, being in his third consulate, his col. league being Emilius Lepidus. Assisted by the best astronomers of the time, particularly the philo. sopher Sosigenes, he extended the year of his reform to 442 days, and thenceforward ordained that the year should consist of 365 days, distributed into months as it now stands, except that he added one day to February every fifth year, and not every third.

Thales died in the fifty-eighth Olympiad in extreme old age : the famous philosopher Pherecydes died a few years before him of that horrible distem

per called the Morbus Pediculosus, and in his last illness wrote, or is supposed to have written, to Thales as follows:

PHERECYDES TO THALES. May your death be easy, when the hour shall come! for my part, when your letter reached me, I was sinking under the attack of a most loathsome diseasc, accompanied with a continual fever. I have therefore given it in charge to my friends, as soon as they shall have committed my remains to the earth, to convey my manuscripts to your hands. If you and the rest of your wise fraternity shall on perusal approve of making them public, do so; otherwise let them not see the light; certainly they do not satisfy my judgment in all particulars; the best of us are liable to error; the truth of things is not discoverable by human sagacity, and I am justly doubtful of myself: upon questions of theology I have been cautious how I have committed myself: other matters Į have treated with less reserve; in all cases however I suggest rather than dictate.

• Though I feel my dissolution approaching and inevitable, I have not absolutely dismissed my physicians and friends ; but as my disease is infectious, I do not let them enter my doors, bụt have contrived a signal for informing them of my condition, and have warned them to prepare themselves for paying the last offices to my corpse to-morrow,

• Farewell for ever!

NUMBER CXXVI.

Ignotum Tragicæ genus invenisse Cumena
Dicitur, et plaustris vexisse poemata Thespis
Qui canerent agerentque peruncti facibus ora.

RORAT.

Having carried down the history of Athens to that period, when a new species of poetry made its appearance, I propose in this place to treat of the origin and introduction of the drama : in doing this, my chief study will be to methodize and arrange the matter, which other writers have thrown out, sensible that in a subject so often exhausted very little else can now remain to be done.

Aristotle says That Homer alone properly deserves the name of poet, not only as being superior to all others so called, but as the first who prepared the way for the introduction of the drama; and this he did, not merely by the display of his powers on grave and tragic subjects, but ivasmuch as he suggested the first plot and device for comedy also; not founding it upon coarse and opprobrious invective, but upon wholesome and facetious ridi. cule: so that his Margites bears the same analogy to comedy, as his Iliad and Odyssey do to tra. gedy.

This assertion in favour of Homer coming from such high authority has been adopted by the schoJiasts, critics, and commentators, who have treated either of that great poet or of the drama from the time when it was made to the present: but it should

be observed that Aristotle is not here speaking of the drama professedly as a chronologist, but review. ing it as an object of criticism, and under this view it can no otherwise come into contemplation than in its more advanced and perfect state, when built upon the model of Homer's fables and characters; after it had thrown off the barbarous traces of its real origin, and had quitted Bacchus and the Sa. tyrs. Of tragedy, as a written and consistent poem, Homer may well be styled the father ; for when Phrynichus and Æschylus introduced on the scene Μύθες και Πάθη, the stories and calamities of heroes, tragedy became Homeric, or in other words assumed a dignity of tone and character, that was copied from the epic of Homer, as comedy was from his iambic ; and agreeably to this Aristotle names Epicharmus as the first comic poet, who was professedly a copyist of the Margites.

Now by settling the dates of a few well-esta. blished facts we shall bring this question into closer view. Pisistratus after a broken reign of thirtythree years died in Olymp. Ixiii, whereas the Mar. mor Chronicon records, that the first tragedy at Athens was made by Thespis, and acted on a wag. gon in Olymp. lxi. Suidas confirms this record; from the same authority (viz. Mar. Chron.) we collect that Susarion made the first comedy at Athens, and acted it on a moveable scaffold in the middle of Olymp. liv. being one year before Pisis. tratus established his tyranny. By these dates it appears that comedy was made and acted at Athens several years before the compilation of Homer's epic poems, and tragedy before or at that time, admitting for the present that Thespis was the first who made tragedies, and that the record above cited was the date of his first tragedy.

[blocks in formation]

I am aware that these facts alone will not prove that the inventors of the drama did not copy from Homer; for it cannot be denied that Thespis and even Susarion might have resorted to his poems, be. fore they were compiled by Pisistratus ; and as for Thespis, if we were to admit the tragedies, which Suidas ascribes to him, to be genuine, it is evident from their titles that some of them were built upon Homeric fables; but good critics find strong rea. sons to object to this list, which Suidas has given us, and I must think it a fair presumption against their authenticity, that Aristotle, who gives Homer the credit of furnishing the first suggestions of the drama, does not instance Thespis's tragedies ; for had they been what Suidas reports, it can hardly be supposed that Aristotle would have overlooked an instance so much to his purpose, or failed to have quoted Thespis, as the first tragic writer, when he names Epicharmus as the first comic ono, who co. pied from Homer.

Plutarch in his Symposia says-- Thaut when Phrynichus and Æschylus first turned the subject of tragedy to fables and doleful stories, the people said, What's this to Bacchus ?'-According to this anecdote, how could Thespis, who was anterior to Phrynichus and Æschylus, be a writer of such tragedies, as Suidas has ascribed to him.

Another very ingenious argument for their confutation is drawn from a short fragment, which the same author has quoted from the Pentheus, one of those tragedies which Suidas gives to Thespis : this fragment purports that~ The Deity is situated remote from all pleasure or pain :' A passage of this cast can never have been part of a ludicrous drama belonging to Bacchus and the Satyrs, and therefore either Plutarch must be mistaken in his anecdote

« ZurückWeiter »