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always been occupied with domestic quarrels; and every minute
ART. II.-The Comedies of Aristophanes. By T. Mitchell,
A. M. late Fellow of Sidney-Sussex College, Cambridge.
The volume before us contains two comedies of Aristophanes, the Acharnians and the Knights, in an English dress. It is the first time, we believe, that they have been translated into our tongue.
Aristophanes still remains in a mutilated state. A complete edition of the comic poet has long since been pointed out as a desideratum. The folios of Kuster and Portus are inaccessible
to students in general. Brunck has given us the best text, and, by means of the various manuscripts which he consulted, freed it from many usurpations. But it is printed in a type so painfully small, that, in spite of all his industry, it is deformed with numberless errors. His unsparing hostility also to the particle ys has not unfrequently been indulged at the expense of metrical exactness; and he has retained readings which do no honour to his critical discernment. He makes, it is true, an amusing apology for the imperfections of his book. Our readers will scarcely believe that, with the utmost naivetè, he ascribes them partly to the noise made by little Master Brunck, who, in the midst of the severe labours of the commentator, was capering about his father's library, and partly to the gossiping visits of some worthy neighbours, who broke in upon his retirements. We will, therefore, give them his own words :
“ Mirari subit, lætarique bonam fortunam frequentioribus istiusmodi lapsibus mihi cavisse ; maximè quum recordor, partem haud minimam istarum fabularuni a me descriptam iterum fuisse, dum in museo meo vel ludebat filius meus, quo animum meum nihil magis advertit oblectatque, vel confabulantur boni quidam viri, qui quot fere diebus horisque matutinis ad me visere solent.” The unexpiated fault, however, of Brunck's edition, is the omission of the old scholia, which are esteemed the most valuable specimens of the kind ; an omission, poorly supplied by annotations, which being critical rather than explanatory, administer little or no aid to the interpretation of so difficult an author. Many scholars, therefore, have testified some impatience for a new standard edition of Aristophanes. ' There are now, they think, more abundant materials than ever for the undertaking: for in addition to the collations of the manuscripts given us by Kuster, Beck, and others, there are the ample emendations of Bentley, and of Porson,* to enrich them. But whoever undertakes the task, must be upon his guard against the parental weakness of Brunck, and take especial care not to be at home to the morning loungers of his neighbourhood.
That the translators of the comic poet should have been few, must be ascribed to the difficulty, we had almost said, to the impossibility of transfusing him from his own language. Of the English versions, the oldest is that of the Plutus, in 1651, under the title of " Hey for Honesty! Down with Knavery!" by Thomas Randolph, author of “ The Muses’ Looking-glass." Another translation of the same play appeared in 1659 by an
Porson. Aristophanica. Dobree.
anonymous hand. In Stanley's." Lives of the Philosophers," 1687, there is an imperfect translation of “ The Clouds.” Theobald translated “The Plutus." Of “ The Clouds," the first entire translation was by James White, with the quainttitle of “A Comedy, written by Aristophanes, the Wittiest Man of his Age, against Soerates, who was the Wisest and the Best:" The next in order of time are “ The Plutus,” by Fielding; “ The Frogs,” by Dunster; “ The Birds,” by a Member of one of the Universities; and the
easy and flowing version of “ The Clouds,” by Cumberland. These were reprinted in one collection about eight years ago. There are entire translations i of all the plays into the Italian, by Rosatini ; and into French, by Poinsinet: and there is the masterly performance of Wielandi in German. There are also detached translations in French and Italian. Madame Dacier translated “ The Plutus,” The same play, together with “ The Clouds,” was rendered by Terrucci into Italian. “ The Birds” was translated also into French by Boivin le Cadet, according to Mr. Gibbon, one of the best. scholars that France ever produced.* We presume that Mr. Mitchell has an entire translation in his view; of which the two plays, contained in the present volume, are published as speci
Yet, whilst we cheerfully acknowledge that a familiar acquaintance with Aristophanes is necessary to a perfect conception of the flexibility and force, the exquisite polish and endless varieties of the Greek language,-that we cannot obtain a faithful portraiture of the manners and habits of the Greeks, but through their scenic representations, and that of these we can obtain no satisfactory information without much intercourse with Aristophanes; and whilst for this purpose we are solicita ous for an accurate amendment of his text, and an ample elucidation of his obscurities ;- we can go no further. Our vows for an entire translation of him into English are by no means ardent. Mr. Mitchell, it is true, has, with a very proper
feel ing, avoided the interpretation of much that is offensive, and made large sacrifices to taste and delicacy. Considering it, however, to be a most important part of our funetion to discountenance every literary effort, which has a tendency to taint the ingenuous purity of youth, and to vitiate the moral taste of maturer years, we are far from being eager for the naturalization of this ancient classic amongst us. The most chastized translation, we apprehend, must give a plain intimation where the obnoxious passages are to be found, which are so studiously
* Gibbon. Misc. Works, vol. v. p. 586.
comitted. In addition to their ordinary instruments, the Lexicon and the Latin version, they who are moderately tinctured with Greek, will be enabled to supply the lacune, which are thus brought under their observation, and which would not perhaps otherwise have invited their attention. The difficulties, however, of this authorare, in general, so truly discouraging, thatstudents of thatage, which is the most susceptible of moral stain, cannot have acquired sufficient erudition for the systematic perusal of his comedies without the aid of a translation. Speaking, therefore, with ingenuousness, we could have wished that the Athenian poet had still been permitted to repose in the libraries of the Jearned, veiled in the mysteries of his native language. Much would have been gained to decorum,' and little lost to literature : for we have been long convinced, nor has Mr. Mitchell's attempt shaken our conviction, that Aristophanes is incapable of translation. Point, wit, and personal ridicule are not easily interchanged between contemporary tongues. How extravagant then is the expectation, that the humour, the turn, the joke of Attic diction, deriving their effect from customs and allusions, that have for ages past away, should be otherwise than lifeless and vapid by transfusion!
With these feelings, it was not without regret that we received the information given us by the editor of the plays, published in 1812, that the study of Aristophanes was becoming prevalent in our Universities. Our own recollections made us doubtful of the fact; but an inquiry into the present practice of the lecture room has relieved our anxiety; for we find, that with the exception of “ The Plutus," which, defiled as it is with much impurity, is of an ethical character, and by "some critics has been classed with the reformed or middle comedy, the plays of that writer form no part of the classical course either at Oxford or Cambridge. Indeed the grossness of the comic bard, whom, in the endless mutabilities of human doctrine, it is now the fashion to place in the number of moral and ethical teachers, is of that description, which peculiarly Tenders bim an unfit companion for youth. Indelicacy, in its fullest strength of meaning, is still a word too delicate, to describe the phrases and allusions which he deals in by wholesale. His beauties are for ever overshadowed by contiguous deformities; and his beauties are unfortunately so exquisite as must, to young
and unconfirmed minds, in some degree consecrate his deformities. He goes infinitely beyond the licence claimed by Boileau for himself and his brother satirists, of *calling things by their names. Words now. by common consent banished from the decent intercourses of society, and
condemned to the exclusive use of the low and the profligate, images whose very entrance into the mind is prevented by the triple guards of religion, virtue, and example, unblushingly, take their place in the dramas of Aristophanes, by the side of sentiments, breathing the soul of moral purity, and sentences polished to the last refinement of Attic diction. Nor are the weeds that thus choak the soil only of casual growth. They are not unfrequently cultured with the same care which he expends on the choicest flowers. That which affrighted modesty cannot name;—the most loathsome of our infirmities; all that we strive to forget, appears in Aristophanes, dressed in the most studied attire, and clothed in the most graceful folds of that wonderful language, which exalts the great, embellishes the beautiful, and adds new grossness to the gross. So instinctively, as it were, is he attracted towards obscenity, that even whilst he has a high moral purpose in view, and soars with the flight of an eagle in pursuit of it, he suddenly abandons his quarry, to rake in the mud and filth of the dunghill. In that beautiful passage in “ The Clouds” for instance, which begins thus,
Αλλ' ούν λιπαρός γε και ευανθής εν γυμνασιους διατρίψεις.–κ. τ. λ. and whilst in that fine dialogue between the two allegorical personages, he is indulging in the most exquisite panegyrick upon the old discipline of Athens, opposed to the corrupt manners of his own time, and pouring forth the choicest treasures of ethical wisdom, he suddenly wings his downward flight, as if into a more congenial region, to revel amidst the grossest images of Grecian debauchery.
It may indeed be conceded that all this is not without its natural corrective: for his pictures are too disgusting to be sensual, and his allusions too naked to be alluring. The cup in which he mixes his poison is not always administered by the hands of the Graces. He is often an inefficient instrument of evil, and pandars too clumsily for the passions. He is not, therefore, to be considered as so dangerous a writer, as those (the dramatick authors of the German school, for instance,) who corrupt the heart without offending the ear. Yet with all these antidotes, he is still dangerous. The unintermitted expression of obscene things, in obscene language, must gradually wear out the ingenuous purity of youth, even in minds of the most favoured structure, as the physical organs become by habit insensible to the foulest effluvia. Nor is this disgusting impurity expiated by the sublime and virtuous purposes which his admirers attribute to his Muse. The most forgiving candour, which the