Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

rather impossible, to understand how passion or pathos could be interpreted by men so encumbered as the actors were on the ancient stage by their masks, their high boots, and their cumbersome robes. And as the scene in which Agamemnon receives the newly-arrived Clytemnestra and his daughter is a mixed one,—joy simulated, fear and grief suppressed, on his part—happiness in the unlooked-for meeting with a husband and father, and hope for the approaching nuptials, on theirs,—it is impossible to conceive how it can have been adequately represented. The painter who drew Agamemnon at Diana's altar veiling his face that he might not look on his victim, had at least an opportunity for conveying the presence of grief "too deep for tears." But how could the father's emotions in this scene have been imparted to an audience? The Greek actor differed little from a statue except in the possession of voice, and in a certain, though a limited, range of expressive gesture. That these imperfect means, as they appear to us, sufficed for an intelligent and susceptible audience, there is no reason to doubt; and we must content ourselves with the assurance that the performer and the mechanist supplied all that was then needed for the full expression of terror and pity.

The character of Achilles is delineated with great skill and felicity. The hero of the Iliad is a most dramatic portraiture of one who has, in spite of his pride and wilfulness, many compensating virtues. If his passions are strong, so are his affections: if he is implacable to mailed foes, he is generous and even tender to weeping Priam: he knows that he bears a doomed life if he tarries on Trojan ground, yet though highlyprovoked by Agamemnon, he abides constant to the oath he had taken as one of the suitors of Helen. But the Achilles of the "Iphigenia," although a peerless soldier, the Paladin of the Achaean host—a Greek Bayard, "sans peur efc sans reproche "—is a modest, nay, even a shy stripling, blushing like a girl when he comes suddenly into the presence of his destined bride and her mother: not easily moved, yet perplexed and indignant in the extreme when he discovers that his name has been used as a lure, and full of pity for, and prompt to aid, the unhappy victims of a cruel and unnatural plot. Achilles, indeed, in the hands of Euripides, is an anticipation of the Knight in the Canterbury Tales:—

"And though that he was worthy, he was wys:
And of his port as meke as is a mayde:
He never yit no vilonye ne sayde,
In al his lyf unto no manner wight:
He was a verry perfit gentil knight."

No chance of extricating himself from the dreadful consequences of his summons to Clytemnestra remains for Agamemnon, except the very slender one of persuading her to return alone to Argos. This she stoutly, and, in her ignorance of his secret motive, reasonably refuses to do. A sharp connubial encounter ensues, in which Agamemnon does not get the best of it. A very short extract only can be afforded to their controversy. After asking sundry pertinent questions about the young bridegroom and the marriage ceremony—in which the speakers are at cross-purposes, Clytemnestra meaning the wedding, while Agamemnon's replies covertly allude to the sacrifice—he astonishes her by a most unexpected demand upon her obedience !" Obey you !" she exclaims; "you have long trained me to do so, but in what am I now to show my obedience?"

"Agam. To Argos go, thy charge the virgins there. Clyt. And leave my daughter? Who shall raise the torch 1

Agam. The light to deck the nuptials I will hold. Clyt. Custom forbids ; nor wouldst thou deem it seemly.

Agam. Nor decent that thou mix with banded troops.

Clyt. But decent that the mother give the daughter.

Agam. Let me persuade thee.

Clyt. By the potent Queen,

Goddess of Argos, no. Of things abroad
Take thou the charge: within the house my care
Shall deck the virgin's nuptials, as is meet."

Agamemnon, now at his wits' end, says he will go and consult Calchas, and hear from him whether anything can be done to set him right with Diana.

Matters are hurrying to a crisis. Achilles enters, after the choral song has ceased, thinking to find Agamemnon, and then to inform him that the Myrmidons are on the very edge of mutiny, and that he cannot hold them in much longer. He says :—

"With impatient instance oft - -
They urge me: 'Why, Achilles, stay we here?
What tedious length of time is yet to pass,
To Ilium ere we sail? Wouldst thou do aught,
Do it, or lead us home: nor here await 1
The sons of Atreus and their long delays.'" r

Instead of his commander-in-chief he finds Clytem-; nestra, who greatly scandalises him by offering her. hand to her destined son-in-law. She, on her partj is surprised at a modesty so uncommon in young men. The old slave, the same whom Menelaus so roughly handles at the opening of the drama, now comes forward and unfolds the mystery. Clytemnestra sues to the captain of the Myrmidons for protection against the cruel " black-bearded kings :" he is highly incensed at having been made a cat's-paw of by Agamemnon, Calchas the seer, and the crafty Ulysses, and promises to do all in his power to rescue Iphigenia from her fearful doom, even at any risk to himself from his impatient soldiers.

Agamemnon now reappears. Ignorant that his wife is now furnished with all the facts he had withheld, he is greatly discomfited by her upbraiding him with his weak and wicked consent to the sacrifice of Iphigenia. After threatening him with her vengeance—a threat she some years later fulfilled—she descends to entreaties, and prays him to spare their child. And now comes the most affecting scene of the tragedy. Iphigenia, aware that she is not the destined bride but the chosen victim, implores her father to change his purpose; and the more to prevail with him, brings in her arms her infant -brother, Orestes, to move him to spare her. Agamemnon, however, declares, he is so compromised with the Greeks that he cannot recede. His own life will he in danger from the infuriated host, if he any longer withholds the appointed victim. Again Achilles rushes on with the news that his soldiers have sworn to kill him, if for the sake of a young maiden he any longer detains them at Aulis. And now the daughter of a line of heroes shows herself heroic. She will be the victim whom the goddess demands. Troy shall fall: Greece shall triumph: in place of marriage and happy years, she will die for the common weal. Her father shall be glorious to all ages : she will be content with the renown of saving Hellas. With much compunction, and with some hesitation on the part of the chivalrous Achilles, all now accept the stern necessity. In solemn procession, and with a funeral chant sung by the victim and the Chorus, she goes to the altar of Diana. The end of the tragedy, as we have it, is probably spurious, so far as the substitution of the fawn is concerned. The real conclusion seems to have been the appearance of the goddess over the tent of Agamemnon, to inform the weeping mother that her daughter is not dead, but borne away to a remote land, the Tauric Chersonese. They are parted for ever, yet there may be consolation in knowing Iphigenia has not descended to the gloomy Hades, "the bourne from which no traveller returns."

Mr Paley remarks, with his unfailing insight into the pith and marrow of the Grecian drama, that "Aristotle cites the character of Iphigenia at Aulis as an

« AnteriorContinuar »