Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

Brother and sister are now made manifest to each other. The priestess is the long-lost Iphigenia: the stranger is the brother whom she had held an infant in her arms, and whom she was mourning as dead. The method by which iEschylus and Sophocles bring about the discovery is consistent with their subhmer genius; that which Euripides adopts is equally consonant with his more human temperament, no less than with his views of dramatic art.

The deliverance of the friends and the priestess is still hard to accomplish; they are begirt with peril. Iphigenia knows too well the religious rigour of the Taurian king. Thoas is a devout worshipper of Diana; is an inexorable foe to Greeks. His subjects and his guards are equally hostile towards strangers and loyal to their goddess. If they cannot escape, the intruders will be immolated, and the priestess be a third victim on the blood-stained altar. And now Iphigenia proves that she is Greek to the core. She can plot craftily: she will even hazard the wrath of a deity by a timely fraud. King Thoas, little more than a simple country gentleman, dividing his time between field-sports and ceremonies sacred or civil, is no match for three wily Greeks. "The statue of Diana," she tells him, "must be taken down to the beach and purified by the eea; the two strangers, before they are sacrificed, must undergo lustration." "Take the caitiffs by all means," he says, "to the shore. A guard must attend you, for they are stalwart knaves; one of them has murdered his mother, and the other prompted and abetted him in that foul crime." For a while the soldiers are persuaded to leave Iphigenia alone with the strangers, while she performs the necessary rites. At length her delay rouses their suspicion, and they discover that, so far from rendering the statue and the prisoners meet for the sacrifice, they are plotting not only flight, but theft. One of them brings the intelligence to Thoas :—

"At length we all resolved
To go, though not permitted, where they were.
There we beheld the Grecian bark with oars
Well furnished, winged for flight; and at their seats
Grasping their oars were fifty rowers: free
From chains beside the stern the two youths stood.
..... Debate
Now rose: What mean you, sailing o'er the seas,
The statue and the priestess from the land
By stealth conveying? Whence art thou, and who,
That bear'st her, like a purchased slave, away?
He said, I am her brother, be of this
Informed, Orestes, son of Agamemnon;
My sister, so long lost, I bear away,
Recovered here."

Orestes* and his crew release Iphigenia from the guards, and drive them up the rocks,—

"With dreadful marks Disfigured and bloody bruises: from the heights We hurled at them fragments of rock: but vainly. The bowmen with their arrows drove us thence."

The sea, however, swept back the galley to the beach, and not even the fifty rowers can propel it out of harbour.

"Haste then, 0 king,
Take chains and gyves with thee; for if the flood
Subside not to a calm, there is no hope
Of safety for the strangers."

Thoas needs no prompter. He calls to the people of Tauri to avenge this insult to their goddess :—

"Harness your steeds at once: will you not fly
Along the shore, to seize whate'er this ship
Of Greece casts forth, and, for your goddess roused,
Hunt down these impious men 1 Will you not launch
Instant your swift-oared barks by seas, on land
To catch them, from the rugged rock to hurl
Their bodies, or impale them on the stake?"

To the Chorus he hints that, inasmuch as they have known all along and concealed the dark designs of the recreant priestess and her two confederates in this sacrilegious crime, he will, at more leisure, "devise brave punishments" for them.

The capture of the fugitives is unavoidable; and if they are once more in his grasp, the pious and wrathful king will leave no member of Agamemnon's family alive except the sad and solitary Electra. Euripides now settles the matter by his usual device, an intervening deity. Pallas Athene appears above the temple of Diana, and apprises Thoas that it is her pleasure that both the priestess and the image shall be carried to Greece by Orestes, where the worship of the Taurian Artemis, purged of its sanguinary rites, shall be established at Halae and Brauron in Attica. Thoas is satistied. Agamemnon's children are free to depart; and Pylades, as a reward for his long-enduring friendship, is to marry Electra.

Should this drama, in virtue of its happy conclusion, be accounted, along with the "Alcestis" and the "Helen" of Euripides, a tragi-comedy? In one respect the "Iphigenia at Tauri" stands apart from these plays. In the former, there is something approaching to the comic in the person of Hercules; in the latter, something even risible in the garb of Menelaus, and in his conversation with the old woman who is hall-porter in the palace of Theoclymenus. The drama, however, that has now been examined, is from its beginning to its end full of action, excitement, suspense, dread, and uncertainty. The doom of a race, as well as individuals, is at stake; and the prospect of the principal characters is gloomy in the extreme, until their rescue by a deity delivers them from further suffering. Both "Iphigenias" derive much of their attractions for all times and ages from the deeply domestic tenor of the story. "How many 'Iphigenias 1 have been written!" said Goethe. "Yet they are all different, for each writer manages the subject after his own fashion."

CHAPTER VI.

THE BACCHANALS.

"Over wide streams and mountains great we went,
And, save when Bacchus kept his ivy-tent,
Onward the tiger and the leopard pants

With Asian elephants:
We follow Bacchus ! Bacchus on the wing,

A-conquering 1 ...
Bacchus, young Bacchus! good or ill betide,
We dance before him thorough kingdoms wide:
Come hither, lady fair, and joined be

To our wild minstrelsy."

—keats: "Endymion."

This is the only extant Greek tragedy connected with. the wanderings and worship of the wine-god, at whose festivals the Greek theatres were open, and from song and dance in whose honour the drama of Greece derived its origin. The subject, when Euripides took it up, was not new to the stage. Among the dramas ascribed to Thespis, one was entitled "Pentheus ;" and another by him, "The Bachelors," may have treated of Lycurgus, also a vehement opposer of Bacchic rites. ^Eschylus exhibited two trilogies, in which Pentheus and Lycurgus were the principal characters. The serene

« AnteriorContinuar »