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CHAPTER VIII.

THE PH(ENICIAN WOMEN.—THE SUPPLIANTS.—THE CHIL-
DREN OF HERCULES. THE PHRENZT OF HERCULES.

"Both tugging to be victors, breast to breast,
Yet neither conqueror nor conquered;
So is the equal poise of this fell war."

—" Henry VI.," 3d Part.

Even did space permit, it is unnecessary to dwell minutely upon several of the plays of Euripides. The seven extant dramas of Jllschylus and the same number of those of Sophocles deserved and admitted of analysis, and already seven pieces of their rival's have passed under review. Of the ten which remain, some were occasional plays; others have apparently no connection with one another, even did we happen to know the trilogy to which they belonged. Of these, some would seem to have been composed for a special purpose—either local, as complimentary to Athens, or political, with a view to the affairs of Greece when they were produced. For English readers they retain little interest; yet although their merits as dramas are slight, they, like all the author's writings, contain some admirable poetry, or some effective scenes and situations.

In the "Phoenician Women," Euripides displays some of his greatest defects in the construction of a tragedy, and some of his most conspicuous beauties as a pathetic and picturesque writer. As to its plot, it is cumbrous; and, what is still worse, he competes in it with the "Antigone" of Sophocles and the "Seven against Thebes" of JEschylus. Jocasta, who in "CEdipus the King" destroys herself, is alive again in this drama. The brothers, whose rivalry and death by each other's hand were familiar to all, repeat their duel, and the devotion of Antigone to her blind father and her younger brother is brought or rather crammed into it at the end. We have, in fact, almost a trilogy pressed into a single member of it, and in consequence the "Phoenician Women" is, with the exception of the "CEdipus at Colonus," the longest of extant Greek tragedies. Euripides forgot the sound advice given by the poetess Corinna to her youthful rival, Pindar. He had been, she thought, too profuse in his mythological stories, and therefore advised him for the future "to sow with the hand and not with the sack."

As the story of the "Phoenician Women" has in the main been already told in the volume of this series devoted to ^schylus, and also as many English readers are acquainted with the "Ereres Ennemis" of Eacine, it is not perhaps necessary to detail again the tale of Eteocles and Polynices. It will suffice to present a portion of one or two scenes, so as to give some idea of the pure ore that lies embedded in this tragical conglomerate. The scene in which the old servant of the royal house leads Antigone to a tower whence she gazes upon the Argive host encamped around Thebes, even though it is borrowed from that book of the Iliad in which Helen surveys from the walls of Troy the Achaean chieftains, exhibits a master's hand. The servant can point out to his young mistress the leaders of the Argives, and describe the blazonry of their shields, because he has been in their camp, when be took to Polynices the offer of a truce. After carefully exploring the ground to make sure that no Theban is in sight, whose gaze might light on the maiden, he says to her :—

"Come then, ascend this height, let thy foot tread
These stairs of ancient cedar, thence survey
The plains beneath: see what an host of foes
At Dirce's fount encamp, and stretch along
The valley where Ismenus rolls his stream."

Antigone, at her first view from the palace-roof, exclaims :—

"Awful Diana, virgin goddess, see The field all brass glares like the lightning's Maze."

The old man then points out to her the captains of the numerous host which Polynices has led thither to assert his rights. Among other heroes, he singles out one as likely to interest his young mistress. "Seest thou," he says,

"That chief now passing o'er the stream Of Dirce?

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The sister of my brother's bride his choice 1"

The young and graceful Parthenopaeus, the proud boaster Capaneus, and Hippomedon, that "haughty king," are pointed out; but Antigone casts only a passing glance on these, and yearns to behold her brother. "Where is my Polynices, tell me 1" "He is standing there near the tomb of Niobe," is the reply. "I see him, but indistinctly," says the princess; "I see the semblance of his form:"—

"O could I, like a nimble-moving cloud,
Fly through the air, borne on the winged winds,
Fly to my brother: I would throw my arms
Round his dear neck, unhappy youth, so long
An exile. Mark him, good old man, O mark
How graceful in his golden arms he stands,
And glitters like the bright sun's orient rays.

Serv. The truce will bring him hither: in this house
His presence soon will fill thy soul with joy."

Although not among the leading characters, Menoeceus, the son of Creon, Jocasta's brother, is a most interesting one. The prophet Tiresias has declared that Thebes must be taken by the Seven, unless this youth will die for the people. In deep distress Creon implores his son to quit this fatal land. Menoeceus, "with an honest fraud," deceiving his father, freely gives his life. He says :— A. o. vol. xii L

"Were it not base
While those, whom no compulsion of the gods,
No oracle demands, fight for their country,
Should I betray my father, brother, city,
And like a craven yield to abject fear 1
No—by Jove's throne among the golden stars—
No, by the blood-stained Mars, I'll take my stand
Upon the highest battlement of Thebes,
And from it, as the prophet's voice gave warning,
I'll plunge into the dragon's gloomy cave,
And free this suffering land."

The interview between the brothers is too long for extract, and would be marred by compression. One of the sentiments, however, expressed by the fierce and unjust Eteocles, is so truly in Shakespeare's vein, that we cannot pass it over. The usurping Theban king says :—

"For honour I would mount above the stars,
Above the sun's high course, or sink beneath
Earth's deepest centre, might I so obtain
This idol of my soul, this worshipt power
Of regal state; and to another never
Would I resign her; but myself engross
The splendid honour : it were base indeed
To barter for low rank a kingly crown.
And shame it were that he who comes in arms,
Spreading o'er this brave realm the waste of war,
Should his rude will enjoy: all Thebes would blush
At my dishonour, did I, craven-like,
Shrink from the Argive spear, and to his hand
Resign my rightful sceptre."

Hotspur speaks much in the same strain of "hon

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