« AnteriorContinuar »
been a hurried or occasional composition. Amphitryon, who delivers the prologue, is, with Megara, the wife of Hercules, and her sons, cruelly treated by Lycus, king, or more properly the usurping tyrant, of Thebes. He, an adventurer from Eubosa, had slain Creon, lord of that city; and to insure himself on his throne, has ordered Megara, Creon's daughter, and her children by Hercules, for execution. Her husband is at the time detained in Hades, whither he has gone on a very hazardous expedition, and his family despair of his return. Lycus, his "wish being father to the thought," is of the same opinion; but fearing that the young Heracleids may some day requite him for the murder of their grandfather Creon, he resolves, like Macbeth, to put his mind at ease by despatching all "Banquo's issue." But on this point both the tyrant and his victims are mistaken, for just as Amphitryon, Megara, and the children, are being led forth to death, Hercules returns, rescues his family, and delivers Thebes from its Euboean intruder.
The taint of blood, however, is on the redresser of wrongs, and from it he must be purified by sacrifice to the gods. And now a worse foe to Hercules than Lycus had been assails him. Juno, whose ire against Jupiter's and Alcmena's son is as unappeasable as her hatred towards Paris and Troy, is not pleased with the turn matters are taking. It has been of no avail to send the object of her spleen to bring up Cerberus from below. Pluto has not, as she hoped her grimy brotherin-law would have done, clapped him into prison, nor Charon refused him homeward passage over the Styx. In the "Alcestia" we have had an impersonation of Death; in the drama now before us there is one of Madness (Lyssa), a daughter of Night, who bears the goddess's instructions to render Hercules a maniac. For this errand Madness has no relish: she is more scrupulous than the Queen of Gods. "It is shameful," she says, "to persecute one who has served mankind so well—destroying beasts of prey, and executing justice on many notorious thieves and cut-throats." But Iris, one of the Olympian couriers, tells Lyssa, whom she accompanies, that "Juno is not a person to be trifled with; that unless mortals in future be permitted to beard divinities, Hercules must be made to feel the full weight of celestial wrath. If a god or a goddess be out of temper, even the best and most valiant of men must smart." Eeluctantly Lyssa complies with the divine hest. Hercules, while engaged in the expiatory sacrifice, goes suddenly distraught: conceiving them to be foes, he murders his wife and their three sons, narrowly misses sending his earthly father, Amphitryon, to the Shades, and is exhibited, after an interval filled up with a Choric song, bound, as a dangerous lunatic, with cords to a pillar. The bleeding corpses of his household lie before him. Eestored to his right mind, he is appalled by his own deed. Theseus, whom Hercules has just before released from durance in Pluto's realm, comes on and offers to his deliverer ghostly consolation. The pair of friends depart for Athens, where the maniac shall be purged of his offence to heaven. Only in the city of the Virgin-goddess can rest and absolution be accorded to him.
Tn "The Suppliants" we have some insight into the political opinions of its author. In " The Phrenzy of Hercules " there is a glimpse of his theology. "Very early in this drama are religious sentiments, not, indeed, of a very consistent nature, introduced. Amphitryon, for example, when his prospects are most gloomy, taxes Jupiter with unfair dealing towards his copartner in marriage, to his daughter-in-law Megara, and to his grandsons. But when Lycus has been slain, then the Chorus proclaims that a signal instance of divine justice has been shown. When Hercules regains his senses, Theseus labours to put his soul at ease by the following arguments :—
"This ruin from none other god proceeds
To which Hercules replies:—
"Ah me! all this is foreign to my ills.
Lords it o'er others: of no foreign aid
However, he consents to go with Theseus to Athens, and will not add the guilt of suicide to that of homicide.
This play seems at no time to have been a favourite with either spectators or readers. For the former, this dose of Anaxagorean philosophy may have been too strong: for the latter, the piece may have seemed to follow "a course too bloody." Yet among the tragic spectacles on the Athenian stage, that of Hercules bound to a column, with the remains of his wife and children before him, and the terror-stricken looks of Amphitryon and his attendants, was surely one of the most affecting.
THE TALE OP TROT: HECUBA—THE TROJAN WOMEN.
"High barrows, without marble, or a name,
And old Scamander (if 'tis he) remain;
A hundred thousand men might fight again
—" Don Juan," Cant. iv.
On subjects connected with the Tale of Troy, ten dramas by Euripides, if the " Ehesus" be counted among them, are extant, and these represent a small portion only of the themes he drew from the perennial supply of the Homeric poems. The ancient epic, like the modern novel, although -widely differing from tragedy in its form and substance, abounds in dramatic material. Many plays, indeed, by Euripides and other dramatic poets of the time, were derived from the Cyclic poets, who either continued the Iliad, and brought the story down to the fall of Troy, or took episodes in it as the groundwork of their dramas. Whether coming from