Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

practised it with some success, a picture by him being, long after his decease, exhibited at Megara, either as a creditable performance or a curiosity. The painter may have been of service to the poet; his dramas, especially the lyrical portions of them, display much fondness for words expressing colour. Painting was perhaps as useful an ally to the Greek poet, as skill in music was to Milton in the construction of his verse. The real business of Euripides turned out to be the cultivation of his mind, and not of his muscles. His lines were set in the (to him) always pleasant places of poetry and philosophy; his wrestling powers were to be exercised in combats with dramatic rivals, and still more hostile critics. And this was perhaps what the stars really said, only the stupid soothsayers did not read them aright. Such people have more than once brought those who consult them into trouble, as poor king Croesus, long before Euripides was born, found to his cost. The instructors of Euripides in philosophy were Anaxagoras for physical and Protagoras for moral science. Prodicus gave him lectures in rhetoric, and the studies of his youth were confirmed, expanded, or corrected in his manhood by the good sense of Socrates, who, besides being a guide and philosopher, was also his friend. An education of this kind implies that either Mnesarchus was a man of fortune, or that his son early came into one, inasmuch as the Greek sophistical lecturers were quite as costly as many English private tutors are now. We do not know their actual terms, but we do know that they were beyond the reach of ordinary incomes. "Think," says Hippias to Socrates, "of the sums of money which Protagoras and Prodicus collected from Greece. If you knew how much I had made myself, you would be surprised. From one town, and that a very small one, I carried off more than 150 minae (£609), which I took home and gave to my father, to the extreme astonishment of himself and his fellow-townsmen." It is also a token of Euripides being well provided with money, that he collected a library—large enough to excite observation at the time, and to be recorded afterwards. Forming a library in any age, heathen or Christian, is an expensive taste; and, on the whole, printed books are cheaper than those transcribed by the hand. Grecian sheepskin or good Egyptian paper (papyrus) was a costly luxury.

In his twenty-sixth year Euripides presented himself for the first time among the candidates for the dramatic crown. In that year (455 B.C.) death removed one formidable rival from his path, since in it ^Eschylus expired Of the three tragedies produced by him on this his first trial, one was entitled, "The Daughters of Pelias," * and a few lines of it which have been preserved show that it turned upon some

* Among the few fragments preserved of this play are four lines, apparently indicating that Medea was devising mischief to somebody—perhaps putting on the copper or sharpening a knife for the behoof of Pelias. Whatever it was, she is asking advice, and her monitor gives it like a person of good sense :—

"A good device; yet to my counsel list:
Whilst thou art young, think as becomes thy years:
Maidenly manners maidens best become.
But when some worthy man has thee espoused,
Leave plots to him j they suit not with thy sex."

adventures of Medea—a theme that a few years after he was to handle with signal success. The third prize was awarded to him—no mean distinction for a novice. But not until Euripides was just forty years old did he obtain the first prize; and the name of this successful trilogy is not preserved. Prominent as the "Medea" now stands among his works, the trilogy of which it formed a part gained only the third prize. Six years after the production of the "Medea," Aristophanes opened upon its author his double battery of sarcasm and parody, not indeed against the "Medea," but against a companion drama, now lost, the "Philoctetes." * It is difficult to perceive any possible link between the Colchian princess and the possessor of the bow and arrows of Hercules; we may therefore infer that the group to which these two plays belonged was made up of fables unconnected with each other —a departure from earlier practice that did not originate with Euripides, though he is sometimes taxed with it.

He was twice married; his first wife was Choerilla, a daughter of the Mnesilochus who appears in Aristophanes's comedy of the "Thesmophoriazusae;" by her he had three sons: his second was Melitto. According to some accounts he was a bigamist; in

* Of this "Philoctetes " there is a very fair account—by no means a common piece of luck with Euripides—by Dion Chrysostom, Oration lii. Dion compares the " Philoctetes " of Mschylus (lost) and that of Sophocles (extant) with the Euripidean drama; and he shows that each of these pieces has its several merits.

Athens, however, bigamy, though uncommon, was not a punishable offence.* There was some scandal about one or other or both of these ladies; probably, if there were any ground for it, it applied to Melitto, since Euripides lived for many years with Choerilla upon, so far as is known, ordinary connubial terms. Athens, however, it must be recollected, in justice to both ladies, was a very gossiping city; nothing (we have it on the authority of St Paul, seconded by that of Demosthenes) pleased them so much as to tell and to hear news, and any news about Euripides was certain of welcome to those who had laughed at the representation of him in the "Acharnians." If it be fair to draw inferences from the wedded happiness of "the laureate fraternity of poets," it might appear that Euripides would have fared better had he remained a bachelor. Dante complains that Gemma, his wife, held him in subjection; Shakespeare was not quite comfortable, it would seem, at home; Milton's start in married life was unlucky; Wycherley and Addison were fearfully henpecked If Christian husbands

* Hume, in his 19th Essay, writes:—"I have somewhere read that the republic of Athens, having lost many of its citizens by war and pestilence, allowed every man to marry two wives, in order the sooner to repair the waste which had been made by these calamities. The poet Euripides happened to be coupled to two noisy vixens, who so plagued him with their jealousies and quarrels that he became ever after a professed woman-hater; and is the only theatrical writer, perhaps the only poet, that ever entertained an aversion to the sex." The "good David," though sceptical enough on some subjects, was rather credulous on the score of anecdotes of this sort.

fared so ill, it may have been worse with a heathen poet, at a time and in a country where a man's lawful wife was scarcely more than his cook and housekeeper.

There is no trace of Euripides having, at any period of his life, taken part in public affairs. He seems never to have been archon, or general, as Sophocles was, or priest, or ambassador, or foreman of a jury. Doubtless he paid some rates or taxes in his parish (deme), Phylae of the Cecropid tribe. He was commonly accounted a morose and sulky fellow; and since he shunned general society, he was naturally charged with keeping low company.* He was indeed—far more than was usual in his time, and among a people passing most of their days in public—" a literary man," preferring solitude and his library to the hubbub of the market-place, or the crowding and noise of popular assemblies. According to a story preserved by a Eoman anecdotist, Euripides pursued his studies in a grim and gloomy fashion. One Philochorus professed to have seen a "grotto shagged with horrid thorn," t in which he composed his tragedies. He is said never to

* The spirits in Hades, that in "The Frogs" rejoice in the rhetorical trick3 ascribed to Euripides, are supposed, while on earth, to have inhabited the bodies of cut-purses, highwaymen, burglars, and parricides—such "minions of the moon" being, in Aristophanes's opinion, the pupils of sophistical tutors; or, at least, their notions of property and filial piety, he thinks, were probable results of their education. There was a time when to be a Hobbist or a Benthamite was thought to tend to similar aberrations from virtue.

+ Ben Jonson, certainly not an unsocial man (witness the

« AnteriorContinuar »