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1 The poet does not forbid a fourth person to speak, but would have him say very little, as the Scholiast understands the precept. Indeed, a conversation of three people is most agreeable, because it is less confused and less divides the attention of an audience.
2 The chorus was not introduced between the acts, merely to relieve the audience, but had a part in the play, and concurred with the other actors to carry on the plot, and support the probability of it. The Choriphaeus, or first person of the chorus, entered in the acts, and spoke for all those of whom the chorus was composed; “officiumque virile defendat.” Hor. Ars 193 The chorus filled up the intervals of the acts with their songs, which were composed of reflections upon what was past, or their apprehensions of what might happen.
3 “Officiumque virile” Hor. Ars 193. Heinsius takes virile adverbially, for viriliter. But this is thought harsh. What hinders, but that it may be taken adjectively? And then, agreeably to his interpretation, “"officium virile"” will mean a strenuous, diligent office, such as becomes a person interested in the progress of the action. The precept is leveled against the practice of those poets who, though they allow the part of a persona dramatis to the chorus, yet for the most part make it so idle and insignificant a one, as is of little consequence in the representation; by which means the advantage of probability, intended to be drawn from this use of the chorus, is, in great measure, forfeited.
4 The chorus, says the poet, is to take the side of the good and virtuous; i. e. (see note on v. 193), is always to sustain a moral character. But this will need some explanation and restriction. To conceive aright of its office, we must suppose the chorus to be a number of persons, by some probable cause assembled together, as witnesses and spectators of the great action of the drama. Such persons, as they can not be wholly uninterested in what passes before them, will very naturally bear some share in the representation. This will principally consist in declaring their sentiments, and indulging their reflections freely on the several events and distresses as they shall arise. Thus we see the moral attributed to the chorus, will be no other than the dictates of plain sense; such as must be obvious to every thinking observer of the action, who is under the influence of no peculiar partialities from affection or interest. Though even these may be supposed, in cases where the character toward which they draw is represented as virtuous. A chorus, thus constituted, must always, it is evident, take the part of virtue: because this is the natural, and almost necessary determination of mankind, in all ages and nations, when acting freely and unconstrained.
6 The Choriphaeus was present through the whole play, and was often necessarily intrusted with the secrets of the persons of the drama. To preserve the probability, the poets chose a chorus, that was obliged by their own interest to keep those secrets, and without acting contrary to their duty. Euripides hath greatly offended against this precept.
7 “Tibia non ut nunc orichalco” Hor. Ars 202, etc. (From v. 202 to v. 220.) This is one of those many passages in the epistle about which the critics have said a great deal, without explaining any thing. In support of what I mean to offer, as the true interpretation, I observe,I. That the poet's intention certainly was, not to censure the false refinements of their stage music; but, in a short digressive history (such as the didactic form will sometimes require), to describe the rise and progress of the true. This I collect, 1. From the expression itself, which can not, without violence, be understood in any other way. For, as to the words licentia and praeceps, which have occasioned much of the difficulty, the first means a freer use, not a licentiousness properly so-called; and the other only expresses a vehemence and rapidity of language, naturally productive of a quicker elocution, such as must of course attend the more numerous harmony of the lyre: not, as M. Dacier translates it, “"une eloquence temeraire et outrée,"” an extravagant straining and affectation of style. 2. From the reason of the thing, which makes it incredible that the music of the theater should then be most complete, when the times were barbarous, and entertainments of this kind little encouraged or understood. 3. From the character of that music itself; for the rudeness of which, Horace, in effect, apologizes, in defending it only on the score of the imperfect state of the stage, and the simplicity of its judges. This then being clear, I observe, II. That those two verses,
are, as they now stand, utterly inexplicable. This hath appeared long since, from the fruitless labors of the critics, and, above all, of Lambin, one of the best of them, who, after several repeated efforts to elucidate this place, leaves it just as dark and unintelligible as he found it. The interpretation, without them, stands thus: "The tibia," says the poet, "was at first low and simple. The first, as best agreeing to the then state of the stage, which required only a soft music to go along with and assist the chorus, there being no large and crowded theaters to fill in those days. And the latter, as suiting best to the then state of the times, whose simplicity and frugal manners exacted the severest temperance, as in every thing else, so in their dramatic ornaments and decorations. But, when conquest had enlarged the territory and widened the walls of Rome, and, in consequence thereof, a social spirit had dispelled that severity of manners, by the introduction of frequent festival solemnities, then, as was natural to expect, a freer and more varied harmony took place. And thus it was, that the tibicen, the musician who played to the declamation in the acts, instead of the rude and simpler strain of the old times, gave a richness and variety of tone; and instead of the old inactive posture, added the grace of motion to his art. Just in the same manner," continues he, "it happened to the lyre, i. e. the music in the chorus, which originally, as that of the tibia, was severe and simple; but, by degrees, acquired a quicker and more expressive modulation, such as corresponded to the more elevated and passionate turn of the poet's style, and the diviner enthusiasm of his sentiment."
8 “Accessit numerisque modisque licentia major.” Hor. Ars 211 M. Dacier is out again, when he takes “licentia major” in a bad sense, as implying lasciveté, a culpable and licentious refinement. The license here spoken of, with regard to numbers and sounds, like that in another place, which respects words (l. 51), is one of those which is allowed, when sumpta pudenter. The comparative major, which is a palliative, shows this; and is further justified by a like passage in Cicero de Oratore (I. iii. c. 48), where, speaking of this very license in poetry, he observes, that out of the heroic and iambic measure, which was at first strictly observed, there arose by degrees the anapaest, “"procerior quidam numerus, et ille licentior et divitior dithyrambus"”; evidently not condemning this change, but opposing it to the rigorous and confined measures of the elder poet. But the expression itself occurs in the piece entitled "Orator," in which, comparing the freedoms of the poetical and oratorical style, “"in ea"” (i. e. poetica), says he, “"licentiam statuo majorem esse, quam in nobis faciendorum iungendorumque verborum."” The poet says this license extended “"numeris modisque,"” the former of which words will express that license of meter spoken of by Cicero, and which is further explained, v. 256, etc., where an account is given of the improvement of the iambic verse. HURD.
9 “Sic priscae … arti tibicen” Hor. Ars 215, etc. — “Sic etiam fidibus” Hor. Ars 216, etc. This is the application of what hath been said, in general, concerning the refinement of theatrical music to the case of tragedy. Some commentators say, and to comedy. But in this they mistake, as will appear presently. M. Dacier hath I know not what conceit about a comparison betwixt the Roman and Greek stage. His reason is, that the lyre was used in the Greek chorus, as appears, lie says, from Sophocles playing upon this instrument himself in one of his tragedies. And was it not used too in the Roman chorus, as appears from Nero's playing upon it in several tragedies? But the learned critic did not apprehend this matter. Indeed, from the caution with which his guides, the dealers in antiquities, always touch this point, it should seem that they too had no very clear conception of it. The case I take to have been this: the tibia, as being most proper to accompany the declamation of the acts, “cantanti succinere”, was constantly employed, as well in the Roman tragedy as comedy. This appears from many authorities. I mention only two from Cicero. (Acad. 1. ii. 7) “"Quam multa quae nos fugiunt in cantu, exaudiunt in eo genere exercitati: Qui, primo inflatu tibicinis, Antiopam esse aiunt aut Andromachem, cum nos ne suspicemur quidem."” The other is still more express. In his piece entitled "Orator," speaking of the negligence of the Roman writers in respect of numbers, he observes, that there were even many passages in their tragedies, which, unless the tibia played to them, could not be distinguished from mere prose: “"quae nisi cum tibicen accesserit, orationi sint solutae simillima."” One of these passages is expressely quoted from Thyestes, a tragedy of Ennius, and, as appears from the measure, taken out of one of the acts. It is clear, then, that the tibia was certainly used in the declamation of tragedy. But now the song of the tragic chorus, being of the nature of the ode, of course required fides, the lyre, the peculiar and appropriated instrument of the lyric muse. And this is clearly collected, if not from express testimonies, yet from some occasional hints dropped by the ancients. For, 1. The lyre we are told (Cic. de Leg. ii. 9 and 15), and is agreed on all hands, was an instrument of the Roman theater; but it was not employed in comedy. This we certainly know from the short accounts of the music prefixed to Terrence's plays. 2. Further, the tibicen, as we saw, accompanied the declamation of the acts in tragedy. It remains, then, that the proper place of the lyre was, where one should naturally look for it, in the songs of the chorus; but we need not go further than this very passage for a proof. It is unquestionable, that the poet is here speaking of the chorus only, the following lines not admitting any other possible interpretation. By fidibus, then, it is necessarily understood the instrument peculiarly used in it. In this view, the whole digression is more pertinent and connects better. The poet had before been speaking of tragedy. All his directions, from l. 100, respect this species of the drama only. The application of what he had said concerning music is then most naturally made, 1. To the tibia, the music of the acts; and, 2. To fides, that of the choir: thus confining himself, as the tenor of this part required, to tragedy only. Hence is seen the mistake, not only of M. Dacier, whose comment is in every view insupportable; but, as was hinted, of Heinsius, Lambin, and others, who, with more probability, explained this of the Roman tragedy and comedy. For, though tibia might be allowed to stand for comedy, as opposed to tragoedia (as, in fact, we find it in II. Ep. 1. 98), that being the only instrument employed in it; yet, in speaking expressly of the music of the stage, fides could not determinately enough, and in contradistinction to tibia, denote that of tragedy, it being an instrument used solely or principally in the chorus, of which the context shows, he alone speaks. It is further to be observed, that in the application here made, besides the music, the poet takes in the other improvements of the tragic chorus, these happening, as from the nature of the thing they must, at the same time.
10 “Sententia Delphis.” Hor. Ars 219 Sententia is properly an aphorism taken from life, briefly representing either what is or what ought to be the conduct of it: “"Oratio sumpta de vita, quae aut quid sit aut quid esse oporteat in vita, breviter ostendit."” (Ad Herenn. Rhet. 1. iv.) These aphorisms are here mentioned, as constituting the peculiar praise and beauty of the chorus. This is finely observed, and was intended to convey an oblique censure on the practice of those poets, who stuff out every part of the drama alike with moral sentences, not considering that the only proper receptacle of them is the chorus, where indeed they have an extreme propriety, it being the peculiar office and character of the chorus to moralize.
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