Mistake of conceiving Greek Tragedy as the daughter of Sculpture
This character of Sculpture belongs also to Greek Tragedy. But this is not, as seems sometimes to be imagined, because the Greeks sought to make
They are sister forms of one tendency,
Tragedy like Sculpture. It is because that tendency of intellect and feeling, for which Sculpture happened to be a peculiarly apt expression, set its necessary stamp equally on every thing else that the Greek
mind created. In naming this stamp ‘plastic’ we borrow our term from the arts of modelling; but to conceive the form of Greek Tragedy as derived from Sculpture is like conceiving the Greek language to be derived from Sanskrit. It is true that, in reference
Greek Tragedy has an alloy of trouble,
to the history of Greek thought, Tragedy is a later manifestation than Sculpture; the perfect repose is already troubled, an element of conflict has entered, man is in the presence of Nemesis, and the δράσαντι παθεῖν
, the law that sin shall entail suffering, is
the theme. But the typical character is not lost; those unchanging attributes which, on the one hand,
bring man near to the gods or, on the other, mark his brotherhood with the dust and the limits of his mortal destiny are presented in emphatic, untroubled lines; and, when Retributive Justice has done its work, that blitheness out of which the passions rose into a storm returns subdued to the graver and deeper calm that follows a transcendant contemplation. All honour to those sublime voices of Titanic pain or victory that roll, like dirges or paeans, along the spacious music of Aeschylos; all honour to Euripides also, for no one is capable of feeling that Sophokles is supreme who does not feel that Euripides is admirable. Euripides
The true greatness of Euripides.
is a great emotional dramatist; a master of the picturesque; the only Greek, except Aristophanes, who set foot in the charmed woodlands of fancy1
. That special claim, however, which has in recent times been made for Euripides, and on the strength of which he has by some been preferred to his predecessors, involves a fallacy which it is important to observe, since what is at issue is much more than our judgment on the relative merits of two poets, it is the principle of appreciation relatively to all the best Greek work in every kind. Euripides has been regarded as distinctively
Fallacy involved in calling Euripides the most ‘human’ of the Greek Tragedians.
the human. Now if by this were meant only that he is great in dramatising the accidents of life, in portraying the more obvious phenomena of character,
in exciting compassion for such troubles, or sympathy with such joys, as come home to us all, in establishing between the poet and the spectator not merely a vivid intelligence but something like a personal friendship, then the epithet would be perfectly just. If, however—and this is the popular notion— Euripides is to be called the ‘human’ poet in contrast with, for instance, Sophokles; if it is meant that Sophokles is comparatively cold, pompous, stiff, while Euripides is in a warm, flexible, fruitful sympathy with humanity—then the epithet involves a confusion of ideas than which nothing could be more fatal.
Sophokles is the most human, because he is the most Greek.
Euripides is human, but Sophokles is more human; Sophokles is so in the only way in which a Greek could be so, by being more Greek. When the best Greek mind was truest to the law of its own nature, it looked at man and man's life in the manner of Sophokles—fixing its regard on the permanent, divine characteristics of the human type, and not suffering minor accidents or unrulinesses or griefs so to thrust themselves forward as to mar the symmetry of the larger view. True simplicity is not the avoidance, but the control, of detail. In Sophokles, as in great sculpture, a thousand fine touches go to that which, as the greatest living creator in fiction has proved, he can still help to teach—the delineation of
Sophokles the most perfect type of the Greek intellect.
the great primary emotions. Sophokles is the purest type of the Greek intellect at its best. Euripides is a very different thing, a highly gifted son of his day. Rhetorical Dialectic has broken into Tragedy, and the religious basis, the doctrine of Nemesis, has been abandoned in favour of such other interests as the
poet can devise. Euripides was brilliantly fertile in plots. This is what Aristotle means by τραγικώτατος
, alluding especially to sudden and pathetic reversals of situation; for, before Alexander's time, ‘tragic’ had already come near to ‘sensational’2
. No woman in Greek Tragedy is either so human, or so true a woman, as the Antigone of Sophokles3