WE forgot in our yesterday's discourse to tell you, that the age wherein Alexander flourished had the happiness to abound in sciences and in persons of transcending natural endowments. Yet this is not to be ascribed to Alexander's but their own good fortune, which favored them with such a judge and such a spectator of their particular excellencies as was both able rightly to discern and liberally to reward their understood deserts. Therefore it is recorded of Archestratus, born some ages after, an elegant poet but buried in his own extreme poverty, that a certain person meeting him said, Hadst thou but lived when Alexander lived, for every verse he would have gratified thee with an island of Cyprus or a territory fair as that of Phoenicia Which makes me of opinion that those former famous artists and soaring geniuses may not so properly be said to have lived in the time of Alexander as by Alexander. For as the temperature of the season and limpid thinness of the surrounding air produce plenty of grain and fruit: so the favor, the encouragement, and benignity of a prince increase the number of aspiring geniuses, and advance perfection in sciences. And on the other side, by the envy, covetousness, and contentiousness of those in power, whatever soars to the height of true bravery or invention is utterly quelled and extinguished. Therefore it is reported of Dionysius the Tyrant that, being pleased with the music of a certain [p. 492] player on a harp, he promised him a talent for his reward; but when the musician claimed his promise the next day, Yesterday, said he, by thee delighted, while thou sangest before me, I gave thee likewise the pleasure of thy hopes; and thence immediately didst thou receive the reward of thy delightful pastime, enjoying at the same time the charming expectation of my promise. In like manner Alexander tyrant of the Pheraeans (for it behooves us to distinguish him by that addition, lest we should dishonor his namesake), sitting to see a tragedy, was so affected with delight at the acting, that he found himself moved to a more than ordinary compassion. Upon which, leaping suddenly from his seat, as he hastily flung out of the theatre, How poor and mean it would look, said he, if I, that have massacred so many of my own citizens and subjects, should be seen here weeping at the misfortunes of Hecuba and Polyxena! And it was an even lay but that he had mischiefed the tragedian for having mollified his cruel and merciless disposition, like iron softened by fire. Timotheus also, singing to Archelaus who seemed too parsimonious in remuneration, frequently upbraided him with the following sarcasm:—
Base earth-bred silver thou admirest.To whom Archelaus not unwittily reparteed,—
But thou dost beg it.Ateas, king of the Scythians, having taken Ismenias the musician prisoner, commanded him to play during one of his royal banquets. And when all the rest admired and applauded his harmony, Ateas swore that the neighing of a horse was more delightful to his ears. So great a stranger was he to the habitations of the Muses; as one whose soul lodged always in his stables, fitter however to hear asses bray than horses neigh. Therefore, among such kings, what progress or advancement of noble sciences or esteem for learning can be expected? And surely no more can be [p. 493] expected from such as would themselves be rivals, who therefore persecute real artists with all the hatred and envy imaginable. In the number of these was Dionysius before mentioned, who condemned Philoxenus the poet to labor in the quarries, because, being by the tyrant commanded only to correct a tragedy by him written, he struck out every line from the beginning to the end. Nay, I must needs say that Philip, who became a student not till his latter years, in these things descended beneath himself. For it being once his chance to enter into a dispute about sounds with a musician whom he thought he had foiled in his art, the person modestly and with a smile replied, May never so great a misfortune befall thee, O King, as to understand these things better than I do.