« AnkstesnisTęsti »
and overcome by curiosity he opened his eyes. says St. Augustine, "received a severer wound than the gladiator who was just struck. The sight of blood which flowed, filled his soul with cruel pleasure. He wished to turn away his eyes, but felt them fixed upon this palpitating body. His soul in spite of him became intoxicated with sanguinary joy."
The Greeks themselves, the chosen people of the arts, finally adopted gladiatorial combats. Antiochus Epiphanes, one of those Asiatic kings who had all the caprice and strange humors which are created by want of occupation and the possession of absolute power, wished to introduce gladiatorial sports. But this kind of exhibition causing at first more terror than pleasure to the Greeks at Antioch,* who were not accustomed to the sports of the Roman people, Antiochus, in order to overcome this repugnance, at first made the gladiators stop as soon as blood was shed, but afterwards permitted them to continue to the death; and by degrees the Greeks acquired such a taste for these spectacles, that the king had no further occasion to send to Rome for gladiators. But from this time the dramatic art among the Greeks began to decline, and the Roman Circus took the place of the Greek Theatre. They had different kinds of gladiators, as we have different sorts of actors. They executed manœuvres, movements and steps, as they do in our ballets; they fought in time and cadence; but their chief pleasure was derived from witnessing the exhibition of physical suffering. When the spectators saw that the gladiators were disposed to avoid a severe conflict, they became enraged, and cursed them; but when they fought bravely, they applauded them, and by their cries kept up their courage until they fell, pierced with mortal wounds. The despair of the gladiators became proverbial at Rome; but this despair, giving violence to the
* Livy, book xli. chap. xx.
Quos si animadverterint esse concordes tum eos oderunt et persequuntur, et tanquam collusores ut fustibus verberenter exclamant. Si autem horrendas adversus invicem inimicitias eos exercere cognoverint, quo majore adversus invicem discordia furere senseritet, eo magis amant eo delectantur, et incitatis favent; et faventes incitant. ST. AUGUSTINE, De Catechisandis rudibus. Jam de se desperans, jam habens quasi gladiatorium animum.-ST. AUGUSTINE, Enarrationes en Psalmos.
gestures, cries, and blows of the gladiators, increased the emotion of the spectator.
When the Theatre causes the emotions of the body to prevail over those of the mind, it resembles the Circus; but it very soon undergoes a speedy decline. The emotions which proceed from the body are limited and monotonous: we soon become familiar with the tragical contortions of exaggerated passions; we quickly perceive that those cries of agony which at first strike the ear with surprise and terror, always sound the same. It is upon this rock that all the arts must be wrecked which go out of the circle of moral illusion to enter within the circle of material imitation. Material nature is much more limited than moral nature, either for enjoyment or suffering. The soul, in its griefs, is patient, and exhibits its pains in various ways, because it is immortal; while the body, after suffering for a short time, knows only how to die; it is the only variety which it can put in its griefs, and hence also the barrenness and monotony of material sufferings which we witness on the stage.
These reflections lead us to show how the ancient Theatre expressed the emotions which are caused by physical suffering, and the fear of death; and how the modern Theatre expresses them. It is with this that we propose to commence our lectures upon the employment of the passions in the drama.
HOW THE ANCIENT THEATRE EXPRESSED THE EMOTIONS WHICH ARE
CAUSED BY PHYSICAL SUFFERING AND THE FEAR OF DEATH-HOW THE MODERN THEATRE EXPRESSES THEM-THE IPHIGENIA OF RACINE-ANGELO, TYRANT OF PADUA, BY VICTOR HUGO.
EACH sentiment has its history, and this history is curious, because it is, if we may so speak, an abridged history of humanity. Although the feelings of the human heart do not undergo any permanent change, yet they feel the effect of the religious and political revolutions which are going on in the world. They retain their nature, but change their expression; and it is in studying these changes of expression that the literary critic writes, without designing it, the history of the world.
The love of life is the strongest and most universal sentiment of the human heart.
"Better be a peasant alive than an emperor dead," says the fabulist;* and in speaking thus he was only relating the conversation of Achilles and Ulysses in Hades. "Achilles," said Ulysses," you were once honored as a god among the living, and even now you command the dead: you cannot regret life.' "Ulysses," replied Achilles," do not seek to console me for my death: I would rather be a poor laborer, and gain my living under some poor master who would not always have enough food to provide me, than to command here these lifeless shadows." So sweet a thing is life! This regret of life, which the poets attributed to their dying heroes, had nothing timid or weak: it was affecting without being pusillanimous.
Two kinds of men who are not always the most faithful
* LA FONTAINE. La Matrone d'Ephese.
interpreters of human nature, the Satiric poets* and the Philosophers-the one, because they viewed the world on its dark side, and the other, because they wished to make a methodical and regular system of the human affections,—had already among the Greeks censured the weakness of dying heroes. Plato accused them of enervating their souls by their complaints, and Cicero, a disciple and translator of the Greek philosophers, commends old Pacuvius for having in his play, entitled Ulysses Wounded, in imitation of Sophocles, given to his dying hero a firmness and constancy worthy of the stoicism of Rome. † The ancient French dramatists seem to have been in this respect of the opinion of Cicero rather than Sophocles: their heroes and heroines die with an admirable magnanimity. The haughtiness of their sentiments restrains pity, and in seeing them renounce life with so much indifference, in spite of ourselves we acquire a cold insensibility. The influence which the ancient philosophy had on the dramatic poets, the example of the Christian martyrs, and above all, thes entiment of honor, concurred in establishing the firmness of our tragic heroes. The point of honor which arose from the habits of military life and of that fearless contempt of death which characterized the Germanic nations, has contributed much towards the firmness of the heroes of the modern stage. Each age gives to its dramatic personages the kind of courage which it prizes most. When the sort of courage which braves death is held in greatest esteem, when it is by this standard that we measure men, Achilles and Ajax, if they appeared upon the stage, would not be less audacious and high-spirited than a musketeer or a grenadier; it would be even necessary, by virtue of their title of hero, that they should be a little more so. Hence their contempt of death pushed to exaggeration; hence their blusterings about their intrepidity and resignation!
The modern drama has endeavored to correct the tragic
* See how Aristophanes, in his Frogs, ridicules the heroes of Euripides who weep and lament.
+ Cicero, in his Tusculan Questions, b. ii. ch. xiii., censures the Philocletes of Sophocles for giving way to grief:
"Hoc quidem in dolore maxime providendum est, ne quid abjecte, ne quid timide, ne quid ignave, ne quid serviliter muliebriter ve faciamus; imprimis que refutetur ac rejiciatur Philoctetœus ille clamor. Ingemisnon nunquam viro concessum est, id que raro: ejulatus, ne mulieri quidem."
heroes of this philosophic, chivalric and Christian magnanimity which wearied the spectator without interesting him. We will notice the different expressions of the sentiments of the love of life from the days of the Greeks to our own times; and in order to accomplish this purpose to best advantage, we will select a few of the characters of the ancient and modern drama.
There were on the Greek stage, three maidens sacrificed in the bloom of their youth; the Antigone of Sophocles, the Iphigenia and Polyxena of Euripides. None of them in dying affect courage and firmness; none of them are lavish of their youth and hopes; none of them are ashamed of weeping, and yet all are resigned. It is this which constitutes the crowning glory of the Greek art; it excites pity without exhausting it; it mingles sorrow and resignation in the plaints of its victims, in order that they may inspire at the same time pity and respect, and that these two sentiments may temper each other in the bosom of the spectator. The Greek art always seeks to maintain a just equilibrium between these two emotions. Thus Antigone in openly disobeying the law of Creon, which prohibited the burial of the body of Polynice, has shown more firmness than belongs to a young maiden; Sophocles, fearing that we may have less pity for her, seeing her so courageous, has given to her regrets for life something heart-rending. Antigone is almost a martyr, since she prefers to obey the divine law rather than the human; but she has not the resignation of a martyr: now she weeps, because she will have no more nuptial songs, nor sweet marriage, nor dear children; and at other times, she accuses the Thebans of baseness, and the gods of indif ference. The chorus also, which in the ancient tragedy expresses the sentiments which the poet wishes to excite in the breast of the spectator, remarks with horror the frightful tempest which agitates her soul. Sophocles has prolonged the agony of Antigone only with a view to temper with pity the admiration which her courage inspired.
Less brave and less bold, the Iphigenia of Euripides does not require so much effort to move us to pity. There is therefore in her complaints nothing violent or agitated. She regrets to part with life; she does not fear to express her dread of death; she also mourns over her youth, which was blooming with fond anticipations; she was, in a word, as af