Page:Sophocles - Seven Plays, 1900.djvu/23

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xvii
PREFATORY NOTE TO EDITION OF 1883

dom and power of their country, the respect and love of their fellow-citizens, are inestimably dear. From a Platonic, and still more from a Christian point of view, the best morality of the age of Pericles is no doubt defective. Such counsels of perfection as 'Love your enemies,' or 'A good man can harm no one, not even an enemy',—are beyond the horizon of tragedy, unless dimly seen in the person of Antigone. The co-existence of savage vindictiveness with the most affectionate tenderness is characteristic of heroes and heroines alike, and produces some of the most moving contrasts. But the tenderness is no less deep and real for this, and while the chief persons are thus passionate, the Greek lesson of moderation and reasonableness is taught by the event, whether expressed or not by the mouth of sage or prophet or of the 'ideal bystander'.

Greek tragedy, then, is a religious art, not merely because associated with the festival of Dionysus, nor because the life which it represented was that of men who believed, with all the Hellenes, in Zeus, Apollo, and Athena, or in the power of Moira and the Erinyes,—not merely because it represented

 'the dread strife
Of poor humanity’s afflicted will
Struggling in vain with ruthless destiny.'

but much more because it awakened in the Athenian spectator emotions of wonder concerning human life, and of admiration for nobleness in the unfortunate—a sense of the infinite value of personal uprightness and of domestic purity—which in the most universal sense of the word were truly religious;—because it expressed a consciousness of depths which Plato never fathomed, and an ideal of character which, if less complete than Shakespeare, is not less noble. It is indeed a 'rough' generalization that ranks the Agamemnon with the Adoniazusae as a religious composition.

 II. This spiritual side of tragic poetry deserves to lie emphasized both as the most essential aspect of it, and as giving it the most permanent claim to lasting recog-