Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/103

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ness and fragmentary state of our information, that the instance ras not unique. It is certain that his life must have been passed in much anxiety, and probable, that neither the privacy and almost concealment in which, contrary to the habits of the place and people, his proceedings other than theatrical were carried on, nor his retirement at an advanced age from the land where he must have hoped to repose, was altogether voluntary. There is scarcely one of his plays in which an adversary might not find passages sufficient, without any forcing, to support a sentence of irreligion,—if only the court would consent to say so. But on the other hand we can easily account for his long career of impunity and success. For what would have been the use of taking the Alcestis (let us say) into court? That the publication of the play was an act of 'impiety' is as certain as that many sheep-stealers and clippers of the coin, who were acquitted in England when the law on these subjects was out of adjustment with public opinion, were nevertheless guilty of the charges, and that the juries knew it. But how could an accuser expect a conviction? An Athenian jury was a body of five hundred men, brought together by proceedings carefully designed to make it reflect, so far as might be without any modification, the feelings of that general assembly, which it was supposed for the nonce to represent. In such a jury there would have been doubtless a certain number of persons, earnestly devoted to the traditional worships, who thought it scandalous that such a writer as Euripides should 'obtain a chorus' and be allowed to exhibit; and some also who, without going as far as this, thought him impertinent, mischievous, and deserving a snub. Aristophanes, for example would have been in this latter class; but he would have been influenced by mixed motives, and his vote, I should imagine, could not have been counted on when it came to the point. But if these classes had formed a majority among the citizens, or anything near a majority, the plays of Euripides would never have been selected for the national festival. Who made the majority? A few no doubt, who thought it scandalous that Euripides, speaking 'reason' and 'common sense', should be obliged to any measures of caution; not a few worthy people who took no interest either in literature or speculation and knew nothing about the matter;