Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/104

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and a large mass, larger probably than all the rest put together, who knew all about the matter, who took their religion, so far as practical observance went, in the acquiescent way to which the majority is everywhere inclined, and had no desire to break with it, but who, being Athenians and having Athenian wits, found in the works of Euripides, just as they were, the greatest intellectual enjoyment which they had known, and would have been alike unwilling either to prohibit him altogether or to dispense with his delightful artifices. In such a jury the willing votes were impotent, and how were the unwilling to be forced? The Alcestis impious! Why so? The reluctant had only to take the plausible objection—and they would be saved the trouble of raising it by the worthy people who knew nothing about the matter—that it lay with the accuser to make out his case. A man is not to be punished upon an ambiguous construction The defence could put up plenty of witnesses, not only dishonest witnesses, quieting their consciences with such reasonings about the necessity of the case and the iniquity of the inquisition itself as have always been found available in similar circumstances, but simple and honest witnesses, ready to swear that they saw no harm in the piece, but found it fairly edifying. I shall be surprised if such witnesses do not come forward on the present occasion, gravely assuring me that Euripides meant no such malice as I say, and lamenting, as they have done before, that I should insist on understanding him, instead of dismissing him as a dullard.

It is a highly significant fact, that one of the chief accusations, indeed almost the only accusation grounded on solid considerations of morality, which is alleged by Aristophanes against Euripides in such a way that we can suppose it seriously meant, is that his influence tended to impair the obligation of veracity, even in the most solemn and binding form. It is advanced with singular emphasis in the Frogs, where Dionysus, having to choose between Aeschylus and Euripides, and choosing at last Aeschylus in spite of a promise, as Euripides asserts, to the contrary, flings in the face of the disappointed claimant his own famous saying from the Hippolytus, The tongue hath sworn but the mind remains unbound[1]. It has often been remarked,

  1. Hipp., 612, see Paley's note. This verse played a conspicuous part in the