Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/107

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while to look for it. Every man, who can read the language of Swift and of Mr George Meredith, may qualify himself to understand this point of view, if he thinks it worth study. It is true that, comparatively speaking, there is not very much in our literature which will help him, whereas among French authors of the first rank there are few indeed who will not.

There is perhaps no one among the great writers of Athens who does not prove himself on occasion a master in the art of hinting. Aeschylus, a man sincere if ever man was, was so exercised in ambiguity that scarcely a modern comes near him, and wields it, as in the person of Clytemnestra, literally like a fiend. The irony of Sophocles, of Plato, of Demosthenes and many others is famous. The simplicity of Lysias, Athenian by breeding though not by birth, is not simple by any means. The reticences of Thucydides are often not less suggestive than his remarks. In every mind of Athenian texture some threads of the national quality are woven in. But in Euripides it was the base of the fabric. He had a mind in which a set of secondary faculties, extraordinary in number and singly not contemptible in quality, eloquence and pathos, the gift of fancy and the gift of song, were subject, as perhaps they never were in any other, to an unsurpassed and, it may be, unsurpassable wit. It so happened that the circumstances of the time supplied to him in perfection the conditions essential for the exercise of this colossal wit, grand and grave solemnities, where it was his accepted part to find language for truths or, to speak more modestly and humanly, for a part of truth, which there and then was admissible only under reserve. To overcome difficulties of expression, to put a thought better and more effectively than your hearers could expect in the given conditions, is the essence of wit. Euripides was so placed that he must speak wittily, if he was to speak his mind at all. As it happened that he had wit enough for anything, and that his countrymen had wit enough for him, nothing could have suited him better. It is the boast of the Aristophanic Euripides, as it doubtless was of the real man, that the effect of his writings was to apply an incessant stimulus to the intelligence, to keep perception alert, 'habitually suspecting malice and everywhere seeing beyond'.[1] The Aristo-

  1. Frogs 958, κάχ᾽ ὑποτοπεῖσθαι περινοεῖν ἅπαντα.