Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/114

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it is an active and indispensable factor that they believed, really, heartily, passionately believed, in the theology of Delphi? I can think of only two, Pindar and Aeschylus. The epic poets, it is true, were no Alexandrians, neither was Sophocles. But it is possible without serious loss, or at least without loss perceived, to read both Homer and Sophocles in a purely Alexandrian spirit; it is not only possible but habitually done. At any rate, let the list of believers be enlarged to the utmost, what is it, when set against the host of persuasive tongues, from Theocritus down to the poets of yesterday, who have helped to engrain in our minds, as a presumption of thought like the laws of arithmetic, that 'Apollo' is a beautiful and convenient fiction, universally accepted and universally disbelieved? Now it is plain that wherever and whenever this view, this 'Alexandrian' view, prevailed, it would be absurd and inconceivable that a story should be composed with the purpose of leading the reader to desist from regarding a given Apolline legend as literally and historically true; it would be to butt the air. In the Augustan age of Roman literature, for instance, in the circle of Maecenas, such an attitude would have been ridiculous and incomprehensible, inasmuch as, notwithstanding the symbolic splendours of the Palatine temple, the educated classes of the Empire were scarcely more in danger of mental injury from this quarter than Pope or Keats. But in the fifth century before Christ—and let it be understood that this is a proposition not one whit the less hard to believe effectively, because it is formally a truism—in the fifth century before Christ the Alexandrian type of mind did not yet exist. No one, or only a negligeable quantity of persons, in the days of Euripides, regarded a legend about Heracles from the point of view which has ruled, with various subordinate modifications, in almost every European society where literature of high value and influence has been created. In the society addressed by Euripides when he started on his career, to have realized the difference between a legend and a historical fact was the latest and highest effort of intelligence, and to increase the number of persons capable of this effort was a noble enterprise, an invaluable service. And to make 'tragedy' serve this purpose was a feat especially useful and especially attractive, because the art of Aeschylus was the most powerful intellectual