Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/121

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—mocking the enquirers with such a parody as the comedian puts into the mouth of Dionysus: "Where is that? Who took that? Where's that kettle? Who took that fish? It is like a housekeeper scolding in the pantry!" And we may also witness the self-complacency of the young person who felt able to declare that he 'saw through the whole thing in an instant', so well had he profited by the schooling of the great improver, who 'had brought into his art the practice of reasoning and reflexion'.[1]

It is impossible to overestimate the significance of these facile and perpetual discussions, if we would understand the method of Euripidean art. As truly as a song is written to be sung, the plays of Euripides were written to be talked about, and only in this stage of their working were expected to produce their final and complete effect. Of course this is not to say that the broad theatrical impression of them conveyed by the public (and only important) performance was not highly valued by the poet and carefully studied. This it must have been, not merely for its own sake, but for its influence in increasing or diminishing the vogue of the piece as matter of criticism. But not any one, however acute and practised, could carry away from one performance, much less from a performance under the conditions of the Athenian theatre, an exhaustive comprehension of such a play as the Alcestis; nor, I am convinced, did any one hope to do so. On the contrary it would have been to Euripidean circles a disappointment, if when they came to compare notes on a new piece, it had seemed that there was nothing in particular to find out. They would have said simply that the master was getting dull. It was by conversation that the sympathetic auditors, who each in his measure and fashion had understood, combined their items into a whole; and it was by conversation that fresh sympathisers were gained, fresh understandings prepared, and the 'latest opinions' preached with far more effect and attraction, Athenians being what they were, than if it had been permissible to proclaim them openly in the orchestra.

To hear even the author himself, though he was not very accessible or affable, cannot have been, in the conditions

  1. Aristoph. Frogs, 971–991: λογισμὸν ἐνθεὶς τῇ τέχνῃ καὶ σκέψιν ὥστ᾽ ἤδη νοεῖν ἄπαντα καὶ διειδέναι.