Page:Euripides the Rationalist.djvu/14

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aimed not at his art but at his opinions) failed with the ancient world completely. By the side of Aeschylus and Sophocles—and if distinctions must be made, not lowest assuredly of the three—Euripides stood securely. It is on the other hand notorious that in modern times this position of his has been incessantly contested, and by the weight as well as the majority of voices has been with increasing emphasis denied. The contradiction is no matter of detail; it goes to the whole tone and substance of judgment. No one in modern times, since Greek has been well understood, has said that his dearest desire beyond the grave would be to meet Euripides; not this nor anything like it. No one in the ancient world, so far as we know, ever said that much of Euripides' work might seem to have been composed in a fever; not this nor anything like it. Agreeing generally, with remarkable but not surprising exactness, in their estimate of the great writers Greek and Roman, about this one man the ancient readers and the modern are out of accord. The most cultivated men of the ancient world (I do not except or forget Aristotle, who shall be specially considered in due course) speak of Euripides regularly and habitually as modest men would now speak of Shakespeare or Goethe, and sometimes as reverent men would now speak of Dante or St Paul. The modern remarks, whether of censure or defence, are pitched in another key and confined to a different range. The ancients do not defend Euripides. In our time a defence, cordial sometimes or fervent, but still a defence, is the utmost that he obtains. By Menander, or Ennius, or Ovid, to judge from their own practice, such a defence would have been heard with amazement. There are some names which must not be so praised, and in the ancient world among such names, high among such, stood the name of Euripides.

The explanation of this discrepancy, which will here be offered, has at least one advantage. The reader will not be asked to dissent, as a matter of taste and aesthetic judgment, either from the ancient opinion or from the modern. Scarcely even the scorn of Schlegel is too much for many of the works of