comes the chance for Peace, and for the policy of Nicias,
which (fomprised an alliance between Athens and Sparta
and a pan-hellenic patriotism. It is noticeable in the
Knights that the pacifist Offal-monger retorts on Cleon
the accusation of not possessing an "imperial mind"
Cleon, in his war-hysteria, is for making Athens a mean
city ; making it hated by the allies, hated by the rest of
Hellas, thriving on the misfortunes of others, and full
of hatred against a great part not to say the best part
of its own citizens. (Knights 817 f.) And when Cleon
finally falls the cry is raised " Hellanie Zeu ! Zeus of all
Hellas thine is the prize of victory ! " The Offal-monger,
like Aristophanes himself, was " a good European."
The Peace of Nicias failed. The impetus of the war
was too great. The natural drift of affairs was in Cleon's
direction, and the farther Athens was carried the harder
it became for any human wisdom or authority to check
the rush of the infuriated herd. And since Nicias was too
moderate and high-minded and law-abiding to fight Cleon
with his own weapons, he lost hold on the more extreme
spirits of his own party ; so that at the end of the war the
informers had created the very thing they had dreamed
about and had turned their own lies into truth. There
was at last an actual pro- Spartan group ; there were real
secret societies, real conspiracies ; and a party that was
ready to join hands with the enemy in order to be
delivered from the corrupted and war-maddened mob
that governed them.
One is tempted in a case like this to pass no judgement
on men or policies, but merely record the actual course of
history and try to understand the conflicting policies and
ideals ; instead of judgement, taking refuge in the lacriniae
rerum the eternal pity that springs from the eternal
tragedy of human endeavour. When the soldiers of Nicias
in Sicily, mad with thirst, pressed on to drink the water,
thick with blood and mire, of the little stream where the
enemy archers shot them down at leisure, it was not only
an army that perished but a nation, and a nation that held
54 ARISTOPHANES AND THE WAR PARTY
the hopes of the world. When we read that immortal
praise of Athens which our historian puts into the mouth
of Pericles, the city of law and freedom, of simplicity and
beauty, the beloved city in whose service men live and die
rejoicing as a lover in his mistress, we should notice that
the words are spoken in a Funeral Speech. The thing so
praised, so beloved, is dead ; and the haunting beauty
of the words is in part merely the well-known magic of
memory and of longing. For Thucydides the dream of a
regenerated life for mankind has vanished out of the future,
and he rebuilds it in his memory of the past. The Pelopon-
nesian war had ended wrong ; and whatever the end might
have been, it had already wrecked Hellas.
Our war has at least ended right : and, one may hope,
not too late for the recovery of civilization. In spite of
the vast material destruction, in spite of the blotting out
from the book of life of practically one whole generation
of men, in spite of the unmeasured misery which has reigned
and reigns still over the greater part of Europe, in spite
of the gigantic difficulties of the task before us ; in spite
of the great war-harvest of evil and the exhaustion of
brain and spirit in most of the victorious nations as well
as in the vanquished, our war has ended right ; and we have
such an opportunity as no generation of mankind has
ever had of building out of these ruins a better international
life and concomitantly a better life within each nation.
I know not which thought is the more solemn, the more
awful in its responsibility : the thought of the sacrifice
we survivors have asked or exacted from our fellow-men ;
or the thought of the task that now lies upon us if we are
not to make that sacrifice a crime and a mockery. Blood
and tears to which we had some right, for we loved those
who suffered and they loved us ; blood and tears to which
we had no right, for those who suffered knew nothing of us,
nor we of them ; misery of the innocent beyond measure
or understanding and hitherto without recompense ; that
is the price that has been paid, and it lies on us, who live,
to see to it that the price is not paid in vain. By some
spirit of co-operation instead of strife, by sobriety instead
ARISTOPHANES AND THE WAR PARTY 55
of madness, by resolute sincerity in public and private
things, and surely by some self-consecration to the great
hope for which those who loved us gave their lives.
" A City where rich and poor, man and woman, Athenian
and Spartan, are all equal and all free ; where there are
no false accusers and where men " or at least the souls
of men " have wings." That was the old dream that
failed. Is it to fail always and for ever ?
November 7, 1918.
THE BACCHAE IN RELATION TO CER-
TAIN CURRENTS OF THOUGHT IN
THE FIFTH CENTURY'
OF the two dramas that make up the main part of
this volume, the Hippolytus can be left to speak
for itself. Its two thousand five hundred years
have left little mark upon it. It has something of the
stateliness of age, no doubt, but none of the staleness or
lack of sympathy. With all the severe lines of its beauty,
it is tender, subtle, quick with human feeling. Even its
religious conceptions, if we will but take them simply,
forgetting the false mythology we have learned from hand-
books, are easily understood and full of truth. One of
the earliest, if not the very earliest, of love tragedies, it
deals with a theme that might easily be made ugly. It is
made ugly by later writers, especially by the commentators
whom we can see always at work from the times of the
ancient scholia down to our own days. Even Racine,
who wished to be kind to his Phedre, has let her suffer
by contact with certain deadly and misleading suggestions.
But the Phaedra of Euripides was quite another woman,
and the quality of her love, apart from its circumstances,
is entirely fragrant and clear. The Hippolytus, like most
works that come from a strong personality, has its manner-
isms and, no doubt, its flaws. But in the main it is a
singularly satisfying and complete work of art, a thing of
beauty, to contemplate and give thanks for, surrounded
by an atmosphere of haunting purity.
' Originally an introduction to a volume of translations of the
Hippolytus, Bacchae and Frogs (vol. iii of The Athenian Drama. Geo.
Allen and Unwin, Ltd.).
THE BACCHAE OF EURIPIDES 5?
If we turn to The Bacchae, we find a curious difference. As
an effort of genius it is perhaps greater than the Hippolytus,
at any rate more unusual and rare in quality. But it is
unsatisfying, inhuman. There is an impression of coldness
and even of prolixity amid its amazing thrill, a strange
unearthliness, something that bewilders. Most readers, I
believe, tend to ask what it means, and to feel, by implica-
tion, that it means something.
Now this problem, what The Bacchae means and how
Euripides came to write it, is not only of real interest in
itself ; it is also, I think, of importance with regard to
certain movements in fifth-century Athens, and certain
currents of thought in later Greek philosophy.
The remark has been made, that, if Aristotle could
have seen through some magic glass the course of human
development and decay for the thousand years following
his death, the disappointment would have broken his
heart. A disappointment of the same sort, but more sharp
and stinging, inasmuch as men's hopes were both higher
and cruder, did, as a matter of fact, break the hearts of
many men two or three generations earlier. It is the
reflection of that disappointment on the work of Euripides,
the first hopefulness, the embitterment, the despair, followed
at last by a final half-prophetic vision of the truths or
possibilities beyond that despair, that will, I think, supply
us with an explanation of a large part of The Bacchae,
and with a clue to a great deal of the poet's other work.
There has been, perhaps, no period in the world's history,
not even the openings of the French Revolution, when
the prospects of the human race can have appeared so
brilliant as they did to the highest minds of Eastern Greece
about the years 470-445 B.C. To us, looking critically
back upon that time, it is as though the tree of human
life had burst suddenly into flower, into that exquisite
and short-lived bloom which seems so disturbing among
the ordinary processes of historical growth. One wonders
how it must have felt to the men who lived in it. We
have but little direct testimony. There is the tone of
solemn exaltation that pervades most of Aeschylus, the
high confidence of the Persae, the Prometheus, the Eumtnidcs.
58 THE BACCHAE OF EURIPIDES
There is the harassed and half-reluctant splendour of
certain parts of Pindar, like the Dithyramb to Athens
and tfee fourth Nemean Ode. But in the main the men
of that day were too busy, one would fain think too happy,
to write books.
There is an interesting witness, however, of a rather
younger generation. Herodotus finished his Histories
when the glory was already gone, and the future seemed
about equally balanced between good and evil. But he
had lived as a boy in the great time. And the peculiar
charm of his work often seems to lie mainly in a certain
strong and kindly joyousness, persistent even amid his
most grisly stories, which must be the spirit of the first
Athenian Confederation not yet strangled by the spirit
of the Peloponnesian war.
What was the object of this enthusiasm, the ground of
this high hopefulness ? It would, of course, take us far
beyond our limits to attempt any full answer to such a
question. 1 But for one thing, there was the extraordinary
swiftness of the advances made ; and, for another, there
was a circumstance that has rarely been repeated in history
the fact that all the different advances appeared to help
one another. The ideals of freedom, law, and progress ;
of truth and beauty, of knowledge and virtue, of humanity
and religion ; high things, the conflicts between which
have caused most of the disruptions and despondencies
of human societies, seemed for a generation or two at this
time to lie all in the same direction. And in that direction,
on the whole, a great part of Greece was with extraordinary
swiftness moving. Of course, there were backwaters and
reactionary forces. There was Sparta and even Aetolia ;
Pythagoras and the Oracle at Delphi. But in the main,
all good things went hand in hand. The poets and the
men of science, the moral teachers and the hardy specu-
lators, the great traders and the political reformers all
found their centre of life and aspiration in the same " School
of Hellas," Athens. The final seal of success was set
upon the movement by the defeat of the Persian invasion
1 A magnificent text for such a discussion would be found in the
great lyric on the Rise of Man in Sophocles' Antigone (y. 332 ff ).
THE BACCHAE OF EURIPIDES 59
and the formation of the Athenian League. The higher
hopes and ideals had clashed against the lower under con-
ditions in which the victory of the lower seemed before-
hand certain ; and somehow, miraculously, ununderstand-
ably, that which was high had shown that it was also
strong. Athens stood out as the chief power of the Mediter-
Let us recall briefly a few well-known passages of
Herodotus to illustrate the tone of the time.
Athens represented Hellenism (Hdt. i. 60). " The
Greek race was distinguished of old from the barbarian
as nimbler of intellect and further removed from primitive
savagery (or stupidity). . . . And of all Greeks the Athenians
were counted the first for wisdom."
She represented the triumph of Democracy (Hdt. v. 78).
" So Athens grew. It is clear not in one thing alone, but
wherever you test it, what a good thing is equality among
men. Even in war, Athens, when under the tyrants, was
no better than her neighbours ; when freed from the
tyrants, she was far the first of all."
And Democracy was at this time a thing which stirred
enthusiasm. A speaker says in Herodotus (iii. 80) : "A
tyrant disturbs ancient laws, violates women, kills men
without trial. But a people ruling first, the very name
of it is beautiful, Isonomift (Equality in law) ; and,
secondly, a people does none of these things."
" The very name of it is beautiful ! " It was some
twenty-five years later that an Athenian statesman, of
moderate or rather popular antecedents, said in a speech
at Sparta (Thuc. vi. 89) : " Of course, all sensible men
know what Democracy is, and I better than most, having
suffered ; but there is nothing new to be said about ac-
knowledged insanity ! "
That, however, is looking ahead. We must note that
this Democracy, this Freedom, represented by Greece,
and especially by Athens, was always the Rule of Law.
There is a story told by Aeschylus of the Athenians, by
Herodotus of the Spartans, contrasting either with the
barbarians and their lawless absolute monarchies. Xerxes,
learning the small numbers of his Greek adversaries, asks.
60 THE BACCHAE OF EURIPIDES
" How can they possibly stand against us, especially when,
as you tell me, they are all free, and there is no one to
compel them ? " And the Spartan Demaratus answers
(Hdt. vii. 104) : " Free are they, O King, yet not free to
do everything ; for there is a master over them, even
Law, whom they fear more than thy servants fear thee.
At least they obey whatever he commands, and his voice
is always the same." In Aeschylus (Per sue 241 seqq.)
the speakers present are both Persians, so the point about
Law cannot be explained. It is left a mystery, how and
why the free Greeks face their death.
It would be easy to assemble many passages to show
that Athens represented freedom (e.g. Hdt. viii. 142) and
the enfranchisement of the oppressed ; but what is even
more characteristic than the insistence on Freedom is the
insistence on A r e t , Virtue the demand made upon each
Greek, and especially each Athenian, to be a better man
than the ordinary. It conies out markedly from a quarter
where we should scarcely expect it. Herodotus gives
an abstract of the words spoken by the much-maligned
Themistocles before the battle of Salamis a brief, grudging
resume of a speech so celebrated that it could not in decency
be entirely passed over (Hdt. viii. 83) : " The argument
of it was that in all things that are possible to man's nature
and situation, there is always a higher and a lower " ; and
that they must stand for the higher. We should have
liked to hear more of that speech. It certainly achieved
There was insistence on Arete 1 in another sense, the
sense of generosity and kindliness. A true Athenian must
know how to give way. When the various states were
contending for the leadership before the battle of Artemisium,
the Athenians, contributing much the largest and finest
fighting force, " thought/' we are told (Hdt. viii. 3), "that
the great thing was that Greece should be saved, and gave
up their claims." In the similar dispute for the post of
honour and danger before the battle of Plataea, the Athenians
did plead their cause, and easily won it (Hdt. ix. 27).
But we may notice not only the moderate and disciplined
spirit in which they promise to abide by Sparta's decision,
THE BACCHAE OF EURIPIDES 61
and to show no resentment if their claim is rejected, but
also the grounds upon which they claim honour apart
from certain obvious points, such as the size of their con-
tingent. Their claims are that in recent years they alone
have met the Persians single-handed on behalf of all Greece ;
that in old times it was they who gave refuge to the Children
of Heracles when hunted through Greece by the overmaster-
ing tyrant, Eurystheus ; it was they who championed the
wives and mothers of the Argives slain at Thebes, and made
war upon that conquering power to prevent wrong-doing
against the helpless dead.
These passages, which could easily be reinforced by a
score of others, illustrate, not of course what Athens as
a matter of hard fact was no state has ever oeen one
compact mass of noble qualities but the kind of ideal
that Athens in her own mind had formed of herself. They
help us to see what she appeared to the imaginations of
Aeschylus and young Euripides, and that " Band of Lovers "
which Pericles gathered to adore his Princess of Cities. 1
She represented Freedom and Law, Hellenism and Intellect,
Humanity, Chivalry, the championship of the helpless and
Did Euripides feel all this ? one may ask. The answer
to that doubt is best to be found, perhaps, in the two plays
which he wrote upon the two traditional feats of generosity
mentioned above the reception of the Children of Heracles,
and the championing of the Argive Suppliants. The former,
beautiful as it is, is seriously mutilated, so the Suppliants
will suit our purpose best. It is, I think, an early play
rewritten at the time of the Peace of Nicias (B.C. 421),
about the beginning of the poet's middle period,* a
poor play in many respects, youthful, obvious, and
crude, but all aflame with this chivalrous and confident
1 Thuc. 2, 43. " Fix your eyes on what she might be, and make
yourselves her Lovers."
Some critics consider that it was first written at thus time. If so,
we must attribute the apparent marks of earliness to deliberate archaism.
There is no doubt that the reception of Suppliants was a very old stage
subject, and had acquired a certain traditional stiffness of form, seen
at its acme in the Suppliants of Aeschylus.
62 THE BACCHAE OF EURIPIDES
The situation is as follows : Adrastus, King of Argos,
has led the ill-fated expedition of the Seven Chieftains
against Thebes, and been utterly defeated. The Thebans
have brutally refused to allow the Argives to bury their
dead. The bodies are lying upon the field. Adrastus,
accompanied by the mothers and wives of the slain chieftains,
has come to Attica, and appealed to Theseus for intercession.
That hero, like his son Demophon in The Children of Heracles,
like his ancestor Cecrops in certain older poetry, is a sort
of personification of Athens.
He explains that he always disapproved of Adrastus's
expedition ; that he can take no responsibility, and certainly
not risk a war on the Argives' account.
He is turning away when one of the bereaved women,
lifting her suppliant wreaths and branches, cries out to
What is this thing thou doest ? Wilt despise
All these, and cast us from thee beggar-wise,
Grey women, with not one thing of all we crave ?
Nay, the wild beast for refuge hath his cave,
The slave God's altar ; surely in the deep
Of fortune City may call to City, and creep,
A wounded thing, to shelter.
Observe the conception of the duty of one state to protect
and help another. Theseus is still obdurate. He has
responsibilities. The recklessness of Athens in foreign
policy has become a reproach. At last Aethra, his mother,
can keep silence no more. Can he really allow such things
to be done ? Can Athens really put considerations of
prudence before generosity and religion ?
Thou shalt not suffer it, thou being my child !
Thou hast heard men scorn thy city, call her wild
Of counsel, mad ; thou hast seen the fire of morn
Flash from her eyes in answer to their scorn !
Come toil on toil, 'tis this that makes her grand,
Peril on peril ! And common states that stand
In caution, twilight cities, dimly wise
Ye know them ; for no light is in their eyes !
Go forth, my son, and help. My fear is fled.
Women in sorrow call thee and men dead !
THE BACCHAE OF EURIPIDES 63
To help the helpless was a necessary part of what we call
chivalry, what the Greeks called religion. Theseus agrees
to consult the people on the matter. Meantime there
arrives a Theban herald, asking arrogantly, " Who is
Master of the land ? " Theseus, although a king, is too
thorough a personification of democratic Athens to let
such an expression pass
Nay, peace, Sir Stranger ! Ill hast thou begun,
Seeking a Master here. No will of one
Holdeth this land ; it is a city and free.
The whole folk year by year, in parity
Of service, is our King. Nor yet to gold
Give we high seats, but in one honour hold
The poor man and the rich.
The herald replies that he is delighted to hear that Athens
has such a silly constitution, and warns Theseus not to
interfere with Thebes for the sake of a beaten cause. Eventu-
ally Theseus gives his ultimatum :
Let the slain be given
To us, who seek to obey the will of Heaven.
Else, know for sure, I come to seek these dead
Myself, for burial. It shall not be said
An ancient ordinance of God, that cried
To Athens and her King, was cast aside !
A clear issue comes in the conversation that follows :
Art thou so strong ? Wilt stand against all Greece ?
Against all tyrants I With the rest be peace.
She takes too much upon her, this thy state !
Takes, aye, and bears it ; therefore is she great !
We know that spirit elsewhere in the history of the
world. How delightful it is, and green and fresh and thrill-
64 THE BACCHAE OF EURIPIDES
ing ; and how often it has paid in blood and ashes the penalty
of dreaming and of TO ^ OVTJTO. <f>poviv !
There is one other small point that calls for notice before
we leave this curious play. Theseus represents not only
chivalry and freedom and law, but also a certain delicacy
of feeling. He is the civilized man as contrasted with
the less civilized. It was a custom in many parts of Greece
to make the very most of mourning and burial rites, to
feel the wounds of the slain, and vow vengeance with wild
outbursts of grief. Athenian feeling disapproved of this.
Is mine. Advance the burden of the dead !
[The attendants bring forward the bodies.]
Up, ye sad mothers, where your sons are laid !
Nay, call them not, Adrastus.
That were strange !
Shall they not touch their children's wounds ?
In that dead flesh would torture them.
Alway, to count the gashes of the slain.
And wouldst thou add pain to the pain of these ?
ADRASTUS (after a pause).
So be it ! Ye women, wait in your degrees :
Theseus says well.
This particular trait, this civilization or delicacy of
feeling, is well illustrated in a much finer drama, the Heracles.
The hero of that tragedy, the rudely noble Dorian chief,
has in a fit of madness killed his own children. In the
THE BACCHAE OF EURIPIDES 65
scene to be cited he has recovered his senses and is sitting
dumb and motionless, veiled by his mantle. He is, by all
ordinary notions, accursed. The sight of his face will
pollute the sun. A touch from him or even a spoken
word will spread to another the contagion of his horrible
blood-stainedness. To him comes his old comrade Theseus
(Heracles 1214 ff.) :
thou that sittest in the shade of Death,
Unveil thy brow ! Tis a friend summoneth,
And never darkness bore so black a cloud
In all this world, as from mine eyes could shroud
The wreck of thee. . . . What wouldst thou with that arm
That shakes, and shows me blood ? Dost fear to harm
Me with thy words' contagion ? Have no fear ;
What is it if I suffer with thee here ?
We have had great joys together. Call back now
That time the Dead had hold of me, and how
Thou earnest conquering ! Can that joy grow old,
Or friends once linked in sunshine, when the cold
Storm falleth, not together meet the sea ?
Oh, rise, and bare thy brow, and turn to me
Thine eyes ! A brave man faces his own fall
And takes it to him, as God sends withal.
Theseus, thou seest my children ?
Surely I see
All, and I knew it ere I came to thee.
Oh, why hast bared to the Sun this head of mine ?
How can thy human sin stain things divine ?
Leave me ! I am all blood. The curse thereof
Crawls. . . .
No curse cometh between love and love !
1 thank thee. . . . Yes; I served thee long ago.
66 THE BACCHAE OF EURIPIDES
Heracles is calmed and his self-respect partially restored.
But he still cannot bear to live. Notice the attitude of
Theseus towards his suicide an attitude more striking
in ancient literature than it would be in modern.
Therefore is all made ready for my death.
Thinkest thou God feareth what thy fury saith ?
Oh, God is hard ; and I hard against God !