473 GREECE-LANGUAGE, LITERATURE, AND ART.
woman, all human affairs, the war, the state, the heroes, the immortal gods themselves
writhed under the audacious irony and merciless sarcasm of the Greek comedian. Mockery,
ridicule, derisive scorn, bitter invective, every weapon which the forge of conscienceless
ingenuity could invent or imagine, was put into the quiver and swung behind the swaggering
actor's shoulder. He shot right and left. He shouted when his victim fell. He made
grimaces at the corpse. With him Olympus was no better than a stable for goats.
It may be observed, however, that notwithstanding this extremity of license the Greek
comedy has always at bottom a foundation of morality. It is the cant of human nature, its
sham pretense and folly, which received no mercy at the hands of the executioner.
Of all the Greek comedians of the old school only one was so fortunate as to have his
works preserved to posterity-ARISTOPHANES, greatest of his kind. He was born in Athens, B.
C. 452, and produced his comedies between the years 427 and 388. In richness of humor and
quaintness of invention he stands without a peer. His imagination is as vivid as his wit
is keen. His language is as free as his thought is audacious. He attacks the abuses of his
times, with a wild delight, and his personal satire is fierce in its vehemence. As the
champion of the old regime he attacks the demagogues and sophists with an excessive
bitterness. In his literary sympathies he is with Aeschylus. He despises Euripides and his
following. The demagogue Cleon, his con- temporary, he brings upon the stage and covers
him with opprobrium. In his Clouds he attacks the sophists with unparalleled severity.
He pours upon them all the bottles of his scorn, and spares not Socrates. The folly of the
Sicilian expedition is made immortal the Birds, in which the war policy of the Athenians
is mercilessly scourged The lawyers of the city felt the castigation of his rod in the
play of the Wasps, and in the Frogs Euripides is held up to public contempt.
After Aristophanes Greek comedy was modified to a great extent in the hands of the two
principal authors of the Later School- MENANDER and POSSIDIPPUS. The license the old
comedians had used and abused was abridged, and the subjects of plays became less personal
and partisan than hitherto. The scenes and incidents of private life-its follies, its
misdirected loves, its grotesque adventures-are substituted for the weightier vices of
society. Social intrigue, plot and counterplot, the knave, the fool, the coxcomb-such are
the materials and characters of that New Comedy which was transferred to Rome and became
the model of invention in the works of Plautus and Terence.
After the age of Homer and Hesiod, centuries elapsed before even the beginnings of a prose
literature appeared in Hellas. The ear of generation after generation was filled with the.
rhythmic cadences of the bards ere the project of giving a literary dress to the common
language of life was conceived or imagined. Perhaps, when at last the suggestion of doing
so was entertained, it was with a certain dread lest the sacred mystery of letters should
be profaned by the unhallowed tongue of prose. To the Ionians must be awarded the palm for
breaking the poetic spell and daring to commit to record their traditions and reflections
in the natural language of history and philosophy.
Perhaps the first prose work produced by a mender of the Hellenic race was a history of
the founding of Miletus, written by the Ionian CADMUS, a native of that city. After him, a
school of legendary chroniclers grew up in the Greek cities of Asia Minor. Some of them