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THE MISCELLANEOUS WRITINGS AND SPEECHES OF LORD MACAULAY(3)

2006-08-28 22:36

    SCENES FROM "ATHENIANREVELS."

    A DRAMA

    I. SCENE——A Street in Athens.

    Enter CALLIDEMUS and SPEUSIPPUS;

    CALLIDEMUS. So, you young reprobate! You must be a man of wit, forsooth, and a man of quality! You must spend as if you were as rich as Nicias, and prate as if you were as wise as Pericles! You must dangle after sophists and pretty women! And I must pay for all! I must sup on thyme and onions, while you are swallowing thrushes and hares! I must drink water, that you may play the cottabus (This game consisted in projecting wine out of cups; it was a diversion extremely fashionable at Athenian entertainments.) with Chian wine! I must wander about as ragged as Pauson (Pauson was an Athenian painter, whose name was synonymous with beggary. See Aristophanes; Plutus, . From his poverty, I am inclined to suppose that he painted historical pictures.), that you may be as fine as Alcibiades! I must lie on bare boards, with a stone (See Aristophanes; Plutus, .) for my pillow, and a rotten mat for my coverlid, by the light of a wretched winking lamp, while you are marching in state, with as many torches as one sees at the feast of Ceres, to thunder with your hatchet (See Theocritus; Idyll ii. .) at the doors of half the Ionian ladies in Peiraeus. (This was the most disreputable part of Athens. See Aristophanes: Pax, .)

    SPEUSIPPUS. Why, thou unreasonable old man! Thou most shameless of fathers!-

    CALLIDEMUS. Ungrateful wretch; dare you talk so? Are you not afraid of the thunders of Jupiter?

    SPEUSIPPUS. Jupiter thunder! nonsense! Anaxagoras says, that thunder is only an explosion produced by-

    CALLIDEMUS. He does! Would that it had fallen on his head for his pains!

    SPEUSIPPUS. Nay: talk rationally.

    CALLIDEMUS. Rationally! You audacious young sophist! I will talk rationally. Do you know that I am your father? What quibble can you make upon that?

    SPEUSIPPUS. Do I know that you are my father? Let us take the question to pieces, as Melesigenes would say. First, then, we must inquire what is knowledge? Secondly, what is a father? Now, knowledge, as Socrates said the other day to Theaetetus (See Plato's Theaetetus.)-

    CALLIDEMUS. Socrates! what! the ragged flat-nosed old dotard, who walks about all day barefoot, and filches cloaks, and dissects gnats, and shoes (See Aristophanes; Nubes, .) fleas with wax?

    SPEUSIPPUS. All fiction! All trumped up by Aristophanes!

    CALLIDEMUS. By Pallas, if he is in the habit of putting shoes on his fleas, he is kinder to them than to himself. But listen to me, boy; if you go on in this way, you will be ruined. There is an argument for you. Go to your Socrates and your Melesigenes, and tell them to refute that. Ruined! Do you hear?

    SPEUSIPPUS. Ruined!

    CALLIDEMUS. Ay, by Jupiter! Is such a show as you make to be supported on nothing? During all the last war, I made not an obol from my farm; the Peloponnesian locusts came almost as regularly as the Pleiades;——corn burnt;——olives stripped;——fruit trees cut down;—— wells stopped up;——and, just when peace came, and I hoped that all would turn out well, you must begin to spend as if you had all the mines of Thasus at command.

    SPEUSIPPUS. Now, by Neptune, who delights in horses-

    CALLIDEMUS. If Neptune delights in horses, he does not resemble me. You must ride at the Panathenaea on a horse fit for the great king: four acres of my best vines went for that folly. You must retrench, or you will have nothing to eat. Does not Anaxagoras mention, among his other

    discoveries, that when a man has nothing to eat he dies?

    SPEUSIPPUS. You are deceived. My friends-

    CALLIDEMUS. Oh, yes! your friends will notice you, doubtless, when you are squeezing through the crowd, on a winter's day, to warm yourself at the fire of the baths;——or when you are fighting with beggars and beggars' dogs for the scraps of a sacrifice;——or when you are glad to earn three wretched obols (The stipend of an Athenian juryman.) by listening all day to lying speeches and crying children.

    SPEUSIPPUS. There are other means of support.

    CALLIDEMUS. What! I suppose you will wander from house to house, like that wretched buffoon Philippus (Xenophon; Convivium.), and beg everybody who has asked a supper-party to be so kind as to feed you and laugh at you; or you will turn sycophant; you will get a bunch of grapes, or a pair of shoes, now and then, by frightening some rich coward with a mock prosecution. Well! that is a task for which your studies under the sophists may have fitted you.

    SPEUSIPPUS. You are wide of the mark.

    CALLIDEMUS. Then what, in the name of Juno, is your scheme? Do you intend to join Orestes (A celebrated highwayman of Attica. See Aristophanes; Aves, ; and in several other passages.), and rob on the highway? Take care; beware of the eleven (The police officers of Athens.); beware of the hemlock. It may be very pleasant to live at other people's expense; but not very pleasant, I should think, to hear the pestle give its last bang against the mortar, when the cold dose is ready. Pah!-

    SPEUSIPPUS. Hemlock? Orestes! folly!——I aim at nobler objects. What say you to politics,——the general assembly?

    CALLIDEMUS. You an orator!——oh no! no! Cleon was worth twenty such fools as you. You have succeeded, I grant, to his impudence, for which, if there be justice in Tartarus, he is now soaking up to the eyes in his own tanpickle. But the Paphlagonian had parts.

    SPEUSIPPUS. And you mean to imply-

    CALLIDEMUS. Not I. You are a Pericles in embryo, doubtless. Well: and when are you to make your first speech? O Pallas!

    SPEUSIPPUS. I thought of speaking, the other day, on the Sicilian expedition; but Nicias (See Thucydides, vi. .) got up before me.

    CALLIDEMUS. Nicias, poor honest man, might just as well have sate still; his speaking did but little good. The loss of your oration is, doubtless, an irreparable public calamity.

    SPEUSIPPUS. Why, not so; I intend to introduce it at the next assembly; it will suit any subject.

    CALLIDEMUS. That is to say, it will suit none. But pray, if it be not too presumptuous a request, indulge me with a specimen.

    SPEUSIPPUS. Well; suppose the agora crowded;——an important subject under discussion;——an ambassador from Argos, or from the great king;—— the tributes from the islands;——an impeachment;——in short, anything you please. The crier makes proclamation.——"Any citizen above fifty years old may speak——any citizen not disqualified may speak." Then I rise:——a great murmur of curiosity while I am mounting the stand.

    CALLIDEMUS. Of curiosity! yes, and of something else too. You will infallibly be dragged down by main force, like poor Glaucon (See Xenophon Memorabilia, iii.) last year.

    SPEUSIPPUS. Never fear. I shall begin in this style: "When I consider, Athenians, the importance of our city;——when I consider the extent of its power, the wisdom of its laws, the elegance of its decorations;——when I consider by what names and by what exploits its annals are adorned; when I think on Harmodius and Aristogiton, on Themistocles and Miltiades, on Cimon and Pericles;——when I contemplate our pre-eminence in arts and letters;——when I observe so many flourishing states and islands compelled to own the dominion, and purchase the protection of the City of the Violet Crown" (A favourite epithet of Athens. See Aristophanes; Acharn. .)-

    CALLIDEMUS. I shall choke with rage. Oh, all ye gods and goddesses, what sacrilege, what perjury have I ever committed, that I should be singled out from among all the citizens of Athens to be the father of this fool?

    SPEUSIPPUS. What now? By Bacchus, old man, I would not advise you to give way to such fits of passion in the streets. If Aristophanes were to see you, you would infallibly be in a comedy next spring.

    CALLIDEMUS. You have more reason to fear Aristophanes than any fool living. Oh, that he could but hear you trying to imitate the slang of Straton (See Aristophanes; Equites, .) and the lisp of Alcibiades! (See Aristophanes; Vespae, .) You would be an inexhaustible subject. You would console him for the loss of Cleon.

    SPEUSIPPUS. No, no. I may perhaps figure at the dramatic representations before long; but in a very different way.

    CALLIDEMUS. What do you mean?

    SPEUSIPPUS. What say you to a tragedy?

    CALLIDEMUS. A tragedy of yours?

    SPEUSIPPUS. Even so.

    CALLIDEMUS. Oh Hercules! Oh Bacchus! This is too much. Here is an universal genius; sophist,——orator,——poet. To what a three-headed monster have I given birth! a perfect Cerberus of intellect! And pray what may your piece be about? Or will your tragedy, like your speech, serve equally for any subject?

    SPEUSIPPUS. I thought of several plots;——Oedipus,——Eteocles and Polynices,—— the war of Troy,——the murder of Agamemnon.

    CALLIDEMUS. And what have you chosen?

    SPEUSIPPUS. You know there is a law which permits any modern poet to retouch a play of Aeschylus, and bring it forward as his own composition. And, as there is an absurd prejudice, among the vulgar, in favour of his extravagant pieces, I have selected one of them, and altered it.

    CALLIDEMUS. Which of them?

    SPEUSIPPUS. Oh! that mass of barbarous absurdities, the Prometheus. But I have framed it anew upon the model of Euripides. By Bacchus, I shall make Sophocles and Agathon look about them. You would not know the play again.

    CALLIDEMUS. By Jupiter, I believe not.

    SPEUSIPPUS. I have omitted the whole of the absurd dialogue between Vulcan and Strength, at the beginning.

    CALLIDEMUS. That may be, on the whole, an improvement. The play will then open with that grand soliloquy of Prometheus, when he is chained to the rock.

    "Oh! ye eternal heavens! ye rushing winds! Ye fountains of great streams! Ye ocean waves, That in ten thousand sparkling dimples wreathe Your azure smiles! All-generating earth! All-seeing sun! On you, on you, I call." (See Aeschylus; Prometheus, .)

    Well, I allow that will be striking; I did not think you capable of that idea. Why do you laugh?

    SPEUSIPPUS. Do you seriously suppose that one who has studied the plays of that great man, Euripides, would ever begin a tragedy in such a ranting style?

    CALLIDEMUS. What, does not your play open with the speech of Prometheus?

    SPEUSIPPUS. No doubt.

    CALLIDEMUS. Then what, in the name of Bacchus, do you make him say?

    SPEUSIPPUS. You shall hear; and, if it be not in the very style of Euripides, call me a fool.

    CALLIDEMUS. That is a liberty which I shall venture to take, whether it be or no. But go on.

    SPEUSIPPUS. Prometheus begins thus:-

    "Coelus begat Saturn and Briareus Cottus and Creius and Iapetus, Gyges and Hyperion, Phoebe, Tethys, Thea and Rhea and Mnemosyne. Then Saturn wedded Rhea, and begat Pluto and Neptune, Jupiter and Juno."

    CALLIDEMUS. Very beautiful, and very natural; and, as you say, very like Euripides.

    SPEUSIPPUS. You are sneering. Really, father, you do not understand these things. You had not those advantages in your youth-

    CALLIDEMUS. Which I have been fool enough to let you have. No; in my early days, lying had not been dignified into a science, nor politics degraded into a trade. I wrestled, and read Homer's battles, instead of dressing my hair, and reciting lectures in verse out of Euripides. But I have some notion of what a play should be; I have seen Phrynichus, and lived with Aeschylus. I saw the representation of the Persians.

    SPEUSIPPUS. A wretched play; it may amuse the fools who row the triremes; but it is utterly unworthy to be read by any man of taste.

    CALLIDEMUS. If you had seen it acted;——the whole theatre frantic with joy, stamping, shouting, laughing, crying. There was Cynaegeirus, the brother of Aeschylus, who lost both his arms at Marathon, beating the stumps against his sides with rapture. When the crowd remarked him-But where are you going?

    SPEUSIPPUS. To sup with Alcibiades; he sails with the expedition for Sicily in a few days; this is his farewell entertainment.

    CALLIDEMUS. So much the better; I should say, so much the worse. That cursed Sicilian expedition! And you were one of the young fools (See Thucydides, vi. .) who stood clapping and shouting while he was gulling the rabble, and who drowned poor Nicias's voice with your uproar. Look to it; a day of reckoning will come. As to Alcibiades himself-

    SPEUSIPPUS. What can you say against him? His enemies themselves acknowledge his merit.

    CALLIDEMUS. They acknowledge that he is clever, and handsome, and that he was crowned at the Olympic games. And what other merits do his friends claim for him? A precious assembly you will meet at his house, no doubt.

    SPEUSIPPUS. The first men in Athens, probably.

    CALLIDEMUS. Whom do you mean by the first men in Athens?

    SPEUSIPPUS. Callicles. (Callicles plays a conspicuous part in the Gorgias of Plato.)

    CALLIDEMUS. A sacrilegious, impious, unfeeling ruffian!

    SPEUSIPPUS. Hippomachus.

    CALLIDEMUS. A fool, who can talk of nothing but his travels through Persia and Egypt. Go, go. The gods forbid that I should detain you from such choice society!

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