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'Yes, you may dye your hair, but not your age,
'Of all life's plagues I recommend to no man
I've got one who my orders does not hear,
She bustled out, and brought me back some ink.
'Twould better be if she were deaf outright
'A blockhead bit by fleas put out the light,
Espied one day, with some surprise a mouse;
'A viper bit a Capadocian's hide;
But 'twas the viper, not the man, that died.'
The contents of the seventh and last division are of a miscellaneous kind :
'Deficient one in limbs, and one in eyes,
Each with the other's help his want supplies;
'The Bird of Phoebus, parched with thirst's dire pain,
'My gallant ship now nears my native shore ;
'The old draught-ox, worn in the furrowed field,
'A roadside nut-tree planted, here I stand
What boots it now that trees should fruitful be?
Fortune and hope farewell, I've gained the port;
All the foregoing extracts are from Lord Neaves' collection.
DIED B.C. 184.
HE Roman drama, more than any other branch of their literature, was an inheritance from Greece.
The plays, however, which, during a period of five hundred years, amused a Roman audience, possessed neither the brilliant burlesque, the keen satire, the wealth of allusion, nor the extravagant wit of Aristophanes. The oligarchy at Rome would not permit the freedom of speech on the stage which delighted the democracy at Athens. The dramatists of those days were disciples of Menander, and drew their characters from such general types of human nature as would offend no one with the idea that his own private weaknesses were being ridiculed or attacked; and of such comedies those of Plautus and Terence are all that have come down to us.
Menander was born at Athens B.C. 342, and won his first prize as a comic writer when he had barely attained manhood. Fragments only of his plays have been preserved, but their teaching is expressed in the following lines:—
'Being a mortal, ask not of the gods
Escape from suffering; ask but to endure;
From pain and evil, then thou seekest this,—
They appear to have contained very little of broad fun or comic situations; but he had carefully studied the various
phases of human nature, as a couplet written a century after his death testifies :
'O life, and O Menander! speak and say
Which copied which? or nature, or the play.'
The mask, which all ancient performers wore, made any play of the features impossible, and thus the sphere of the author's invention was restricted to generally recognised impersonations. The limited capacity, also, of the scenic arrangements required that the characters should be few and broadly marked. The action of a piece often depended upon the parts assigned to slaves, who were represented as far superior to their masters, both in witty reply and practical wisdom, Menander maintaining a higher tone respecting slavery than his Roman imitators; for he says,
'Live as a free man, and it makes thee free.'
The entire absence of love-scenes was another peculiarity in these dramas; for although there was generally a love story, the audience were never allowed to see the lady. Nor was the author very complimentary respecting marriages, although he admits that
'A virtuous woman is a man's salvation;
He is also honest enough to lay the fault of ill-assorted matches at the door of those who have to choose, as much as of those who are chosen :
'What boots it to be curious as to lineage,
Who was her grandfather, and her mother's mother,
Her whom we have to live with, what She is,
In mind or temper, this we never ask.
They bring the dowry out, and count it down,
The gold which some few months shall see the end of;
While she who at our hearth must sit through life,
Before we take her, but trust all to chance.'
In most of his plays a soldier of fortune is introduced who indulges in long stories of his exploits, and is some
times accompanied by a parasite to act as his foil or toady; a character common enough in Athens and Rome, but which has not found its way into the modern drama, although not unknown in society as 'the diner out.' Then there was the female slave, corresponding with our pert waiting-maid, the old nurse, and, occasionally, the family cook.
It has been remarked that Menander was more adapted to instruct than to entertain; and some of his passages breathe a high tone of morality, for example,
'The gods have need
That man be good unto his fellow-men,
Nor thief, nor murderer from the lust of gain,
'He is well cleansed that hath his conscience clean ;'
'The workman still is greater than his work ;'
as well as the sentence adopted by St Paul,
'Evil communications corrupt good manners.'
In short, the number of quotations from the fragments of his plays, which have passed into household proverbs, show the estimation in which his works were held by those who had access to them in their integrity.
PLAUTUS is supposed to have been of humble origin, and to have worked originally as a stage carpenter; but he possessed the art of writing plays, almost without a rival in popularity, for a period of forty years. All, with one exception, were taken from Greek originals, but he gives us the Roman manners of his day, and his characters are citizens of the world. His diction, also, has been highly praised, and he was perhaps the first who raised conversational Latin to the dignity of a literary style. His plays generally commenced with a prologue, which gave an outline of the plot, and also contained familiar appeals to the audience as to their behaviour during the performance. His ten principal comedies were :—