Page images
PDF
EPUB

was

of the skies. If King Jupiter thus footed it, we may be sure that the younger deities were little likely to disdain the

gay

and graceful science. We find, therefore, that Phæbus Apollo — that fiddler of the heathen heavens - - was a main proficient in the 'mute poetry' of the limbs : that Mercury that god of the feathery heels chief posture-maker of Olympus; in which character, indeed, Shakspeare means to describe him, when he speaks of

"A station like the herald Mercury,

New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill :' that the fierce divinity of Thrace, too, confessed, at times, the power of harmony,* is certain, from what poets have said ; and that, so confessing it, he danced, is equally certain. Nay, his earliest education appears, from Bythinian legends, to have been in the dance; for Juno placed him out, as soon as he could go alone, with her cousin Priapus, that he might, under the lessons of that shapely god, learn how a polite bow was to be made, or a ball-room to be entered with elegance. Thus it was, that it presently came to pass that the art of war sprang up; born, like astronomy, of dancing : for it was by the aid of music, and of steps and evolutions, measured into regular and martial dances, that discipline was introduced into the wild disorder of ancient battle. Minerva, indeed, is by some said to have invented the Pyrrhic - the oldest of the Greek dances

upon occasion and in celebration of the overthrow of the Titans. Such is the mythological tale, through the dim outline of which, we can still pierce to the better truth it covers; which is no less than this — that the invention of the dance, not after, but before the battle, gave victory to the gods, by lending their forces those well-ordered and firmly-compacted movements, which met and foiled the rude strength of their huge adversaries.

If the goddess of wisdom was not too solemn and high for the dance, we may be sure that she of chastity was not too pure. Virgil accordingly paints her as consummate in the dance:

"Qualis in Eurotæ ripis, aut per juga Cynthi

Exercet Diana choros :'
Which Dryden has beautifully rendered :

'Such, on Eurotas' banks or Cynthus' height,
Diana seems; and so she charms the sight,
When, in the dance, the graceful goddess leads

The choir of nymphs, and overtops their heads.' We might pursue much farther the catalogue of these Olympian patrons of the dance ; and show that all the more cheerful and ele

as Pan, Bacchus, the Muses, the Graces, the Hours, the Nymphs, the Naiades, the Fawns, the Dryades — all, in short, but the older and moroser personages of the sky -- Saturn, Neptune, Fate, and the like, or Pluto and his sad companions of Hades, affected the dance. We have first, however, to do a little farther with

gant deities

'On Thracia's hills, the god of war
Has checked the fury of his rapid car,
And dropped his thirsty lance, at thy command.'

Progress of Poesy. 64

VOL. IX.

Mars. Of the warlike institutions of the Greeks and Romans, dancing evidently formed, in all the earlier times, an essential part. The Cretans — among whom, of the general Hellenic race, the earliest rise of the arts, of laws, and of arms, seems to have been — cultivated the dance, not only in the religious use to which we have already alluded, as connected with the worship of their first law-giver, Jove, but encouraged it, with a view to military purposes. Hence is it that, in the Iliad, we find Merion celebrated for that unequalled skill in the dance, which, by the perfect command of his limbs, gave address to his movements in the ranks, and enabled him to avoid, with ease, the stroke of an adversary. So, too, in the same war, the assistance of Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, and one of the supposed inventors of the Pyrrhic dance, was at last held indispensable to the success of the Grecian arms — doubtless because their imperfect strategy needed the aid of an able dancing-master. The Thessalians, indeed, (of whom, through his heroical father, Pyrrhus was sprung,) held the dance to be the chief martial accomplishment; insomuch that, upon the tombs of their warriors, no inscription was thought so honorable, as one which declared that

THE PEOPLE HAVE ERECTED THIS MONUMENT TO ELATION,

IN MEMORY OF HIS HAVING DANCED WELL IN THE BATTLE.'* The military system of the Lacedemonians was clearly founded by the twins of Leda ; one of whom taught them the athletic exercises, and the other the management of the horse. It is equally clear that they instructed their countrymen in the dance; since that called the Carian (danced in the festivals of Diana,) is traced up to them. Helen, their sister, must have excelled in the dance : for it was at sight of her graceful performance of this exercise, that Theseus became enamored, and bore her off. Nor was her second enlevement, at the tender age of sixty, by Paris, produced by any other cause than another exhibition of her charms, heightened by the same alluring art.

It was in skilfully seizing this early Spartan institution, and perfecting it by his laws, that Lycurgus founded that great and permanent polity, which he gave to the Lacedemonians. He saw that, to build up a mighty and warlike state, it was necessary that his city should dance. Every thing, therefore, in Lacedemon, whether in their public exercises, or in their religious festivals, in their sports or in their combats, was done to the measure of martial instruments. Their youth was bred up between arms and the dance — with an occasional interlude of stealing. To the sound of flutes, they wrestled, they leaped, they ran. Their very flagellations around the altar of Diana were laid on, to the Dorian mood of the same instrument; and to its grave and soothing cadences, they advanced to battle, singing their pæans of the charge, and treading a military dance, as they sang. To the spirit which these animating preludes

* Barthelemi, speaking of them, says : Ils ont tant de gout et d'estime pour l'exercice de la danse, qu'ils appliquent les termes de cet art aux usages les plus nobles. En certains endroits, les généraux ou les magistrats se nomment les chefs de la danse.'

"They have such a taste and so much esteem for dancing, that they apply the terms of this art to the noblest things. In certain parts of their country, they give to their generals and magistrates names taken from the dance.' Anacharsis.

It is Lucian whom Barthelemi follows here. Pro orchestroi is the title.

to the engagement spread through their ranks, Milton plainly attributes their irresistible valor: and if the other Greeks fought not so well, it was for no other reason than because they danced worse.*

Let us here, however, to convey a juster image of the dance, in this, its earlier form, give the description of some of the armed dances, as left us by Xenophon, in his Retreat of the Ten Thousand. In the sixth book of that narrative, he relates, as follows, the festivities with which, upon the occasion of a truce with the Paphlagonians, bis soldiery entertained visitors from the camp of their barbarian adversaries.

As soon as the libations were over, and they had sung the Pæan, two Thracians rose up, and danced, with their arms, to ihe sound of the Aute. They capered very high, and with great agility; and then engaged each other with their swords. At length, one of them dealt the other such a blow, that he seemed, to all who looked on, to have slain him outright; and the Paphlagonians cried out, in alarm. The stroke, however, was only fatal in appearance. The victor then despoiled of his arms the seeming slain, and departed, singing a song of triumph, in honor of Sitalus, one of the kings and heroes of Thrace. After this, other Thracians entered, and bore off the body of the vanquished man, in funeral procession.'

* Next certain Ænians and Magnesians came forward, and danced, in their arms, what is called the Carpæan dance ; which is performed after the following manner : A dancer, quitting his weapons, begins to plough and sow the earth; but often looks behind him, like one in fear. Presently a robber approaches to assail him : he flies to his arms, and then, turning, disputes with the robber the possession of his oxen. All this passes to the sound of the flute. In the end, the robber overcomes and binds the ploughman, whom he leads away, captive, with his oxen. At other times, however, the rustic is victorious, fastens the vanquished robber to his oxen, and so drives him away, his hands tied behind him.'

After this performance, Mysas appeared, holding a buckler in each hand, with which he danced like one engaged with two adversaries at once: then, varying his steps and action, he seemed to contend with but a single enemy. At another moment, he whirled himself about, with great rapidity; and then, casting himself headlong, he fell, in a surprising, manner, upon his feet, without quitting either of his bucklers. Last of all, he danced a Persian dance, clashing his bucklers against each other, or falling upon his knees, and springing up again, with great lightness and address. During all this, he kept the justest time to the Aute.

Him, certain of the Mantineans and other Arcadians succeeded. These, dressed in the handsomest armor they could obtain, came forward to the notes of a flute, that played a point of war. They sung the Pæan, and went through the dances that are used in solemn processions.

'The wonder of the Paphlagonians at all these performances was heightened, by seeing them done by men in armor. Mysas, perceiving this, induced one of the Arcadians, who possessed a female dancer, to let her be brought in. She accordingly came in, adorned with the best dress they could find for her, and equipped with a light buckler. She then danced the Pyrrhic, with great agility : whereupon there was much clapping, and the Paphlagonians asked, "If the women charged along with the troops?' To which the others answered, that it was the women alone who repulsed the king from the camp. This was the end of that night's entertainment.'

Such were, in general, the dances of the heroic age of Greece ; either grave and religious, or martial and athletic: such as priests

*'On they move,
In perfect phalanx, to the Dorian mood
Of Autes and soft recorders, such as raised
To highth of nobles temper heroes old,
Arming for battle, and, instead of rage,
Deliberate valor breathed, firm and unmoved
With dread of death, to flight or foul retreat.'

Paradise Lost, B. L
• Who shall awake the Spartan fife,
And call again, with solemn sounds, to life
The youth, whose locks divinely spreading,
Like vernal hyacinths in sullen hue,
At once the breath of Fear and Virtue shedding,
Applauding valor loved of old to view ?' Collins.

might practice, or warriors invent, or law-givers adopt. Of the particular sort which Orpheus taught the rocks, the woods, and their shaggy inhabitants; or of that like measure, to which Amphion drew the quarried stone and the brick about him, till they stood upon each others' heads, and formed a wall for Thebes, it is not so easy to speak. Certain it is, however, that all this could only have been accomplished by some step or fling, of which, among the degenerate dancing-masters of the present day, no memory nor trace is left. It was such dances as these, which the learned Cornelius desired to revive, in the philosophic education of his crudite son, when he was breeding him up to be the mirror of ancient and the wonder of modern times. But the illustrious Scaliger being dead, who alone could have served him for a dancing-master, the noble design seems to have been of necessity abandoned, through the sheer incompetency of any modern antiquarian to give even the slightest rudiments of the classic Calipody.*

Mrs. Scriblerus, to prevent him from exposing her son to the like dangerous exercises for the future, proposed to send for a dancing-master, and to have him taught the Minnet and the Rigadoon. 'Dancing (quoth Cornelius) I much approve, (for Socrates said the best dancers were the best warriors,) but not these species of dancing which you mention. They are certainly corruptions of the Comic and Satyric Dance; which were utterly disliked by the sounder ancients. Martin shall learn the Tragic dance only : and I will send all over Europe, till I find an antiquary able to instruct him in the sale tatio Pyrrhica.' -- Memoirs of Scriblerus.

Of the varied evolutions which made these early dances an image of the fight, (as they were intended to be,) a passage in Apuleius gives us a yet distincter notion. He draws us the following picture of one of them, in his Golden Ass : 'Youths and maidens, in the flower of their age, the shapeliest and fairest, and habited in sparkling robes, with graceful steps, to the Pyrrhic measure, and in a wellordered band, moved through the seemly mazes of the dance, now bent into a ring, now with a sidelong and irregular advance, now formed into a wedge, and now bounding along, all apart.'t

But, to resume our historic deduction of the progress and prevalence of the art : that Theseus, the chief founder of the Atienian state, loved the dance, appears but too well, from his running off with the young danseuse of the Lacedemonian opera-house. An Attic dance, too, which imitated the windings of the labyrinth and the combat with the Minotaur, is traced to his invention. His brother-in-arms, the bold Pirithous, is the reputed author of another ballet, in which the fight of the Lapithæ and Centaurs was represented. A part of the performers no doubt went, in it, upon all fours. Or this

may

have been the occasion when hobby-horses, long after so popular in the spectacles of our English ancestors of the monkish times, were first introduced. We are told, at any event, that the

* It is in the Poetica of this militant wit, that we find the following account of his dancing:

'Hanc Saltationem Pyrrhicam nos sæpe et diu, jussu Bonifacü patrui, coram divo Maximiliano, non sine stupore totius Germaniæ, representavimus. Quo tempore vox illa Imperatoris, Hic puer aut thoracem pro pelle aut pro cunis habuit.'

+ Puelli, puellæque, virenti fiorentes ætuâ, formâ conspicui, vaste nitidi, incissu gratiosi, Græcanicam saltantes Pyrrhicam, dispositis ordinationibus, decoros ambitus inerrabant, nunc in orbem flexi, nunc in obliquam seriem connexi, nunc in quadrum cuneati, nunc inde separati.'

performance was highly complicated. The making four legs dance is, of course, double as difficult as the making two do it. That Solon knew the worth and dignity of the art, is apparent. In the first place, he was a poet; and poetry and music, like war, astronomy, religion, legislation, and the architecture of city walls, were yet identical with dancing. But farther, he was a member of the Areopagus - that admirable, grave, and, we may well say, divine old tribunal, in which the judges, when they gave their votes, advanced, majestically, to music, in a stately and solcmn dance, to deposit their sentences in the ballot-box. Hence came, indeed, the very names of that renowned receptacle of concealed opinion : for Bal. lot-box is thus, after all, only a corruption of Ballet-box. Let him, who doubts our etymology, recur to those judicial festivals, which we are yet to describe, where ermined lords of the woolsack shook the long curls of their full-bottomed wigs, and sergeants, counsellors, and the whole long-robe world hopped and footed it, in the solemn revels of Gray's Inn and the Inner-Temple.

If, from the legislators of Greece, we descend to her philosophers, we see that Socrates, the chief of whatever was best in their speculations, was not only the dance's apologist, but — though late in life - a proficient in it; seeking, under the instructions of the elegant Aspasia, to repair the neglect which his early education had suffered in this particular. Xenophon, from whom we receive the opinions of his master on this point, (see his Banquet of Socrates) was obviously an equal admirer of the exercise ; and still the more, because he loved and taught the whole polity, discipline, and manners of the Spartans ; of whose institutions the dance was, as we have already seen, so capital a part. As to Plato, that lofty idealist, who is usually said to have banished poetry from his perfect commonwealth, did the very contrary, as to the dance. For he will have it, that there shall, in his state, be dancingschools ; in order that, at these, the youth of either sex may learn a graceful demeanor, 'see and be seen.' Even thus does he speak, quite in the terms of a modern mother in the country, solicitous that her shame-faced progeny may learn to hold up their heads, turn out their toes, pinch themselves in coat-collars and stays, and be taught the mystery

of shoes and stockings. Of the costume which the good Plato thought most befitting for these schools of grace and modesty, we forbear too minutely to speak.

Placed under all these influences of religion, of legislation, and of philosophy; and impelled, beside, by those of a glowing sky, modes of life the most graceful and picturesque, and a national imagination easily kindled by whatever was beautiful, the Athenians became, as to all that regarded either the popular or the dramatic dance, eminently the encouragers of the art. It was held not only worthy of the ingenuous and well-born; but to be ignorant of it, was accounted a species of reproach. So far was even the public practice of the art from drawing with it disgrace, that it implied, on the contrary, a reputation free from any legal stigma; and dancing became, somewhat as in Gulliver's court of Lilliput, an avenue to public honors and employments. Thus, in the time of Philip of Macedon, one of the ambassadors sent upon an important mission to that monarch was Aristodemus, a very distinguished dancer : and Demosthenes

« PreviousContinue »