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N° 105. TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 1753.
Novam comicam Menandrus, æqualesque ejus ætatis magis quam operis, Philemon ac Diphilus, & invenere intra paucissimos annos, neque imitandam reliquere. VELL. PATÉRCUL.
Menander, together with Philemon and Diphilus, who must be named with him rather as his contemporaries than his equals, invented within the compass of a few years, a new kind of comedy, and left it beyond the reach of imitation.
TO THE ADVENTURER.
MORALITY, taste, and literature, scarcely ever suffered more irreparably, than by the loss of the comedies of Menander; some of whose fragments, agree able to my promise, I am now going to lay before you, which I should imagine would be as highly prized by the curious, as was the Coan Venus which Apelles left imperfect and unfinished.
Menander was celebrated for the sweetness, brevity, and sententiousness of his style. 'He was fond of Euripides,' says Quintilian, and nearly imitated the manner of this tragic writer, though in a different kind of work. He is a complete pattern of oratorial excellence; ità omnem vitæ imaginem expressit, tanta in eo inveniendi copia, & eloquendi facultas ; ita est omnibus rebus, personis, affectibus, accommodatus; so various and so just,
are all his pictures of life; so copious is his invention, so masterly his elocution; so wonderfully is he adapted to all kinds of subjects, persons, and passions.' This panegyric reflects equal honour on the critic, and on the comedian. Quintilian has here painted Menander with as lively and expressive strokes, as Menander had characterized the Athenians.
Boileau, in his celebrated eighth Satire, has not represented the misery and folly of man, so forcibly or humorously as Menander.
"Απαντα τα ζω εστι μακαξιωτερα,
• All animals are more happy, and have more un derstanding than man. Look, for instance, on yonder ass ; all allow him to be miserable: his evils, however, are not brought on him by himself and his own fault: he feels only those which nature has inflicted. We, on the contrary, besides our necessary ills, draw upon ourselves a multitude of others. We are melancholy, if any person happen to sneeze; we are angry, if any speak reproachfully of us; one man is affrighted with an unlucky dream, another at the hooting of an owl. Our contentions, our anxieties, our opinions, our ambition, our laws, are all evils, which we ourselves have superadded to
nature.' Comparisons betwixt the conditions of the brutal and human species, have been frequently drawn; but this of Menander, as it probably was the first, so it is the best I have ever seen.
If this passage is admirable for the vivacity and severity of its satire, the following certainly deserves deeper attention for weight of sentiment, and sublimity and purity of moral.
Ει τις δε θυσίαν προσφερον ὦ Παμφίλε,
‘He that offers in sacrifice, Ο Pamphilus, a multitude of bulls and of goats, of golden vestments, of purple garments, or figures of ivory, or precious gems; and imagines by this to conciliate the favour of God, is grossly mistaken, and has no solid understanding. For he that would sacrifice with success, ought to be chaste and charitable, no corrupter of virgins, no adulterer, no robber or murderer for the sake of lucre. Covet not, Ο Pamphilus, even the thread of another man's needle; for God, who is near thee, perpetually beholds thy actions.'
Temperance, and justice, and purity, are here inculcated in the strongest manner, and upon the most powerful motive, the Omniscience of the Deity; at the same time superstition and the idolatry of the heathen are artfully ridiculed. I know not among the ancients any passage that contains
such exalted and spiritualized thoughts of religion. Yet if these refined sentiments were to be inserted in a modern comedy, I fear they would be rejected with disdain and disapprobation. The Athenians could endure to hear God and Virtue mentioned in the theatre; while an English and a Christian audience can laugh at adultery as a jest, think obscenity wit, and debauchery amiable. The murderer, if a duellist, is a man of honour, the gamester understands the art of living, the knave has penetration and knows mankind, the spendthrift is a fellow of fine spirit, the rake has only robbed a fresh country girl of her innocence and honour; the jilt and the coquet have a great deal of vivacity and fire; but a faithful husband is a dupe and a cuckold, and a plain country gentleman a novice and a fool. The wretch that dared to ridicule Socrates abounds not in so much false satire, ribaldry, obscenity, and blasphemy, as our witty and wicked triumvirate, Wycherley, Congreve, and Vanbrugh.
Menander has another very remarkable reflection, worthy even that divine religion, which the lastmentioned writers so impotently endeavoured to deride. It relates to the forgiveness of enemies, a precept not totally unknown to the ancient sages, as hath rashly been affirmed; though never inculcated with such frequency, fervor and cogency, and on motives so weighty and efficacious, as by the founder of the Christian System.
Ουτος κρατιστός εστ' ανηρ ω Γοργία,
He, O Gorgias, is the most virtuous man, who -best knows among mortals how to bear injuries with patience.'
It may not be improper to alleviate the serious
ness of these moral reflections, by the addition of a passage of a more light and sprightly turn.
Ο μεν Ἐπιχαρμος τους Θεούς είναι λεγει,
Epicharmus, indeed, calls the winds, the water, the earth, the sun, the fire, and the stars, Gods. But I am of opinion that gold and silver are our only powerful and propitious deities. For when once you have introduced these into your house, wish for what you will, you shall quickly obtain it; an estate, a habitation, servants, plate, friends, judges, witnesses.'
From these short specimens, we may in some measure be enabled to judge of Menander's way of thinking and of writing; remembering always how much his elegance is injured by a plain prosaic translation, and by considering the passages singly and separately, without knowing the characters of 'the personages that spoke them, and the aptness and propriety with which they were introduced.
The delicacy and decorum observed constantly by Menander, rendered him the darling writer of the Athenians, at a time when the Athenians were arrived at the height of prosperity and politeness, and could no longer relish the coarse railleries, the brutal mirth, and illiberal wit, of an indecent Aristophanes. Menander,' says Plutarch, abounds in a precious Attic salt, which seems to have been taken from the same sea, whence Venus herself arose. But the salt of Aristophanes is bitter, disgusting, and corrosive.?