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46. CHAPTER XLVI (continued)
"This is a venturesome question considering the verdict now generally given for over two thousand years, nor should I have permitted myself to ask it if it had not been suggested to me by one whose reputation stands as high, and has been sanctioned for as long time as those of the tragedians themselves, I mean by Aristophanes.
"Numbers, weight of authority, and time, have conspired to place Aristophanes on as high a literary pinnacle as any ancient writer, with the exception perhaps of Homer, but he makes no secret of heartily hating Euripides and Sophocles, and I strongly suspect only praises AEschylus that he may run down the other two with greater impunity. For after all there is no such difference between AEschylus and his successors as will render the former very good and the latter very bad; and the thrusts at AEschylus which Aristophanes puts into the mouth of Euripides go home too well to have been written by an admirer.
"It may be observed that while Euripides accuses AEschylus of being 'pomp-bundle-worded,' which I suppose means bombastic and given to rodomontade, AEschylus retorts on Euripides that he is a 'gossip gleaner, a describer of beggars, and a rag-stitcher,' from which it may be inferred that he was truer to the life of his own times than AEschylus was. It happens, however, that a faithful rendering of contemporary life is the very quality which gives its most permanent interest to any work of fiction, whether in literature or painting, and it is a not unnatural consequence that while only seven plays by AEschylus, and the same number by Sophocles, have come down to us, we have no fewer than nineteen by Euripides.
"This, however, is a digression; the question before us is whether Aristophanes really liked AEschylus or only pretended to do so. It must be remembered that the claims of AEschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, to the foremost place amongst tragedians were held to be as incontrovertible as those of Dante, Petrarch, Tasso and Ariosto to be the greatest of Italian poets, are held among the Italians of to-day. If we can fancy some witty, genial writer, we will say in Florence, finding himself bored by all the poets I have named, we can yet believe he would be unwilling to admit that he disliked them without exception. He would prefer to think he could see something at any rate in Dante, whom he could idealise more easily, inasmuch as he was more remote; in order to carry his countrymen the farther with him, he would endeavour to meet them more than was consistent with his own instincts. Without some such palliation as admiration for one, at any rate, of the tragedians, it would be almost as dangerous for Aristophanes to attack them as it would be for an Englishman now to say that he did not think very much of the Elizabethan dramatists. Yet which of us in his heart likes any of the Elizabethan dramatists except Shakespeare? Are they in reality anything else than literary Struldbrugs?
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