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The Stage As It Was Once
by [?]

But let the poets themselves, rather than me, speak awhile. Allow me to give you a few specimens of these choruses–the first as an example of that practical and yet surely not un-divine wisdom, by which they supplied the place of our modern preacher, or essayist, or didactic poet.

Listen to this of the old men’s chorus in the “Agamemnon,” in the spirited translation of my friend Professor Blackie:

‘Twas said of old, and ’tis said to-day,
That wealth to prosperous stature grown
Begets a birth of its own:
That a surfeit of evil by good is prepared,
And sons must bear what allotment of woe
Their sires were spared.
But this I refuse to believe: I know
That impious deeds conspire
To beget an offspring of impious deeds
Too like their ugly sire.
But whoso is just, though his wealth like a river
Flow down, shall be scathless: his house shall rejoice
In an offspring of beauty for ever.

The heart of the haughty delights to beget
A haughty heart. From time to time
In children’s children recurrent appears
The ancestral crime.
When the dark hour comes that the gods have decreed
And the Fury burns with wrathful fires,
A demon unholy, with ire unabated,
Lies like black night on the halls of the fated;
And the recreant Son plunges guiltily on
To perfect the guilt of his Sires.

But Justice shines in a lowly cell;
In the homes of poverty, smoke-begrimed,
With the sober-minded she loves to dwell.
But she turns aside
From the rich man’s house with averted eye,
The golden-fretted halls of pride
Where hands with lucre are foul, and the praise
Of counterfeit goodness smoothly sways;
And wisely she guides in the strong man’s despite
All things to an issue of RIGHT.

Let me now give you another passage from the “Eumenides”–or “Furies”–of AEschylus.

Orestes, Prince of Argos, you must remember, has avenged on his mother Clytemnestra the murder of his father, King Agamemnon, on his return from Troy. Pursued by the Furies, he takes refuge in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, and then, still Fury-haunted, goes to Athens, where Pallas Athene, the warrior-maiden, the tutelary goddess of Athens, bids him refer his cause to the Areopagus, the highest court of Athens, Apollo acting as his advocate, and she sitting as umpire in the midst. The white and black balls are thrown into the urn, and are equal; and Orestes is only delivered by the decision of Athene–as the representative of the nearer race of gods, the Olympians, the friends of man, in whose likeness man is made. The Furies are the representatives of the older and darker creed–which yet has a depth of truth in it–of the irreversible dooms which underlie all nature; and which represent the Law, and not the Gospel, the consequence of the mere act, independent of the spirit which has prompted it.

They break out in fury against the overbearing arrogance of these younger gods. Athene bears their rage with equanimity, addresses them in the language of kindness, even of veneration, till these so indomitable beings are unable to withstand the charm of her mild eloquence. They are to have a sanctuary in the Athenian land, and to be called no more Furies (Erinnys), but Eumenides–the well- conditioned–the kindly goddesses. And all ends with a solemn precession round the orchestra, with hymns of blessing, while the terrible Chorus of the Furies, clothed in black, with blood-stained girdles, and serpents in their hair, in masks having perhaps somewhat of the terrific beauty of Medusa-masks, are convoyed to their new sanctuary by a procession of children, women, and old men in purple robes with torches in their hands, after Athene and the Furies have sung, in response to each other, a chorus from which I must beg leave to give you an extract or two: