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A Dissertation Upon The Greek Comedy, Translated From Brumoy
by [?]

Horace[6] expresses himself thus: “Thespis is said to have been the first inventor of a species of tragedy, in which he carried about, in carts, players smeared with the dregs of wine, of whom some sung and others declaimed.” This was the first attempt, both of tragedy and comedy; for Thespis made use only of one speaker, without the least appearance of dialogue. “Eschylus, afterwards, exhibited them with more dignity. He placed them on a stage, somewhat above the ground, covered their faces with masks, put buskins on their feet, dressed them in trailing robes, and made them speak in a more lofty style.” Horace omits invention of dialogue, which we learn from Aristotle[7]. But, however, it may be well enough inferred from the following words of Horace; this completion is mentioned while he speaks of Eschylus, and, therefore, to Eschylus it must be ascribed: “Then first appeared the old comedy, with great success in its beginning.” Thus we see that the Greek comedy arose after tragedy, and, by consequence, tragedy was its parent. It was formed in imitation of Eschylus, the inventor of the tragick drama; or, to go yet higher into antiquity, had its original from Homer, who was the guide of Eschylus. For, if we credit Aristotle[8], comedy had its birth from the Margites, a satirical poem of Homer, and tragedy from the Iliad and Odyssey. Thus the design and artifice of comedy were drawn from Homer and Eschylus. This will appear less surprising, since the ideas of the human mind are always gradual, and arts are seldom invented but by imitation.

The first idea contains the seed of the second; this second, expanding itself, gives birth to a third; and so on. Such is the progress of the mind of man; it proceeds in its productions, step by step, in the same manner as nature multiplies her works by imitating, or repeating her own act, when she seems most to run into variety. In this manner it was that comedy had its birth, its increase, its improvement, its perfection, and its diversity.

4. But the question is, who was the happy author of that imitation, and that show, whether only one, like Eschylus of tragedy, or whether they were several? for neither Horace, nor any before him, explained this[9]. This poet only quotes three writers who had reputation in the old comedy, Eupolis[10], Cratinus[11], and Aristophanes; of whom he says, “That they, and others, who wrote in the same way, reprehended the faults of particular persons with excessive liberty.” These are, probably, the poets of the greatest reputation, though they were not the first, and we know the names of many others[12]. Among these three we may be sure that Aristophanes had the greatest character, since not only the king of Persia[13] expressed a high esteem of him to the Grecian ambassadours, as of a man extremely useful to his country, and Plato[14] rated him so high, as to say that the Graces resided in his bosom; but, likewise, because he is the only writer of whom any comedies have made their way down to us, through the confusion of times. There are not, indeed, any proofs that he was the inventor of comedy, properly so called, especially, since he had not only predecessors who wrote in the same kind, but it is, at least, a sign that he had contributed more than any other to bring comedy to the perfection in which he left it. We shall, therefore, not inquire farther, whether regular comedy was the work of a single mind, which seems yet to be unsettled, or of several contemporaries, such as these which Horace quotes. We must distinguish three forms which comedy wore, in consequence of the genius of the writers, or of the laws of the magistrates, and the change of the government of many into that of few.