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The Antigone Of Sophocles, As Represented On The Edinburgh Stage
by [?]

Ever since the restoration of letters there has been a cabal, an academic interest, a factious league amongst universities, and learned bodies, and individual scholars, for exalting as something superterrestrial, and quite unapproachable by moderns, the monuments of Greek literature. France, in the time of Louis XIV., England, in the latter part of that time; in fact, each country as it grew polished at some cost of strength, carried this craze to a dangerous excess–dangerous as all things false are dangerous, and depressing to the aspirations of genius. Boileau, for instance, and Addison, though neither [2] of them accomplished in scholarship, nor either of them extensively read in any department of the classic literature, speak every where of the classics as having notoriously, and by the general confession of polished nations, carried the functions of poetry and eloquence to that sort of faultless beauty which probably does really exist in the Greek sculpture. There are few things perfect in this world of frailty. Even lightning is sometimes a failure: Niagara has horrible faults; and Mont Blanc might be improved by a century of chiselling from judicious artists. Such are the works of blind elements, which (poor things!) cannot improve by experience. As to man who does, the sculpture of the Greeks in their marbles and sometimes in their gems, seems the only act of his workmanship which has hit the bull’s eye in the target at which we are all aiming. Not so, with permission from Messrs. Boileau and Addison, the Greek literature. The faults in this are often conspicuous; nor are they likely to be hidden for the coming century, as they have been for the three last. The idolatry will be shaken: as idols, some of the classic models are destined to totter: and I foresee, without gifts of prophecy, that many laborers will soon be in this field–many idoloclasts, who will expose the signs of disease, which zealots had interpreted as power; and of weakness, which is not the less real because scholars had fancied it health, nor the less injurious to the total effect because it was inevitable under the accidents of the Grecian position.

Meantime, I repeat, that to disparage any thing whatever, or to turn the eye upon blemishes, is no part of my present purpose. Nor could it be: since the one sole section of the Greek literature, as to which I profess myself an enthusiast, happens to be the tragic drama; and here, only, I myself am liable to be challenged as an idolater. As regards the Antigone in particular, so profoundly do I feel the impassioned beauty of her situation in connection with her character, that long ago, in a work of my own (yet unpublished), having occasion (by way of overture introducing one of the sections) to cite before the reader’s eye the chief pomps of the Grecian theatre, after invoking ‘the magnificent witch’ Medea, I call up Antigone to this shadowy stage by the apostrophe, Holy heathen, daughter of God, before God was known, [3] flower from Paradise after Paradise was closed; that quitting all things for which flesh languishes, safety and honor, a palace and a home, didst make thyself a houseless pariah, lest the poor pariah king, thy outcast father, should want a hand to lead him in his darkness, or a voice to whisper comfort in his misery; angel, that badst depart for ever the glories of thy own bridal day, lest he that had shared thy nursery in childhood, should want the honors of a funeral; idolatrous, yet Christian Lady, that in the spirit of martyrdom trodst alone the yawning billows of the grave, flying from earthly hopes, lest everlasting despair should settle upon the grave of thy brother,’ etc. In fact, though all the groupings, and what I would call permanent attitudes of the Grecian stage, are majestic, there is none that, to my mind, towers into such affecting grandeur, as this final revelation, through Antigone herself, and through her own dreadful death, of the tremendous wo that destiny had suspended over her house. If therefore my business had been chiefly with the individual drama, I should have found little room for any sentiment but that of profound admiration. But my present business is different: it concerns the Greek drama generally, and the attempt to revive it; and its object is to elucidate, rather than to praise or to blame. To explain this better, I will describe two things:–1st, The sort of audience that I suppose myself to be addressing; and, 2dly, As growing out of that, the particular quality of the explanations which I wish to make.