The Greek Drama -- By: R. D. C. Robbins
BSac 6:21 (Feb 1849) p. 84
The Greek Drama
The spirit of an age or people is most accurately and surely represented in its poetry. The statesman who would prefer the moulding influence of the ballads to the laws of a nation, indicates that he has not been unobservant of the more hidden influences which govern society. But it is not less true that the diligent and thoughtful student of history can better be ignorant of the legal enactments and penal code of that nation and age, whose inner life he would understand, than of the warblings of its minstrels, or the spontaneous, gushing effusions of its men of song. Indeed, if we desire to have an intimate acquaintance with the spirit of the political institutions, the religion, or culture of any people separated from us by time or distance, we not only need but cannot do without their poetical productions. What should we know of the spirit of the old Norsemen but from the productions of their Scalds, their Eddas, and the first rude combinations of their runic alphabet, the gift of their god Odin?
The poetry of Greece is perhaps more intimately connected with and descriptive of the state of society in which it arose, than that of any other nation. The history of the religion, civil institutions, and culture of long ages prior to authentic records of actual events, constituted this early poetry. It is true, that the earliest compositions of almost all nations are narrative songs, recited in their festivals, celebrating the exploits of their heroes, and the genealogies of their princes. It was so with our Saxon ancestors before they migrated from their German forests.1 But all nations have not a Homer or such a past as the Greeks to look back upon. “The divine myths of the Greeks,” says Grote,2 “the matter of their religion constituted also the matter of their earliest history.” Their past, long varied, stirring, earth-wide, heaven-high, their genealogical records none the less certain
BSac 6:21 (Feb 1849) p. 85
because let down from Olympian heights, had the two-fold charm of novelty and reality, marvellousness and certainty. In listening to the recitals of their minstrels, the cravings of the heart for higher revelations, and the desire for national honor and individual glory, was alike satisfied. No wonder, then, that they clung to them with a tenacity not easily destroyed, and built upon them with a confidence not readily shaken. It has been well said that “it was Homer who formed the character of the Greek nation.”3 The Homeric poems were the fountain-heads of all the refinement of the ancients. The Homeric rhapsodi...
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