THE UNCENSORED SATIRE OF ARISTOPHANES

WE must not fail to mention the unique genius of Aristophanes, who, at the end of the fifth century, wrote comedies which mingle broad farce with lyrics of tender charm, and bitter criticism of party opponents with exquisite pictures of life in Athens before the war took away " the margin of daily life." It is astounding to those of us who have experience of the close censorship exercised on speech and writing during the Great War, to see how freely Aristophanes could pillory the leading statesmen of Athens, even while she was fighting for her life. In the writing of history, too, the Greeks were pioneers. Herodotus (484-425 B.C.) was a great advance on the chroniclers who had drily recorded events as they happened year by year. In order to write a history of the Persian wars, he engaged in an account of the whole world, and told some beguiling stories by the way. But he was more than a mere story-teller. His judgments were cool and fair, as when he showed that the Persians were not the cowardly slaves portrayed by Athenian patriotic dramatists, but brave, truthful, and able men. On the other hand, Thucydides (about 470-400 B.C.) described the Peloponnesian war on scientific principles. A subtle analyst of character and motive, he has drawn an unforgettable picture (every detail of which can be paralleled from contemporary Europe) of the baleful effect of civil war in corrupting normal decency. For massive concentration and political insight, Thucydides has no peer. Free speech and political debate developed the art of oratory among the Greeks. Pericles owed his unique position to his masterly eloquence. After him there was a sequence of orators who spoke either in the courts or in the assembly. The greatest of them was Demosthenes (383-322 B.C.), who vainly attempted to arouse the Greeks against the rising power of Philip of Macedon. His last speech On the Crown, in which after Greek freedom had been destroyed, he justifies the policy he had advocated, is a marvellous vindication of the Greek city-state and the unrestricted liberty which it gave to all. It ranges from the bitterest invective to solemn panegyric of the heroic qualities of fifth-century Greece.