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BY R. POTTER
4 NEW EDITION.
PRINTED FOR D. A. TALBOYS ::
SOPHOCLES, the son of Sophilus an Athenian, was born at Colonus, and educated with great attention. Superior vigour and address in the exercises of the Palæstra, and skill in music, were the great accomplishments of young men in the states of Greece; in these Sophocles excelled; nor was he less distinguished by the beauty of his person. He was also instructed in the noblest of all sciences, civil polity and religion; from the first of these he derived an unshaken love of his country, which he served in some embassies, and in high military command with Pericles; from the latter he was impressed with a pious reverence for the gods, manifested by the inviolable integrity of his life. But his studies were early devoted to the tragic muse; the spirit of Æschylus lent a fire to his genius, and excited that noble emulation which led him to contend with, and sometimes to bear away the prize from, his great master. He wrote one hundred and thirteen tragedies, of which seven
only have escaped the ravages of time; and having testified his love of his country by refusing to leave it, though invited by many kings, and having enjoyed the uninterrupted esteem and affection of his fellow-citizens, which neither the gallant actions and sublime genius of Æschylus, nor the tender spirit and philosophic virtue of Euripides, could secure to them, he died in the ninety-first year of his age. The burial-place of his ancestors was at Decelia, which the Lacedemonians had at that time seized and fortified; but Lysander, the Spartan chief, permitted the Athenians to inter their deceased poet; and they paid him all the honours due to his love of his country, his integrity of life, and his high poetic excellence.
Æschylus had at once seized the highest post of honour in the field of poetry, the true sublime; to that eminence his claim could not be disputed. Sophocles had a noble elevation of mind, but tempered with so fine a taste and so chastised a judgment, that he never passes the bounds of propriety; under his conduct the tragic muse appears with the chaste dignity of some noble matron at a religious solemnity; harmony is in her voice, and grace in all her motions. From him the theatre received some additional embellishments, and the drama, what made it more active and more interesting, the introduction of a third speaker ; but his distinguishing excellence is in the judicious disposition of the fable, and so nice a connection
and dependence of the parts on each other, that they all agree to make the event not only probable, but even necessary; this is peculiarly admirable in his Edipus King of Thebes ; and in this important point he is far superior to every other dramatic writer.
Aristotle, who formed his judgment from the three great Athenian poets, particularly from Sophocles, observes, that Tragedy, after various changes, having now attained the perfection of its nature, aimed at no further improvements. The latter part of the observation was at that time just; it continued just more than two thousand years ; but of perfection who shall decide? The great critic did not conceive that Nature could produce a poet who, without any knowledge of his laws, or of those Grecian models, should exalt Tragedy to an excellence of which neither he nor they had any idea. Shakespeare had a genius ardent and sublime as that of Æschylus; his diction is equally great and daring, his imagination was richer and more luxuriant, his observation of the living manners and his knowledge of the human mind more comprehensive; hence his wonderful power over the passions. It is a proof of the commanding force of genius, that as the Agamemnon of Æschylus, with all its faults, excels any thing that remains to us of the Grecian drama, so there are many tragedies of Shakespeare, though with more and greater faults, which are superior to the Aga