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A Handbook to the Works of Browning (6th ed.)

To those who call Saperdion the Empousa


"It

claims respect as an institution, because as such it is coeval with liberty--born of the feast of Bacchus, and therefore of the good gifts of the earth--a mode of telling truth without punishment, and of chastising without doing harm. It claims respect by its advance from simple objects to more composite, from plain thumping to more searching modes of attack. The men who once exposed wrong-doing by shouting it before the wrong-doer's door, now expose it by representing its various forms. The comic poets denounce not only the thief, the fool, the miser, but the advocates of war, the flatterers of the populace, the sophists who set up Whirligig[42] in the place of Zeus, the thin-blooded tragedian in league with the sophists, who preaches against the flesh. Where facts are insufficient he has recourse to fancy, and exaggerates the wronged truth the more strongly to enforce it (here follows a characteristic illustration.) To those who call Saperdion the Empousa, he shows her in a Kimberic robe;[43] in other words, he exposes her charms more fully than she does it herself, the better to convict those who malign them."

And here lies his grudge against Euripides. Euripides is one of those who call Saperdion a monster--who slander the world of sense with its beauties and its enjoyments, or who contemptuously set it aside. "Born on the day of Salamis--when heroes walked the earth; and gods were reverenced and not discussed--when Greeks guarded their home

with its abundant joys, and left barbarian lands to their own starvation--he has lived to belie every tradition of that triumphant time. He has joined himself with a band of starved teachers and reformers to cut its very foundations away. He exalts death over life, misery over happiness; or, if he admits happiness, it is as an empty name."

"Moreover, he reasons away the gods; for they are, according to him, only forms of nature. Zeus _is_ the atmosphere. Poseidon _is_ the sea. Necessity rules the universe. Duty, once the will of the gods, is now a voice within ourselves bidding us renounce pleasure, and giving us no inducement to do so."

"He reasons away morality, for he shows there is neither right nor wrong, neither 'yours' nor 'mine,' nor natural privilege, nor natural subjection, that may not be argued equally for or against. Why be in such a hurry to pay one's debt, to attend one's mother, to bring a given sacrifice?"

"He reasons away social order, for he declares the slave as good as his master, woman equal to man, and even the people competent to govern itself. 'Why should not the tanner, the lampseller, or the mealman, who knows his own business so well, know that of the State too?'"

"He ignores the function of poetry, which is to see beauty, and to create it: for he places utility above grace, truth above all beauty. He drags human squalor on to the scene because he recognizes its existence. The world of the poet's fancy, that world into which he was born, does not exist for him. He spoils his art as well as his life, carving back to bull what another had carved into a sphinx."

"How are such proceedings to be dealt with? They appeal to the mob. The mob is not to be swayed by polished arguments or incidental hints. We don't scare sparrows with a Zeus' head, though the eagle may recognize it as his lord's. A big Priapus is the figure required."


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