21 NOVEMBER 1885, Page 19

RANGABE'S " THEODORA."* Arain from the intrinsic merits of this

poem, it furnishes a fresh proof that the literary ability which has marked two generations of the distinguished Phanariote family to which the author belongs is in no danger of deserting it in the third. The grandfather of the writer, nephew of the last Greek Hospodar of Wallachia, rendered many of the plays of Voltaire, Corneille, and Racine into Greek with suoh remarkable felicity as to provoke an epigram from an admirer :—

" Translation and original

There's nought to choose between : Did Racine render Rangabe, Or Rangabe Racine r' • Theodora: a Dramatic Poem in Five Acts. By Cleon Rangabd. Leipsie : Oriental Press. 1884.

M. Rangabe's father, the Greek Ambassador at Berlin, has left no sphere of literature untouched, from grammar to the drama, —one of his plays, The Thirty, is shortly to be given at the Court Theatre at Schwerin,—and he himself, by his treatise on Family Life in the Time of Homer, his lyrical pieces, and his drama, Julian the Apostate, has made valuable additions to the honourable catalogue of his family's intellectual achievements.

After drawing an interesting parallel, in his preface, between the epochs of Justinian and Louis XIV., M. Rangabe insists, with great point, upon the special advantages possessed by a Greek in an attempt to reproduce the splendour of the Byzantine Empire. And yet, although this period forms as integral and inseparable a portion of their national history as that of Pericles, no compatriot of his has hitherto essayed the task on the same lines that he has chosen. On these grounds, an author who writes and speaks in a language but slightly differing from that of Justinian's age; and who brings to his subject an exhaustive acquaintance with Byzantine literature, may fairly claim a unique and national character for his work. The style of the work deserves special mention. Modern literary Greek remains in an unsettled condition, and writers of individuality are obliged to follow each a line of their own. But while a course of compromise, such as M. Rangab6 has adopted, is, on his own admission, inadequate to the essential needs of the language, it possesses certain clearly marked advantages of its own. While entirely classic in its elements, the style of Theodora is animated by the analytic method, and has all the elasticity of a modern and living idiom. It is so lucid and homogeneous that a clever sixth-form boy would very soon fall into it ; and M. Rangabe certainly fulfils his promise not to let " archaisms and vulgarisms jostle one

another in every sentence like Pericles and Hodge walking about arm-in-arm on the plea that they are both Greeks."

The plot may be outlined as follows. Theodora, after re- nouncing her actress career for a life of seclusion, has been wooed by Hecebolus, a young patrician, who, ignorant of her antecedents, has taken her with him to Pentapolis, of which he is appointed Governor. There she is recognised in the theatre ; and Hecebolus, realising for the first time her real character, deserts her in disgust. After wandering for months in vain pursuit of him and their child, Theodora returns to Byzantium, where she is discovered living in retirement by John the Cappadocian. The crafty Minister, anxious to regain his lost ascendancy, sees in her charms a means of diverting the young Emperor-elect from the cares of State, and contrives to bring them together in the opening scene of the play. Justinian falls an easy victim to her fascination ; but the sequel entirely falsifies the hopes of John the Cappadocian. Instead of luring Justinian into a life of inglorious ease, Theodora, raised to the throne, infuses new vigour into his rule, and inspires him with the highest and loftiest aims. Baffled in his design, and smarting under the refusal of the Empress to further his suit with Joannina, the young daughter of Belisarius, already betrothed to Anthemins, the famous architect, the Cappadocian prepares to play a double game, and frequents in disguise the meetings of those discontented spirits whose conspiracies found vent in the Nika revolt. Amongst these, Hecebolus, now sunk to the level of a combatant in the arena, plays a leading part, filled with vengeance against Theodora after the failure of an attempt to renew their old relations. Should the conspirators prove strong enough to make a head, John is resolved to join them openly. Otherwise, by revealing and denouncing their plots, he counts upon securing that return for his services which the Empress has hitherto denied him. And so it turns out ; for in a moment of weakness and despair, when the Emperor is meditating flight, and the mob are carry- ing all before them, Theodora gives a reluctant consent to John's union with Joannina, on the understanding that he will exert his powerful influence with the rebellious Green faction, and induce them to spare the Throne. The revolt is crushed more by the strong arm of Belisarius and his veterans than the diplomacy of the Cappadocian ; but the latter, relying on the Imperial word, only waits for the departure of Joannina's father and mother from Byzantium to carry her off, and prepares to celebrate his bridal on the day of the opening of the great Temple of St. Sophia, Anthemius's masterpiece. Anthemins, believing Joannina to have been false, determines to turn a new discovery of his to deadly account, and annihilate the temple during the ceremony. But his design only half succeeds, and the chief victim is the luckless Joannina. Anthemins, struck with remorse, denounces

himself as her murderer ; but owing to the efforts of his devoted colleague, Isidore, to shield him, the first trial proves abortive, and a new inquiry is called for. In the interval, the Empress, who has shown a strange excitement during his examina- tion, visits Anthemius in prison, and declares that she is his mother. At first he repels her with loathing as an unnatural monster who had first deserted and then ruined him. But finally he accepts her explanations and is reconciled to her. A public declaration of his parentage, however, being impossible, he sees no other solution of his equivocal position but suicide, and seizing

a dagger from her' girdle, stabs himself and dies in her arms. Broken in health and spirits, Theodora soon follows her son to the grave ; but not before she had received absolution and

pardon from Hecebolus, whom she recognises in the priest summoned to attend her deathbed. In the foregoing sketch, we have been obliged, in the interests of brevity, to omit all mention of the scenes illustrating in dramatic form the progress of Belisarius's arms in Italy and Africa, the porn p and circumstance of Byzantine Court ceremonial, and the extraordinary influence wielded by the factions of the Hippodrome. To render his picture of the life of the times as complete as possible, the author has spared no pains in the examination and sifting of contemporary records. He has, it is true, allowed himself some latitude in regard to chronology, introducing certain events, such as the last exploit of Belisarius, which really belongs to a later date. But he has shown sound judgment in his conception of the characters of his leading personages ; and if his view of Theodora herself is unusually lenient, it at any rate affords an adequate solution of the con- tradictory statements of historians, besides furnishing a powerful mainspring to his plot. It should also be borne in mind that, as so temperate a writer as Milman remarks, the " extreme

profligacy of Theodora's early life rests entirely on this virulent libel,"—the Anecdota of Procopius. By dwelling on these charges, more sun, Gibbon has immortalised in his sonorous periods a picture inspired by malice and discoloured by impro- bability. On what he calls the Tprirxii- ireaticlioviacc of Prow-

pias—the threefold change from an impartial historian to a servile panegyrist, and thence finally into a malignant satirist— M. Rangabe has a most interesting note ; and while admitting that there is no historical basis for such a view, conjectures that slighted love for Theodora may have been the cause, a theory which is ingeniously worked out in the play. As to Theodora herself, the dramatist has conceived her as one plunged in infamy by her surroundings before she knew right from wrong, bat vouchsafed a sudden awakening before it was too late, and finding in incessant devotion to the welfare of the Empire the surest oblivion of her hated past. It is this very patriotism which causes her unwittingly to wreck the happiness of her son, and almost with her last breath she bids Justinian " love Hellas well." In representing Anthemins to be her son, the author owns that he has been only actuated by dramatic exigencies, but points out the curious fact that though the names of his brothers are on record, there is no mention of the father of the famous architect. In the mode in which he chooses to wreak his vengeance, M. Rangabe turns dexterously to account the anecdote related of Anthemins and Agathias, showing the former to have anticipated in part the discovery of the power of steam. He also ante-dates the fall of the dome, which was due to an earthquake and not to the design of the architect, who was, indeed, no longer alive at the time of the disaster. While discarding with the best authorities the story of Belisarius and the obolus, M. Rangabe gives an excellent picture of the great general, whose loyalty to the Emperor came unscathed out of so many trials. His resignation in the face of calumny and ingratitude is the theme of one of the most effective scenes in the play. As he says-

" He who unmoved hath heard the lion's roar, By ravhns' croaking setteth little store."

M. Rangabe excels in aphorism ; and even where the sentiments are somewhat hackneyed, they derive force from the picturesque and vigorous language in which they are enshrined. Here are some lines in which Anthemius, in a moment of discouragement, bewails the tardiness of recognition accorded to genius :-

" We drain the bitter cup before we die,

And late arrives the hour of recognition, The after-fame. Alas ! what mockery ] s this vain crowning of a skeleton,

And singing pavans to a corpse,—stale praise

That cannot reach the deaf and mouldering dead,

Marred by the laws of unrelenting change;

For no faint echoes of this earthly din To that dim shoreless ocean enter in."

Rangabe is not less successful in his lighter vein, and his dialogue is enlivened by many humorous touches. When the Cappadocian learns that of two escaped criminals "one was a Green, the other was a Blue," he retorts, " Blind Chance is no distinguisher of hue." Of his skill as a lyrical writer, he gives a dainty specimen in the verses in praise of Byzantium, which are supposed to be sung at a night revel at the house of .Chrysornallo. We have ventured to render the first three stanzas as follows :—

" Where banks are ablaze with their treasure

Of roses that blossom and blow, Our city, enamoured of pleasure, With music and mirth is aglow.

For joy, irresistibly reigning,

Holds here his invincible sway, Where torches, the darkness disdaining, Tarn night into day.

Each goblet hat]] wine for its filling,

And murmurs of late and of lyre Float in amorous unison, thrilling

The hearts of the hearers with fire. Here glances caressing and tender Are darted from many an eye ; And here, fain tbeir sweets to surrender, Lips of roseate dye.

Here Nature, in bounty excelling, Hath brought every beauty to birth, And lavishing love on this dwelling, Hath crowned it the queen of the earth.

Yea, Cypris, thy delicate presence, Thy influence sheddeth a balm

Upon this Elysian pleasance— An infinite calm."

With this extract, and with all apologies for the shortcomings of our versions, we take leave of M. Rangabes interesting poem. In the present state of apathetic indifference to Romaic which exists amongst English scholars, we cannot expect such a work to meet with the attention which it claims. But to those who are interested in the Byzantine epoch, it cannot fail to give the valuable aid always rendered by a first-rate historical play or novel. Such a service M. Sardou's play, by the very circum- stances of its composition, can hardly be said to render. A word is due, in conclusion, to the handsome style in which this volume has been produced at Drugulin's Oriental printing-press in Leipsic. The upright type is beautifully clear and easy to read, and the text is embellished with many illustrations vigorous in -conception, if somewhat modern in spirit.