29 JUNE 1867, Page 19

THE PEACE OF AltISTOPHANES.* Anisrornsanzs is a phenomenon unique in

literature. He com- bined real poetic inspiration with keen art and extravagant humour more fully than perhaps any other comedian, and he possessed also great satirical power, with strong interests and opinions, both social and political. It is an accident that he is also to us a valuable authority with respect to the domestic life of Athens. Even without this additional claim upon our attention, he would still take high rank alike as satirist, poet, and humor- ist. The great drawback to full and general enjoyment of his writings we shall presently have occasion to notice ; but in spite of it he is eminently worthy of study, and we hail with some satisfaction an attempt to procure fresh readers for Aristophanes by the publication of separate plays with translations appended, as a work which, if properly performed, may afford much amuse- ment, and not a little collateral instruction.

The volume before us is intended to give both an edition of the play which Mr. Rogers has chosen, with all the usual apparatus of explanatory notes, historical introduction, dissertations on metre, and various readings, and also a complete and accurate translation into English verse. The Greek text and the English version are printed on opposite pages, so that they may be read together, while the notes occupy the lower portion of both pages. There is not much in the first half of the work, the Greek edition, to call or special remark. A good scholar, commenting on Aristophanes to his pupils, would probably neither contemptuously reject it as rubbish nor be very zealous to recommend it. Some of the sugges- tions, both of readings and of interpretations, are ingenious and sensible; some are not worth much. Some notes give good expla- nations, some do not ; some obscure points are left without coin- anent, and some very clear ones are needlessly illustrated. Mr. Rogers seems to have Aristophanes at his fingers' ends, as well as the commentators ; and his references to parallel expressions in other classical writers are generally apt, though we cannot call them often valuable in the way of education. It is possible that too much study of Aristophanes has biassed his judgment, and led him to believe that the witty comedian was also a great historical authority; but we cannot repress a suspicion that there is a simpler explanation for his somewhat strange views of Greek history, and that Aristophanes has left him no time .or inclination to study other Greek authors, except in so far as they serve to illustrate the text before him. It is needless to go into detail, as these are only subsidiary matters, but we cannot help protesting against an editor of Aristophanes assuming, for instance, that his author's estimate of Clean is unquestionably correct, and ignoring Mr. Grote. Of course it is easy to under- stand Aristophanes' point of view, and the historical statements contained in this play, even those relating to the alleged causes of the Peloponnesian War, have an element of undoubted truth in them, but an editor who desires to give an account of it not merely critical, but explanatory also of its historical allusions, is neglecting his duty if he leaves historical truth to take care of The translation, however, is the most important feature of this volume, and this is not only in many respects well executed, but also presses upon our attention the principles upon which such a translation ought to be made. The task of rendering Homer or Virgil into English verse is in many respects a much simpler one, though it requires far higher poetical powers. When the translator has -decided on the metre to be adopted, he has merely to reproduce the exact meaning of the original in the most musical English at his command. To do this successfully is doubtless difficult, because very few men combine the dissimilar gifts of accurate scholarship, perfect command of the English language, and a good ear for the melody of verse. Bat the task itself is single : there is nothing in the Iliad or the lEneid essentially incapable of translation, and the attention of the translator is not distracted by constant changes of style, and by the necessity of determining what is to be done with ideas and expressions which lose their meaning when transferred out of the original language. Aristophanes is precisely the oppo- site of the Epic poets. There are occasional short passages of great poetic beauty, but there is never a sustained spirit of poetry running through a play. The changes are even more abrupt aud frequent than in the Tragic poets, and require greater versatility to produce their effect in English, though there is nothing in .Aristo- phanes so trying to the critical faculty as the subtleties of Sophoclean dialogue, nothing to make such calls on the poetic spirit as the bold metaphors of LEschylus. Aristophanes requires in a translator • The Peace of Afistophaeee. The Greek text reyised, with a na.ttastion into correepondiag metres alai original note,. By B. B. Rogere, N.A. Loudon: Bell Aud Daddy. 11317. a keen sense of humour, an easy flow of versification, some com- mand of vigorous expression, and occasionally a genuine feeling for poetry. Mr. Rogers seems to us to possess these faculties in a creditable, if not in a remarkable degree. He has the courage sometimes to depart from his text in order to give new point to a joke which may have been perfectly intelligible at Athens, but sounds fiat and meaningless to our distant times. Two or three times he even substitutes an English pun for the Greek one, with very fair success ; though we much doubt the propriety of express- ing Attic money in English denominations and other like changes, which serve no specific purpose, and make an incongruous mixture with the Athenian names. He imitates many of the metres exactly, especially the anapsestics and trochaic tetrameters, both of which are not only familiar in English, but have much the same effect and imply the same sort of style as in the Greek. To these Mr. Rogers gives a peculiarlyvigorous swing by his free use of double rhymes; indeed, his rhyming is throughout extremely successful. In one metre, and in one only, he fails entirely ; by way of imitat- ing the few hexameters which occur in the play, he gives us a series of lines which have an anapestic rhythm, but a termina- tion approaching that of the hexameter. As he translates line for line, and very nearly syllable for syllable, with a fidelity which is not slavish imitation, but a genuine purpose of reproducing the form and spirit of the original, he is occasionally forced to amplify the expressions. With this object he resorts far too often to the trick of doubling words or phrases, a habit which is not common in Aristophanes himself, though more frequent in modern comedians. But this is perhaps better than introducing new ideas altogether, as he has done in one or two instances only ; and on the whole, he probably gains more by preserving the structure of the original than he loses by the occasional weakness of repeating a phrase. His translation of the poetical passages is generally faithful, both in actual meaning and in spirit, and will well bear comparison with the specimens of other versions given in an appendix. Thus, although Mr. Rogers is not a poet, although we should never expect from his pen a good translation of the Agamemnon or the Antigone, still less of the Georgics, least of all of the Iliad, he has shown that he possesses in sufficient measure those special gifts requisite for translating Aristophanes, and has certainly produced the best metrical version which we ever remember to have seen of any of his plays.

Whatever may be the merits of Mr. Rogers' performance, and we are able neither to pronounce it uniformly successful nor to deny it a considerable meed of praise, he deserves in general the credit of having formed definite and usually right conceptions of the mode in which the work ought to be done, and of having fol- lowed out his theories consistently. In one respect, however, he seems to have no fixed principle, and this is a point which, in every sense unfortunately, is of great importance in dealing with the author he is translating. The Greek standard of decency was doubtless very different from ours, and it would be impossible, were it profitable, to determine how far the numerous iudecencies which offend modern taste in Aristophaues are due to that differ- ence of standard, and how far they are due to his own fault. There are or have been too many writers, implying corresponding classes of readers, who think a filthy joke doubly amusing, or who even go a step further, and identify dirt with wit. Aristophanes may or may not have been one of this class, at any rate there is scarcely one of his plays which is not disfigured by gross indecen- cies, which sometimes pervade the whole structure of the pieCe. What is a translator to do ? The scholar who can read the Greek will be neither more nor less offended by a repetition of the same thing in plain English, but then he has no need of the translation at all. The unlearned reader will be unconscious of the alteration if the indecencies are omitted, and such slight change effected as may be thus rendered necessary to make the sense coherent. It is true that he has not the genuine work of Aristophanes fully presented to him, but this loss must be balanced against the gain ; at any rate a translation so modified will obtain and deserve wider circulation. It is unnecessary, however, for us in this instance to pronounce an opinion in favour of either course, reproducing, the original exactly, or of translating virgin ibus puerisque, for Mr. Rogers has "moved as in a strange diagonal," and assuredly pleased neither the one nor the other. He departs very far from his text, substituting mere paraphrase for the direct coarseness of the Greek, but he by no means always removes the indecency altogether, and very frequently succeeds in rendering the passage simply unintelligible. At the same time, there is quite enough in the notes which refer to the Greek text to undo much of what he has intended to effect in the translation. If Mr. Rogers would only make up his mind on this subject, he might either give a fall

and accurate representation of the modes of speech and thought of the one Greek comedian whose works we possess, for the few who would, in consideration of such accuracy, disregard the foulnesses which disgraces the pages of Aristophanes ; or, on the other hand, he might furnish to the public in general a readable version of an author without some knowledge of whose works it is almost impossible to understand and appreciate Athens, but which, for obvious reasons, are not studied even by scholars so much as their merits would otherwise unquestionably deserve.

The Peace is in many respects a good specimen of Aristophanes to present to English readers. As a drama, it is notoriously defec- tive, since the action really terminates half-way through the piece, but this artistic fault does not render it unintelligible or wearisome to read. It is exceptionally rich in poetic passages, and those of a kind which easily admit of effective translation. The very deficiency in that exuberant fun for which many of Ariatophanes' comedies are noted is an advantage in the English version. Since there is an unusually small proportion of jokes, there are propor- tionately few which from our imperfect knowledge are to us unin- telligible, and few also of a merely verbal kind, which can never be translated, and seldom imitated. Partly for the same reason, this play is not so plentifully besprinkled with indecencies as some others, so that there would be no real difficulty in getting rid of them. It is a good instance, perhaps the best, of the mode in which Aristophanes, and doubtless also his contemporaries, dealt in comedy with the politics of the day. But there are certainly other plays more amusing, though we cannot say that the " Thesmophoriazusas," which Mr. Rogers announces his intention of shortly publish- ing in .a form similar to his present volume, is the one we should choose. We hope, however, that so vigorous a translator and so genuiue' att admirer of Aristophaties will persevere in his under- taking, and will some day give to the world metrical versions of the " Frogs " and the "Birds," in such a form that these masterpieces of ancient comedy may be widely acceptable. Scholars can readily dispense with his critical notes and edition of the Greek text. General readers will not easily find another translator who does his work with so much spirit and with such evident enjoyment.