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sees not himself but the whole world. But it is only for a moment. His antagonist in the drama is not Zeus or Jehovah : it is his daughters. But the war of Job and Prometheus and Satan is with none other than Omnipotence. Of all these poets the only one capable of supposing that Authority has absolutely nothing to say for itself is Shelley : though curiously enough Goethe, the man of order, is not far behind him. We do not know exactly how Aeschylus met the tremendous challenge which his Prometheus had thundered out. Probably in some fashion which would not seem satisfactory to us who have carried so much farther than he the demand for a rational and ethical theology. Shelley turned away with indignation from 'a catastrophe so feeble as a reconciliation between the champion and the oppressor of mankind'. But it was his characteristic weakness to make his Zeus the mere oppressor of mankind. The Zeus of Aeschylus is more than that. And the reconciliation of apparent opposites, so distasteful to abstract natures like Shelley's, is the law of life. It is at any rate certain that Aeschylus found some way of ‘atonement' between his Rebel and his Omnipotent. For Milton's Rebel there could be no atonement. The interesting challenge in his poem is that of Adam, and still more that of the critical reader. And the answer they get is one of legalized tyranny tempered by love. The Divine omnipotence is partly an irresponsible Despot whose mere will must be accepted as law : partly a personified Love which gives Itself to transform the Despot into a Father, the subjects into children. Like the Prometheus of the ultimate solution, Adam submits and accepts. And so, no doubt, did the critical reader of Milton's day. And so does Job, though the answer he gets is little more than a naked reassertion of Divine Omnipotence and human weakness, the only answer Dante gives to the same question. That answer is of course ultimately one of faith, the faith that a universe which will not ultimately be ex
plained as good is unbelievable and indeed inconceivable. Neither Jehovah nor Zeus is believable as God except so far as the inexplicable element in him is due not to a defect in his nature but to a defect in our capacity of understanding it. 'Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge ?' 'Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth ?'
But the business of art is not so much to answer the great questions of life as to make us intensely aware of their greatness. An answer that comes out of the whirlwind is, logically, no answer at all : it belongs to a world above that of logical answerings. It is the defect of Milton that he answers and argues too much. The purposes of poetry are better served by the overwhelming self-assertion of the Lord', or even by Shelley's formless and dreamlike vision of an ultimate universalism of love. Meanwhile alike in Aeschylus, in Shelley, and in the book of Job, the question occupies far more space than the answer. In Aeschylus, indeed, as he remains to us, it occupies the whole.
The Prometheus Vinctus is the easiest of his extant plays, and contains almost his finest and altogether his dullest work. It has more modern interest than any of his dramas except the Agamemnon, and has played a greater part in literary history than even that astonishing masterpiece. The most titanic of poets was the fit creator of the legend of the divine Rebel. Let us glance hastily at his plot. In the eyes of modern readers, of course, there hardly is one. And that is not merely because what we have is only one section of the Trilogy which was the whole drama. It is also because, while the genius of the theatre rose at once to its utmost heights in Aeschylus, its mechanisms of every kind are with him in their infancy. There is scarcely anything of what we should call action in the Prometheus. The hero remains throughout in the centre of the stage, where he is visited, like the Samson of Milton, by various persons whose visits make the play,
though only the first two of them do anything. After Hephaestus has once nailed him to his place of torture nothing happens. He makes a sublime appeal to Nature in his first speech, and another, after his great defiance, in his very last words : all the rest is his eternal challenge to the Tyrant, varied only by the different attitudes of his visitors and by the long episode of Io. The interest of the drama is spectacular and above all lyrical : it is a spiritual act, not, like the best drama to-day, an intellectual game. It begins quietly, as most great dramas do, a minor personage being the speaker, as in the great tragedies of Shakespeare. The business of telling the spectators where they are and what the action of the play is to be has soarcely ever been more naturally accomplished than it is by the opening words of Kratos. There could not be a greater contrast to this concrete and businesslike introduction than the long speech with which Shelley makes Prometheus open his play, one of glorious eloquence but enough of itself to make the drama impossible to perform and difficult to read. The next seventy lines are devoted to the admirable scene between Kratos and Hephaestus, the bullying inspector and the reluctant, sympathetic, very human executioner. Then comes, at line 88, the beautiful appeal of Prometheus to Nature : & dios ailắp, O divine air and swift-winged breezes : so exactly like Shelley in spirit, so unlike him in its brevity and definiteness. Prometheus has not spoken while the executioners are present and when he speaks he does not mention them. Then, at line 115, comes a very Shelleyan line (τίς αχώ, τίς οδμα προσέπτα μ' άφεγγής ;) which, however, finds perhaps its nearest English rendering in Arnold's
What sweet-breathing presence
With it Prometheus notes the coming of the Chorus. They are the daughters of Ocean, and they travel by air, as so many of Shelley's people do. The scene which follows is occupied with the hero's lamentations and the answering sympathy of the Chorus. Even the Nymphs hint that Zeus may yet suffer the loss of his ill-used sovereignty. But they end on the other note, that of the dangers of defiance. Prometheus then proceeds at their request to tell them his story, which fills them with horror so that they beg him to seek some way of escape. But he proudly replies that all that he had done he had done with his eyes open : and he gives no hint of wishing it undone. A great actor could make a great effect with the concentrated force of his &KY εκών ήμαρτον, ουκ αρνήσομαι ( Of my own will and choice I sinned : I shall never deny it'). He then offers to tell them more if they will descend from their airy car. As they do so their father Ocean arrives, riding on a winged monster. He brings a fresh touch of dramatic effect. To the honest peasant-like sympathy of Hephaestus and the maidenly tenderness of the Nymphs he adds the timid, prudent, formal consolations of a rich relation who feels bound to make an appearance of doing something but has no intention of incurring risk or loss. He reminds us at times of the friends of Job advising humility and submission. But Prometheus declines his offers of intercession with polite contempt, and on his departure, after the Chorus have sung an ode echoing the sympathy which Prometheus had just expressed for his brother rebels Atlas and Typhoeus, Prometheus recounts to them all that he had done for men, ending with the proud boast : 'in one word, it is to Prometheus that men owe all their arts. They think that if he is so clever he should set his mind to delivering himself. But he replies that his deliverance will not come in that way: for Art (or Ingenuity) is far weaker than Necessity. Fate, he darkly hints, is stronger than Zeus : but how it will work is his
secret in which lies his hope of escape. We shall see that this notion of the supremacy of Fate even over Zeus is important both for Goethe and for Shelley. After this comes a lovely and typically Greek chorus in which the Nymphs pray for strength to keep the way of piety and bid Prometheus consider the utter weakness of men. "What help is in the creatures of a day? The counsels of men will never override the harmony of Zeus. It is again the burden of the friends of Job : only that the ideal Zeus of the Greek Chorus is rather a perfect harmony of order than the law or will which is the notion of Jehovah. And the reminiscence of the far away happiness, the feasts and songs, of the marriage of Prometheus, in which the Nymphs had taken their part, is very Greek too.
At line 572 Io enters and occupies the stage for 300 lines. She is for us the least interesting person of the drama. But the Greeks were immensely interested in their old legends : her partly animal form must have been a popular feature: the insoluble geography of her wanderings, so tedious to us, delighted a society just beginning to be interested in travel, for which it had the fascination which the savage and monstrous seems always to have for very civilized and cityinhabiting populations; and she is concerned in the plot to the extent of being both another victim of Zeus, whose love had been her ruin, and the ancestress of Heracles who is to deliver Prometheus. The long speeches which she and Prometheus exchange need not detain us, except as to one point. Her questions lead to what seems to me an undramatic touch in Prometheus's definite assertion of the future fall of Zeus. The prophecies of a hero prophet in a drama should surely come true. But we know that Zeus did not after all make the fatal marriage and did not fall. And the undramatic effect of the passage is hardly relieved by the admission, a few lines later, that Zeus may escape if Prometheus be released, or by the