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Art. IV.—1. The Return of Ulysses. A Drama in Five Acts. By Robeet Bridges. Poetical Works. Vol. IV. London: 1902.
2. Ulysses. A Drama in a Prologue and Three Acts. By Stephen Phillips. London: 1902.
3. La Divina Commedia di Dante Alighieri. Commentata da G. A. Scartazzini. Seconda Edizione. Milano: 1896.
4. The Early Poems of Alfred Lord Tennyson. With Notes and an Introduction by J. Churton Collins, M.A. London: 1899.
'A man so various that he seemed to be
rpHE son of Laertes took a stronger and a more lasting -*- grip of the popular imagination than any other of the Homeric heroes. His fantastic adventures, indomitable fortitude, insatiable curiosity, the inexhaustible resources of his craft, his calculated audacities, marked him out as the protagonist in a long series of folk-tales, going back to the very beginning of Mycenaean culture. Universal humanity loves sharp practice. The vulpine element in a leonine character appeals directly to the ' rascal rabble,' who rejoice in smart strategy, even if it be carried to the verge of the high stage of villainy reached by the 'Heathen Chinee.' Their chosen hero must be wily as well as intrepid; he must have skill to foil, no less than strength to slay, his foes; he must have equal patience to lurk in ambush, and courage to fight in the open ; moreover, his ends must be sure, although his ways be not altogether straight. Such a one was Ulysses, and there is no laying his ghost. His wisdom, ubiquitous as the folly of fools, 'does walk about the orb.' It was by no idle vaunt that he declared himself to Alcinous as of' sky-reaching fame.' He had earned it by incredible toils, and he has kept it through the decree of the Muses.
Round the story of the siege of Troy as a nucleus, grew endless accretions of legend concerning him. It was prefaced with the narratives of his feigned madness, and of his mission to Achilles in Scyros ; it was amplified with details of his trip to fetch Philoctetes from Lemnos, of his theft of the Palladium, of his nocturnal raid upon the camp and milk-white steeds of Rhesus, of his masterful conduct in the Wooden Horse; it was continued and completed by the tales of his competition with 'blockish Ajax' for the arms of Achilles; of his protracted wanderings and detentions; of his campaign in Thesprotia; finally, of his evasion towards the shadowy West. His doings vexed the Sun and the Sea; and the Sun and the Sea, because of him, threw discord into the councils of Olympus; but the resulting turmoil served only to postpone, not to prevent, his victorious return, and to weave fresh colours into the variegated tissue of his existence.
Its vicissitudes were the fertile seeds of song. From Demodocus and Phemius onward, poets in all ages have made him their theme—poets primitive, classic, and decadent—epic, cyclic, tragic,and comic; mediaeval romancers; modern craftsmen in metre. His versatile capabilities lent themselves to the requirements of the drama; and Ulysses, having trod the Attic stage by turns in sock and buskin, reappeared at the 'Globe' in Southwark, and has scored a twentieth-century success at Her Majesty's. The conditions of that success were, in one respect, peculiar. Never before, we believe, until Mr. Bridges and Mr. Phillips essayed the task, has the main substance of an epic been dramatised. The inverse process was not, indeed, wholly untried. The five acts of Vondel's 'Lucifer' are dimly reflected in the twelve books of the 'Paradise Lost.' Euripides, however, Sophocles, Shakespeare, to say nothing of Metastasio, were content, in dealing with the great personality of the Ithacan king, to use byeproducts of Homeric or post-Homeric invention; while it is the Odyssey in its substantial entirety which was nightly presented to the audiences in the Haymarket. We cannot say that the upshot of the experiment should encourage its repetition; yet it has been tried twice, within the last few years, by writers of considerable, though unlike, endowments.
Mr. Bridges's play is the earlier in date. Composed in 1890, it has lately been re-issued in the fourth volume of his collected works, but has, so far, not been acted. Its merits, indeed, are of a kind that tell with more effect in the closet than upon the stage. The movement is slow; the crisis is long delayed; the dramatis personw are not sharply characterised, and their oratory is far too copious. They are, on the other hand, dignified in bearing and speech; they show touches of fine feeling; they breathe a purer and higher than the common air. Above all, they make no appeal to the 'groundlings.' There is, from beginning to end of this praiseworthy production, a welcome absence of ad captandum vulgarities.
Mr. Phillips's play contrasts with it, in several respects, very strongly. It is a clever acting piece. Scenic effect was primarily aimed at in its construction, and has, within certain limitations, been attained. The events represented in it succeed each other rapidly, and with stimulating variety. Gods, men, women, and ghosts, throng the boards, and comport themselves with animation, if not always with due decorum. All the resources of stage-machinery and stage-illumination have been laid under contribution. Opportunities for spectacular display are numerously offered, and have been ingeniously availed of. Yet this, after all, is a base purpose to be served by the consecrated pages of that antique bard,
'Che sovra gli altri com' aquila vola.'
And in truth, the jarring note struck in a Prologue which parodies in its grotesque buffoonery the colossal irreverence of that to Goethe's ' Faust,' never ceases to vibrate until the last Suitor perishes in a medley of groans and flashes of lightning.
Then at last, in the ensuing silence, we ponder the consequences of the slaughter, and put to ourselves the question which has, during some millenniums, been in sundry modes asked and answered: Was this indeed the end of Ulysses? Had Fate nothing further in store for him than to die of old age, gnarled and grey as his own olivetrees? Could he rest and be thankful in conjugal felicity, ruling forty square miles of barren territory, and paying facile homage to indifferent local Nymphs, while ignored as superannuated by rabid Poseidon and radiant Athene? Surely so conventional an existence—such trite prosperity— could not permanently satisfy the yearnings of one who had moored his ship in the Ocean-stream, and returned alive from the Shades? There could be no hesitation about the reply. Ulysses bulked too large for Ithaca; and the popular imagination, intolerant of his sequestration, transferred him to a wider and dimmer scene, where further great deeds might still be done, or, at any rate, intimated as possible. The story concocted by Eugamon of Cyrene, and reproduced in the lost Sophoclean tragedy of Ulysses 'struck by a fish'bone,' was obviously and ludicrously inadequate; something nobler and more suggestive was needed to give completeness to the Homeric conception. The author of the Odyssey had indicated the kind of death his hero was to die; but under the elusive form of a prophecy. Teiresias, the Theban soothsayer, who enjoyed the unique privilege of keeping his senses in the nether-world, told his ship-borne client that his end, after many opulent years, should come gently from the sea. Presumably, when he still governed Ithaca: but this point being left in oracular obscurity, there remained a loophole of escape from that ' narrow plot of ground' to the open sea of song and fable.
In those days it was easily reached. The survey of our planet had not been carried far. Geographers, such of them as made maps at all, should have very freely filled the blanks in them 'with elephants for want of towns.' The everyday habitable world was closely fenced round with the fearsome abodes of superhuman or semi-human beings, of formidable powers and proclivities. Elf-land might loom up above the waters after a couple of days' sail in any direction. Every enterprising mariner was traditionally prepared to touch at a magic isle, and find himself sublimated into a myth. A hero in retreat might then quite naturally and honourably disappear when his functions were fulfilled. There was little chance of his being pursued and brought back. Now-a-days, after the lapse of three thousand years, things are considerably different. The Cimmerians themselves are within easy reach of communication by wire or ether. The Unknown has no longer a foothold, except at its frozen poles, on our explored and improved globe. Its roundness has been surely ascertained, and a circular voyage has ceased to be a startling novelty. The Warings of our time, accordingly, do not usually vanish into trackless space. They are apt to re-emerge at the antipodes, where, their advent having been proclaimed, instead of by 'hordes 'grown European-hearted,' by a concourse of voters at the polling-booths, they enter legislative assemblies, perhaps rise to be prime ministers, and obtain their apotheosis in the Order of Saints Michael and George.
'Oh, never star Was lost here, but it rose afar!'
Speaking poetically, that is to say, not 'by the card.' Never is a long time. Ulysses, for instance, crossed the Bar in earnest. The persuasion that Ithaca did not possess his grave seems gradually and inevitably to have laid hold of the popular consciousness. Thus Strabo knew, through some obscure channel of information, of an Iberian city named after him, in which was a temple to Athene containing Odyssean relics. Their authenticity was not questioned, although their nature was not described. Possibly they included the gifts of Alcinous, or the brooch which Penelope carefully packed with her lord's state-mantle as part of his outfit for the siege of Troy. Later geographers — notably Solinus and Martianus Capella — confounded 'Odusseia' in the Sierra Nevada* with the Lusitanian 'Olysippo,' f and so started the tradition, perpetuated by Camoens, of Lisbon's eponymous connexion with the wanderer. In actual fact, the Atlantic city of the Seven Hills was a Phoenician settlement, entitled Alis ubbo (' delicious 'bay '), easily contracted into ' Lisboa.' J But this signified little to mediaeval etymologists, capable of the tour de force of transmuting Guelfs and Ghibellines into elves and goblins. The blundering derivation of 'Lisbon' from 'Ulysses' flattered local vanity, and licensed a provincial metropolis to claim a share in the boasted rise of Rome through the destruction of Ilium.
It prescribed, too, the ultimate form taken by the legend of Ulysses. In his new character of a Lusitanian colonist, he broke forth from the inland sea, and confronted the illimitable western waste of heaving billows. The upshot of the adventure Dante undertook to determine. On climbing the summit of one of the overhanging iron-grey rockcornices in the Malebolge, he saw, in the trench beneath, flames that wandered and glimmered like fire-flies at night in a ripening cornfield. Each, Virgil explained, concealed and tormented a fraudulent counsellor; but the Florentine's eager eyes were promptly attracted by one showing the peculiarity of being divided at the summit, for it reminded him of the pyre of Eteocles and Polynices as described by Statius. Not the Theban brothers, however, but sacrilegious Greek confederates, were thus penally swathed. United in past crime, Ulysses and Diomed were for ever united in punishment. They suffered together for the widowing of Deidamia, whose goddess-born spouse they inveigled away from Scyros; for the theft of the Palladium; for the ambush in the Wooden Horse. This, we must remember, was on the showing of a Trojan partisan. Mediaeval sympathies in the prehistoric Hellespontine struggle were irresistibly swayed by the .23neid. The pious son of Anchises was the 'native god' of Latium, the man of destiny, from the seed
* Situated near the modern seaport town Adra, anciently Abdera. t Roscher,'Lexikon der griechischen Mythologie,' 40ste Lieferung, art. ' Odysseus.'
t Longman's Gazetteer.