BLTC Press Titles

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The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle

The Secret Doctrine, Volume II Anthropogenesis

H. P. Blavatsky

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll


by Reginald Stephen Copleston


Envious the loaded spoiler views;
Disdains another should have more,

And his insatiate toil renews.
Thick on the earth the rich spoil lies;

For the rude plunderers' restless-rolling tide,
Their worthless numbers waving wide,
Drop in their wild haste many a glitt'ring prize."

The chorus is brought to an end by the return of the messenger, who is now able to give a full account of the seven champions who are leading the attack. The portion of the play which follows is occupied entirely with the description of the combatants who are to meet at each gate. It combines three elements —an epic, a tragic, and a scenic.

It is a grand epic muster-roll: heroes and arms and warlike challenges are described with the pomp and circumstance of the Homeric story; as graphic as Scott, as solemn as Milton.

The tragic element is twofold. First, through all the messenger's description of arms and shields, runs the idea of the moral conflict that is to be waged at the same time between moderation and boastfulness, between patriotism and fury; a part and type of the conflict which the Greek and the artist are always waging against the Oriental and the savage. Secondly, —and this is its main purpose in the play,—the description of the several champions of the foe, each in turn calling for a Theban to oppose him, leads up gradually to the last pair, when Polynices, the brother of the king, and most daring of the assailants, can be opposed by none but by the king himself. As one chief after another is named, we tremble to feel that it will soon come to this ill-fated pair, and we know what the issue will be,—

"How each will slay his brother at a blow,"—

and how their fall will "leave the land accurst," a legacy of new troubles for the unhappy house of (Edipus.

Besides these, the passage has a scenic element. It is a remarkable instance of that stately regularity which we have noticed before. The messenger and the king stand together on the stage, and the Chorus is arrayed in the orchestra. The messenger describes an Argive champion; the king, in reply, describes the Theban whom he will send against him; the Chorus utters a short prayer for the success of the native champion. This is repeated seven times; the seventh being distinguished by the addition of some discussion between the three speakers, and ending in a much longer choric ode. Each of the Argive heroes is known by the cognisance on his shield, like the knights of medieval chivalry.

The first foe is Tydeus.

"Already near the Proetian gate in arms
Stands Tydeus raging; for the prophet's voice
Forbids his foot to pass Ismenus' stream,
The victims not propitious: at the pass
Furious, and eager for the fight, the chief,
Fierce as the dragon when the mid-day sun
Calls forth his glowing terrors, raves aloud,
Reviles the sage as forming tim'rous league -
With war and fate. Frowning he speaks, and shakes
The dark crest streaming o'er his shaded helm
In triple wave; whilst dreadful ring around
The brazen bosses of his shield, impressed
With this proud argument. A sable sky
Burning with stars ; and in the midst, full-orbed,
A silver moon, the eye of night, o'er all
Awful in beauty pours her peerless light.
Clad in these proud habiliments, he stands
Close to the river's margin, and with shouts
Demands the war, like an impatient steed,
That pants upon the foaming curb, and waits
With fiery expectation the known signal,
Swift at the trumpet's sound to burst away.
What equal chief wilt thou appoint against him 1"

So speaks the soldier, and Eteocles replies :—

"This military pride, it moves not me.
The gorgeous blazonry of arms, the crest
High waving o'er the helm, the roaring boss,
Harmless without the spear, imprint no wound.
The sable night, spangled with golden stars,
On his proud shield impressed, perchance may prove
A gloomy presage. Should the shade of night
Fall on his dying eyes, the boastful charge
May to the bearer be deemed ominous,

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