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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
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Please note that Mommsen uses the AUC chronology (Ab Urbe Condita), i.e. from the founding of the City of Rome. You can use this reference table to have the B.C. dates


III. From the Union of Italy to the Subjugation of Carthage and the Greek States

From: The History of Rome, by Theodor Mommsen
Translated with the sanction of the author by William Purdie Dickson

The History of Old Rome

Chapter XIV - Literature and Art


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Page 60

Euripides was one of those poets who raise poetry doubtless to a higher level, but in this advance manifest far more the true sense of what ought to be than the power of poetically creating it. The profound saying which morally as well as poetically sums up all tragic art--that action is passion--holds true no doubt also of ancient tragedy; it exhibits man in action, but it makes no real attempt to individualize him.

The unsurpassed grandeur with which the struggle between man and destiny fulfils its course in Aeschylus depends substantially on the circumstance, that each of the contending powers is only conceived broadly and generally; the essential humanity in Prometheus and Agamemnon is but slightly tinged by poetic individualizing. Sophocles seizes human nature under its general conditions, the king, the old man, the sister; but not one of his figures displays the microcosm of man in all his aspects--the features of individual character.

A high stage was here reached, but not the highest; the delineation of man in his entireness and the entwining of these individual--in themselves finished--figures into a higher poetical whole form a greater achievement, and therefore, as compared with Shakespeare, Aeschylus and Sophocles represent imperfect stages of development. But, when Euripides undertook to present man as he is, the advance was logical and in a certain sense historical rather than poetical.

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