Three reasons in particular have suggested the choice of Kassandra as the subject of this paper; though they may well be excuses rather than reasons, for I confess that she intrigues me. Firstly, her story is an interesting example of the development of a ‘character’ of Greek literature whose name has become a by-word in later times. Secondly, she affords an excellent chance of studying two very differently gifted dramatic artists at work on the same material; and thirdly, she illustratesvery prettily the difficulties and dangers, as well as the advantages, of a very useful modern technique of literary criticism, a sort of mythical ‘Formgeschichte’, the study of the developing theme.
Few artists indeed are free of indebtedness either to contemporary artistic influences or to their predecessors in the same field, and this is especially true where the ‘classical concept’ is active—that is, where the subject of art tends to be a traditional one endlessly varied and developed by succeeding generations; any theme of renaissance painting will serve as illustration. So it is that the study of the development of the theme of Hamlet, for example, enables the critic to estimate more justly than before the originality of Shakespeare and the true intention of his play. But this kind of criticism is still an art and not a science, if I may use the conventional but really inaccurate distinction to which we are accustomed; for it is inevitably to some extent subjective and even ‘viciously circular’ in method. Too much should not be claimed for it, not only because the artist is subject to many influences which are not likely to be preserved in a literary tradition, however copious, but also because caprice, personal likings or animosities and the chances of daily life, to say nothing of genius itself, disturb the processes of logical analysis and scholarly evaluation of detail. Moreover, in the study of drama, it is fatally easy to argue in a circle and to prove from an author's treatment of his theme that he has in fact been subject to influences which have determined the treatment from which the influences have been deduced; almost as fatally easy as to decide that this or that speech is what the author really believes or wants to say, the poet speaking through the character. Euripides in particular has suffered from this kind of treatment, and it is hard to see how to avoid the pitfall—but all the same, there is something to be learnt from a study of his use of myth, particularly if he is credited with being what he really is—a playwright.