form of government. To some extent this concern for thencommonwealth continued to characterize political poetsndown to the end of the 18th century. A more ominousndevelopment was the aesthetic cliquishness and disdain fornthe broader community that developed among the Romantics.nHow many poets since have adopted the aloofness ofnByron’s Childe Harold: “I have not loved the world, nor itnme …” or Shelley’s Prometheus, a creature in rebellionnagainst all the laws of man and God? And since thenRomantics Britain, Europe, and the United States have allnwitnessed wave after wave of little movements carrying thenbanners of progress or reaction: Parnassians, Wagnerians,nthe Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood. Decadents, Imagists, Surrealists,nObjectivists, Confessionalists … so many. In thenearlier stages, the writers at least claimed to be bent onnrevolutionizing society, and the Pre-Raphaelites left behind,nin addition to their verse, some rather pretty pictures, anscattering of soft communist political tracts, handsomelynprinted books, and the Morris Chair. What is the legacy—nin politics or furniture — of Robert Lowell and AllennGinsberg?nToday’s grant-grubbing conspirators are a far cry fromnAlcaeus, although their tactics are not all that different fromnthose of Gritias, who seized power and distributed thenwealth of the state among his loyal followers. But there is anhigher type than the poetry of faction, one that is far rarer innour century than ever before. If factional poetry unites a setnof comrades in a conspiracy against either the nation ornagainst other factions, there is also a poetry of communitynthat celebrates the interconnectedness of the commonwealth.nMost primitive song is of this type, but civilizednsocieties have known it, too. However we choose to interpretnthe Aeneid, Vergil’s masterpiece was clearly meant tonconvey to the Roman people some sense of their traditionnand history. When the ancestor of the Romans visits thenunderworld to gain knowledge of his future, he is introducednto a procession of the heroes who will make Rome great.nShakespeare in his Histories, while he was no match fornVergil as a poet, was clearly about the same business, as wasnTennyson in his Idylls. In this century, one thinks first ofnKipling, whose children’s book Puck of Pook’s Hill is annexact parallel with the Aeneid; of Eliot’s Quartets; and —nstrange to say — of Hart Grane, whose greatest literarynundertaking {The Bridge) brings together Pocahontas,nWhitman, Melville, and Golumbus into the Amencannequivalent of Aeneas’ visit to the underworld.nH owever,nthe clearest examples of such poetry are to benfound in the tradition of Greek choral lyric poetry andnin the great literary forms that developed out of it, Atticntragedy and comedy. Only a handful of tragedies survive —n31, as a matter of fact — all written in a period of less thannseventy-five years by three citizens of a city-state roughly thensize of metropolitan Roekford, Illinois, Golumbia, SouthnGarolina, or Boulder, Colorado. To match the record ofnsuch a town (to call Athens a city in the modern contextnsounds amusing), we could call up the record of twonhundred years of Anglo-American civilization, in vain. (Tonmatch the literary record of a jerkwater little island like Keos,nwe should have to point to the center of American literaryncivilization, Mississippi, which gave us William Faulkner,n14/CHRONICLESnnnWalker Percy, Eudora Welty, and Shelby Foote.)nThe career of the first of the great Athenian dramatists isninstructive. Born to a noble family, he was 15 when thentyrant Hippias was driven out. As he grew to manhood, henwitnessed the dramatic restructuring of political life initiatednby Cleisthenes. He was 3 5 when he took part in the heroicndefense of his city against the Persians on the plain ofnMarathon, and 45 when his people abandoned their citynand took their chances on the naval battle that took place offnthe island of Salamis. Aeschylus was probably at Salamis,nwhich he described in his earliest surviving play. We knownhe was at Marathon (where his brother died: the Persiansnchopped his hand off as he tried to keep a boat from gettingnaway) because that is the only event recorded in his epitaph.nOf his efforts in the creation of tragedy, his many victories atnthe Greater Dionysia, his enormous popularity with thenAthenian people, who after his death passed an extraordinarynmeasure authorizing repeat performances of his playsn— not a word.nCitizen, soldier, poet, dramatist, Aeschylus wrote thenplays — words, music, dances — staged them, acted in them’,nall for an audience of fellow citizens, most of whom hadnnever read a book. They were performed at a religiousnfestival in honor of the god Dionysus and expressed — as nonart form has done since — the corporate concerns of thencommunity. While it is hard to believe that Vergil took hisntales of gods and goddesses any more literally than we do,nthere is no doubt that the Athenians — whose superstitiousnnature St. Paul remarked upon — were deeply religiousnpagans. There was nothing metaphorical or mythical aboutnthe religious dimensions of the Oresteia or the Oedipus, andnthe response of Athena’s people to enlightened skepticismnor liberal theology was swift and effective: expulsion orndeath.nSophocles’ Oedipus goes to the heart of the matter.nEchoing the fashionable opinions of the Sophists, the kingnand queen question not only the accuracy of the oracles butneven the gods themselves. In distress the chorus wonders, ifnaristocratic mockers like Oedipus and Jocasta could get awaynwith challenging the gods, then why should they dance?nTheir question is sung and danced as part of a play that isnpart of the festival of Dionysus. Is there in fact any point tonritual, including the rituals that nourish literature, in ansociety that has lost its faith? Is it any accident that the mostnpowerful writers of this faithless century have mostly beennChristian believers — Eliot, Faulkner, Peguy, lonesco, andnSolzhenitsyn — to name only a few?nThe main difficulty I have with nearly every lament overnthe fallen state of American letters is that it rarely goes farnenough. I wonder if civilization really did march so steadilynforward in the 20th century and only stumbled to its kneesnsome time about 1968. Or is it just possible that the centurynof trench warfare, incendiary bombing, nuclear weapons,nand genocide was something less than the Renaissance it hasnbeen made out to be? The still untold history of modernismnis of the religious reactionaries who were so disgusted by thengrowing barbarism and decadence of fin-de-siecle Europenand America that they created new and wonderful pieces ofnart as so many weapons against progress. In the end, thenweapons proved too complicated for their less-educatednsuccessors to handle — rather like hand-held missiles in then