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THE GOLDEN AND SILVER AGES OF ATLANTEAN LITERATURE, 250 - 550

INTRODUCTION.

Below are excerpts from the "Brief history of the greatest writers of the First and Secons Empires", written around 680 by Iustin Thoulpas, a descendant of the dramatist of that name. I have concentrated on literature, that is to say, poetry and drama, plus a small amount relating to other sorts of prose. I have also included in the middle part of a long digression by Thoulpas on the subject-matter chosen by the poets and playwrights of this period. Thoulpas was a careful and accurate writer, and most of what he says is borne out by authors of other books. I have put in occasional comments in brackets.

 

          1. POETRY

The First Empire was the great age of poetry, just as the Second was of drama, although of course many dramatists were themselves great poets and wrote their plays in poetic form. The following were the best poets of this earl;y era:

Carnaxa Lillie (274 - 327)

(Although we have some knowledge of poetry, or rather verse, written before the 270s, it only appears in fragments, often as quotes in anthologies of the later First Empire, and before about 230 it is nearly of a religious nature.) The first true lyric voice that we know of, and indeed the first poet whose works we can still read a reasonable amount of, is Carnaxa Lillie. It is remarkable that she should be in fact a poetess: not only were female writers of any sort very rare in the First Empire, they remained uncommon for the next two hundred years, and even now, when there is much greater equality in all ways between the sexes, women authors are far outnumbered by their male equivalents. Nevertheless, it is true to say that female writers, such as they were and are, tend to concentrate on lyrical poetry, as well as other sorts of descriptive prose. But Lillie remains one of the greatest of these poets.)

We know very little about Lillie apart from the evidence of her work. She is supposed to have lived most of her life in a community of women, having rejected men after two early unhappy love-affairs. She is supposed to have married one of these men, but if so, she lived with him for only a short while, before moving away on her own. She spent most of her life in the eastern part of the province of Atlantis, in small towns and villages.

She wrote between about 295 and 320, and used a loose meter, with free rhythms, very different to the classical style which would follow a hundred years later. The poems are all quite short, with strict rhymes. Their subject-matter is predominantly love and friendship, which are celebrated in rhapsodic fashion. Her world is hermetic and circumscribed, and we possess relatively few of the large number of poems we know from contemporaries that she wrote, but each poem is perfect in itself. (We now possess even less of her original verse than did Thoulpas' contemporaries).

 

Tuondo Bemmel (27-? - 343, fl. 295 - 330)

Relatively little about Bemmel's personal life has come down to us. We do not even know for sure when he was born. We assume it was in the late 270s, and certainly his first written work started from 295. He continued writing till about 330, after which we have nothing more by him, although he is known to have lived on till 343. He therefore wrote during the same period as Lillie, but certainly neither of them knew the other. He was born and lived initially in Atlantis city itself, but later moved to the northern edges of the Empire, as it was then, and indeed beyond, when he was probably exiled for a while during the Family Wars.

He was a very politically-minded author, who wrote to celebrate the lives and deeds of the Emperors. He is thus the first and greatest writer of epic nationalist poems, though many others followed him, both in the early 300s and again under the Atlaniphon Emperors. He wrote poems to the glory of Atlantis herself, as well as to Emperors like Siphirixo, Cao-Melion, Lir-Craonos and Ruthoyon I and II. His aim was to praise the martial spirit of the Atlanteans, as well as their learning and their enlightened government. He is silent between about 308 and 313, and probably fell into the bad books of Yeasor and later Ceuralla for supporting Siphirixo and the "true" Imperialist line as he saw it. He was almost certainly exiled to the Marossan area in the north. (We possess considerable portions of several of his epics, as well as some shorter pieces.)

 

Wologin Phostin (278 - 340, fl. 300 - 325)

The third of the great poets who worked in the first three decades of the fourth century was the Yalland, Wologin Phostin. (Wologin is the Yalland equivalent of the Atlantean first name, Fulgon, and this is often the way his name was written during the period from 330 to 500 and again in the earlier seventh century, when some degree of Atlantean national feeling was abroad). Though born in Pruddir in the Province of Th. Thiss (it became an Atlantean province one year before Phostin was born), Phostin spent much of his later life either in the province of Atlantis or in the capital itself. He wrote initially in the Yalland style of poetry and sometimes in Yalland itself, about historical Yalland themes of love and war and desert adventures. Some of his verse was about exotic and improbably adventures in uncivilised parts south of the Helvengio. As his career progressed, his style of writing caught the mood of the period, which from the 310s onwards, following the end of the Family Wars, was in favour of exotic and romantic poetry. Phostin now adapted himself to Atlantean tastes, and wrote only in Atlantean (though with much Yalland local colour), and using Atlantean metres. (Quite a lot of his Atlantean verse survives, though little of the Yalland poetry.)

 

Carel Rasiphel (339 - 398)

(After the 360s, the taste for exoticism died out, and a strict classicism gradually took its place. This involved limitations on subject-matter, metre (in poetry) and vocabulary. The poet who helped to work out these rules, and who became the greatest exponent of pure classicism, was Rasiphel).

Rasiphel was born in Yzuephe, on the Atlantean-Atlantis border, and after the 370s became virtually the "court poet" of the new Emperor Atlaniphon !. His main work, as he saw it, was the codification of the new classicism, especially the three types of metre to be used, and the small and "elevated" vocabulary for employment in poetry and poetic drama (all drama was in poetry in this period).

His earliest plays were more experimental, in what we have now come to call the pre-classical style. He wrote at least 25 plays, of which 19 have survived (for us, though, only 9 now exist, 3 being incomplete, plus other excerpts). These plays are all based on mythological or early historical stories. The main themes were, as set out in the classical theory, the conflicts of ambition and love and loyalty and personal self-aggrandisement. To our taste, all these plays seem stiff, formal, conservative and of limited human interest, but they were greatly prized by Atlaniphon as representing "Imperial drama".

Rasiphel also wrote some poems independent of the dramas. These were of two main types:

"Characters": pieces describing the different races of the Empire.

"Dialogues": purporting to be conversations between famous mythological or historical figures.

 

Suennon Huattiens (361 - 447)

Huattiens was the great classic poet of the First Empire, and chiefly of the reign of Atlaniphon II. Like Rasiphel, who was his mentor and friend as a young man, he was a nationalist and Imperialist. His career is traditionally divided into four periods. During the first, from about 380 to 400, he wrote sycophantic and adulatory poetry about many Atlantean Emperors. In 401 he suffered a severe illness and lost his wife. This seems to have made him much more cynical and pessimistic, and led to the second period of his art, lasting till about 415. This saw him produce a great series of short lyrical poems and stories in verse from myth and history, all much more personal; than before, and most of which were characterised by their melancholy. After 415, now in the reign of Atlaniphon II, Huattiens found new love and a more secure financial position from a rich patron. This led to a third period in his art, until about 430, when he produced some happy love poetry and ballads, contributed to some dramas and wrote some satirical verse. He showed more interest now in non-Atlantean verse forms, and began to move towards a sort of Romanticism. Finally after 430, in his old age, he shifted to a fourth style, characterised by gnomic short poems, some mellow romantic verse and, most remarkably, satirical and semi-pornographic poetry which were not published until the 490s.

We possess a great deal of Huattiens' work from every period, and can view him, as did his contemporaries and successors, as the greatest classical poet. However he can also be looked at as the harbinger of the early Romanticism of the 460s and after (Gildasso and others), because of the way in which he expanded classical vocabulary and metres while nevertheless keeping to overall classical forms.

 

         2.  PROSE

Religious, legal and philosophical writings date back before 200, a period which, for us (and indeed us in the modern world) is truly buried in the mists of time. The main works of the 200s include philosophy by Liclencu, law by Thulpas, religious works by Ramillenel and the categories of art as set down by Yestaya. (Liclencu and Ramillenel are dealt with in the sections on First Empire Religion and Philosophy; Thulpas is referred to in the section of history dealing with Carel I, the second Emperor of the First Empire.)

Yestaya, who lived from 222 to 268 in what became the province of Yall. Thiss., propounded the philosophy of art, and even as early as this, set down the "classical" categories of arts. In other words he stated which arts were to be allowed as "true" arts, and set down his own regulations on subject-matter and style (these were largely ignored for the next century, until rediscovered and rewritten much more rigorously by Rasiphel). The permissible arts were poetry, sculpture, pottery and architecture, as from about 250. In later years other arts would be added, of course, such as music and dance by about 310, gardening and drama by 360, landscaping and town-planning by 400, and prose and painting by 440.

Between 280 and 360, stories of travel and adventure, often exotic, and later humorous and romantic appear more and more frequently. After 350 these short stories were more extended and become miniature novels, and start to deal much more realistically with real emotions and real characters. However, they remained set in mythological or historical periods, or in foreign countries, like contemporary drama. From about 360, these became the preserve of the great female writer, Suyosa Caraya (344 - 407). In her hands, these early novels adopted a sort of pre-classical romanticism of theme, dealing superbly with the subjects of love, death, grief and passion in relatively realistic settings, usually only slightly removed from contemporary Atlantis. They remained untrammelled by any classical rules.

Caraya started off a whole wave of overwhelmingly female novelists and short story writers. However, her successors after the 390s became much more formal and classical in their work, in keeping with the times. Nevertheless they retained, at a lower level, some of the psychological penetration of Caraya and the great dramatists of the period, such as Rasiphel and Normelliel. These stories were accepted by the arbiters of taste of the time very largely because of Atlaniphon I's support for and friendship with Caraya after about 385. After the 420s and 430s, however, they were increasingly deprecated and ignored in favour of drama and then the Total Works of Art. Only recently (i.e. since the 730s) have we rediscovered the virtues of these novelists, which seem to prefigure the work of our own most recent writers. (Varying amounts of the works of all these prose writers have survived the millennia. Most of what we know of the writers of the 200s is due to later critics and historians. Caraya and the Second Empire novelists were rediscovered after the 730s and we possess quite a number of their editions of the earlier authors' works).

 

         3.  DRAMA

The Classical drama was, by 400, divided into various types: pastoral (lyrical and dealing with the conflicts of love); mythological (with plots taken from myth or religion); historical; and comedy (set either in mythological or historical times, or increasingly in contemporary times).

Mythological and historical drama, with which we shall be largely concerned, were subdivided into the two categories, moral and realistic. These applied to the subject-matter and its treatment. If the story was dealt with "truthfully", that is keeping more or less to historical truth, the drama was termed "realistic". If the subject-matter was altered (particularly the ending) to bring out the moral which the author wished to point, it was called "moral".

The themes in all cases concerned the inner conflict within the hero (and sometimes other characters) between "excess of emotion" and "preserving a balanced norm". (This clearly springs from the creed of the State Religion, which took humans to be subjected to the battles between the wills and emotions of the gods, and which bade them to try to keep their own emotions in balance.) Thus the play might end in disaster if the hero was unable to keep his desires and emotions under control - or in triumph, if the opposite was the case. In realistic plays the ending depended on the source used, but in moral dramas, the original ending was often altered, or at least pointed, to provide a moral, that is, triumphant conclusion for the hero. Throughout the Classical period, language, metre and form were restricted, the number of characters allowed on stage was limited to five or six, and the scene changes to two or three.

Examples of plots of the period

  1. Mythological

These might deal with the Old Gods, and the battles between the good and bad ones. There would be little internal drama. These topics are usually only found in pre- and early classical drama, or as a general background elsewhere. Alternatively the plots might concern the New Gods (possibly also including some of the Old Gods), and fights with or against humans. These stories were basically Good versus Evil, though with additional human interest, and were again used in the earlier literature. The great change came when Rasiphel and others changed the point of view of the drama to that of the human. Now the hero (and other humans) were the focus for the battling gods, and were pulled this way and that by conflicting emotions (i.e. gods).

Further stories involved the conflicts between the New Gods, seen form their point of view (seemingly semi-human), and the influence on one of them of the desires and emotions of other gods. It was such inner conflicts which interested the classical dramatists (and these were really easier to find in historical rather than mythological stories.) So classical drama pushed to the background those elements which had been stressed in pre-classical plays and stories, that is to say the battles, intrigue, love and stratagems. Later Romantic drama would play up the external story-line, often at the expense of the inner feelings of the main characters.

In other types of Romantic drama, a central hero was the main figure of the play, but again, he would be treated as a picaresque adventurer, and his "story" or life became the chief interest. His feelings were of supreme importance, but now often shown in clashes between his will and that of the State or someone else, or in conflicts of love. Music and landscape became more important, and there would be many more characters and changes of scene on stage. There was also more violent action and emotion shown to the audience. The classical "religious" idea of preserving a mental balance in the hero against excess of emotion (as personified by or at least thought of as emanating from the gods) gave way to more rough-hewn dramas of personality clashes, historical epics, with little remaining reference to the gods. The story-line became all. (Note that Thoulpas always refers to the heroes of dramas. The central characters were indeed normally men, but might occasionally be female, usually in the case of historical plays representing, for example, Carnaxa Lillie or Ceuralla).

           2. Historical

Favourite plots of a historical nature involved the overwhelming emotions of love, ambition, hatred, anger, jealousy and pride. The main historical figures, nearly always Emperors or members of the Imperial family, who were the centre of these plays were:

  1. Carel I. Theme of liberalism (the abolition of slavery and human sacrifice, etc.) versus the demands of religion (the priests). This led to the emotional conflict of ambition and love of humanity versus piety and/or materialism.
  2. Carel II. Theme of the war against Helvrieh and the Emperor's death in 252. The corresponding emotional conflicts were the grip of ambition and anger. Some plays dealt with his love affairs (the hold of ambition).
  3. Carel III. Again the theme of the Helvran War and the Emperor's death in 261. (Carel is shown overwhelmed by ambition).
  4. Cao-Melion. The themes covered ambition followed by depression linked to the deaths of his friends and family, and also love. Particular plays would concentrate on his first and second wives, his jealousy due to infidelity and the murders that ensued; and Cao-Melion's live for Cairille.
  5. Siphirixo. Some plays used a love affair between the Emperor and Carnaxa Lillie, the poetess, though this seems to be apocryphal. The plot would then show the Emperor losing interest in the Empire leading to disaster with the Family Wars. Also plots might deal with the problems of succession after 304 and again the resulting wars.
  6. Family Wars. Themes in this period involved Siphirixo's love of his family and his defeat by Yeasor; the career of Ceuralla (her ambition) and defeat by Lasso and Yeasor; and Puella's career, her capture and death of a "broken heart" (due to an "invented" love affair).

Fulgon Normelliel (400 - 461)

Like all playwrights of this period, Normelliel saw himself chiefly as a poet and only secondarily as a dramatist. Nevertheless during his lifetime, and partly due to his own example, there began a revolution in drama, which was to culminate in the sixth century the exaltation of Drama as such, and especially the Total Works of Art, to the top of the artistic tree.

Normelliel was a real all-rounder, who wrote poetry, prose (including monographs on poetry and art and their histories), poetic drama and early examples of Total Works of Art, with the drama combined with music and dance.

He began his career as a young man writing poetry in the style of Huattiens' and Rasiphel's adulatory verse, and progressed on to love poetry. However he then found his niche in a series of epic, narrative and ballad poems, in which, like Huattiens, he loosened the stranglehold of the classical rules of art. At the end of his career, his poetry returned to the discipline of strict classical metre. He did not possess Huattiens' all-round genius of depth and versatility; instead his verse amazes us by his dramatic sense, his use of very precise vocabulary, his ability to achieve great effects with strict metre and his use of dramatic irony.

As a dramatist, Normelliel started where Rasiphel left off, with classical, mythological and poetic drama, which had occasional interludes for music, dance or mime. This was standard even in classical drama. But both Rasiphel and Normelliel in his early career reduced these interludes as much as they could, and Normelliel in particular wanted the audience to concentrate on his poetry alone. Later, along with lesser contemporaries, Normelliel developed the dramatic aspect of his plays, using more expressive gestures by the players and emphasising mime again. He also collaborated with specific musicians to produce suitable mood music. His later plays were also set in specific landscapes and were intended, at least, to be played in particular locations.

The subjects of Normelliel's plays were increasingly historical and realistic rather than moral. They still dramatised inner conflicts, though more openly than before. Normelliel stressed the importance of the plot line and highlighted the emotional conflicts, bringing out dramatic tension and irony. The characters remained few and any form of picturesque or exotic scene setting was downplayed: all the drama remained in the verse rather than on the stage. He was especially interested in the conflicts of love and domestic turmoil versus personal ambition. He wrote plays about Carel I and Cao-Melion.

He was, for later periods, the ideal model of the classical dramatist, as Huattiens was of the classical poet. In his final years he deprecated the experiments of some younger contemporaries, like Gildasso, who were beginning to use prose in their plays and were approaching real Total Works of Art. He wrote nothing after 453, when he became ill, but lingered on until his death in 461.

Russalonni Gildasso (431 - 485)

Gildasso was a flamboyant and emotional Chalcran nationalist, and the plays he wrote bear all the hallmarks of his character. He wrote entirely in prose and was keen on collaboration with other arts. It was he who coined the description "Total Work of Art" in 455, although, unlike other dramatists, he always considered the words to be the most important part of any "multi-media" production. It was not till after 500 that the text of Total Works of Art became less important than the music and landscape.

Gildasso wrote fewer plays than Normelliel, but each work was longer, more elaborate and involved other art-forms as well. He tried to concentrate on single characters, which acted and spoke in very emotional ways. However, he rarely went completely "over the top" like his Romantic successors, and was particularly successful when dealing with pathos, love and hatred. He concentrated on historical subjects, prior to 361, and wrote various theoretical works abjuring the traditional classical rules of the types of plays, and the division into moral and realistic drama. He claimed that on the contrary, all plays must be realistic, which means truthful.

His greatest plays were about Cao-Melian and Puella. He also wrote several comedies, some of which are really humorously realistic plays. (For an excerpt from one of his comedies, in English and Atlantean, see  The Bride - excerpt from a play  ). In his last years, Gildasso experimented more and more with Total Works of Art, which he saw as the way forward for drama, and which his younger contemporaries were wholeheartedly adopting. He included songs, music and landscape in these more mature plays. (Many of Gildasso's plays have survived, although only four of the comedies).

The Total Work of Art ("Tontenscouphabbe") (470 - 540)

From the time of Gildasso onwards, musicians, dramatists, dance choreographers and landscape designers drew closer and collaborated in Total Works of Art (virtually modern operas.). In a very few cases, the same person wrote both words and music and thought out the dance elements and the landscape setting. In these works, all classical restrictions were abolished and plays became more vivid and increasingly sensational musical dramas for one or two heroes or heroines. Whole surrounding worlds were created by gardeners and landscape designers. By about 510 Total Works of Art had become mixtures of drama, music and songs, with ever fewer purely spoken words. After 530 the prose often became poetic, as the lyrics to the music always had been. There was increasing interest in war and love, for example in the Emperors Carel III and Ruthoyon II, and after 540 on to more recent Emperors like Atlaniphon II and the Helvran Revolt and the Pareon/Ceisille story. After 520, Thoulpas' influence became paramount, and Total Works of Art became "pilgrimages" through different pre-set landscapes lasting several days.

Iairos Thoulpas (491 - 560)

Thoulpas is the archetypal Romantic writer and composer of Total Works of Art. He was the first important artist to be writer, composer and landscape arranger all on his own, and indeed there were very few after him, and certainly none so successful. He had strong politically liberal views, and was very upset by the increasing conservatism of the establishment in the later years of the Emperor Crehonerex II and after. He had tremendous influence after about 530, though in due course he also provoked increasing dislike and even hatred amongst political and artistic conservatives, leading to a reaction after the 540s against Romantic extremism in favour of classical plays or the early types of Total Works of Art and ultimately lower-class simplistic moral or political drama.

Thoulpas was the first, after the 520s, to introduce Total Works of Art lasting several days in different landscapes, "festivals" as they were called. His most notable drama was the "Downfall of the Old Gods", an immense mythical and symbolical construct of all the arts; he also wrote a work on the lives of Siphirixo and Yeasor. As well as drama, Thoulpas wrote quite a lot of poetry, including several epics - the most notorious was the "Coming of the barbarians", which greatly annoyed Crehonerex II with its implied criticism of his regime as "barbarous". His play about the rebellion of Tuondo in Crehonerex's reign was the final straw and led to the writer's banishment. Thereafter his health broke down as he struggled to complete a never-finished epic set in the old Helvran Empire, depicting the decline and fall of Manralia under the Helvrans and then the fateful conflict between Atlantis and the Helvrans. Throughout his later years Thoulpas' works became more symbolical and difficult to understand, and here acted as a precursor of the later hermetic movement. (A large amount of Thoulpas' work has survived the millennia).

 

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