6 May 1865, xix, 540-2
Most reviewers of Atalanta concerned themselves with the extent to which the play was Greek in style and ideas. The Saturday Review, which like other periodicals praised Swinburne’s command of language and rhythm, did not recognize his ‘anti-theism’ as clearly as did Richard Monckton Milnes, writing anonymously in the Edinburgh Review, though after the scandal of Poems and Ballads this aspect of the play received more attention.
Any one who had tried, whether by way of a school or college exercise or for his own pleasure, to compose a poem or an essay in one of the classical languages, must remember how forcibly he was led, in such an attempt, to realize the unspeakable differences in thought and feeling which separate the ancient world from ourselves. In reading a Greek poet or philosopher, we surrender ourselves for the time being to his influence, appear to breathe the same atmosphere, and to see things in the colours which they wore to his eyes. But the moment we cease to be passive, and endeavour either to imagine what a Greek would have said on a given subject, or, taking our own thoughts upon it, to throw them into the form which they would have assumed under his hands, we feel that it is not merely in form, nor even in our actual notions and beliefs, that we are unlike him, but rather in the habit and method of our minds. And if the thoughts we ascribe to him are, in truth, not modern, they are artificial, and all but meaningless to us. If they are modern and genuine, the ancient dress with which we would clothe