Page images
PDF
EPUB

length, as well as what we properly call greatness. Homer and Virgil have shown their principal art in this particular; the action of the Iliad, and that of the Æneid, were in themselves exceeding short; but are so beautifully extended and diversified by the invention of episodes, and the intervention of gods, with similar poetical ornaments, that they form an agreeable story, sufficient to employ the memory, without overcharging it. Milton's action is enriched with such a variety of circumstances, that I have taken as much pleasure in reading the Contents of his Books, as in the best invented story I have ever met with. It is possible, that the traditions on which the Iliad and Æneid were founded, could have had more circumstances in then than in the history of the fall of man, as it is related in Scripture: besides, it was easier for Homer and Virgil to dash the truth with fiction, as they were in no danger of offending the religion of their country: but Milton had not only a very few circumstances upon which to raise his poem, but was also obliged to proceed with the greatest caution in every thing that he added from his own invention. And, notwithstanding all the restraints he was under, he has filled his story with so many surprising incidents, which bear so close analogy with what is delivered in Holy Writ, that it is capable of pleasing the most delicate reader, without giving offence to the most scrupulous.

Having examined the action of Paradise Lost, let us, in the next place, consider the actors. This is Aristotle's method of arrangment; first, the fable, and secondly, the manners; or, as we generally call them in English, the fable and the characters.

Homer has excelled all the heroic poets in the multitude and variety of his characters. Every god that is ad

parole, che ella abbia una conveniente lunghezza , come ciò che noi propriamente diciamo grandezza. Omero e Virgilio mostrarono la loro arte principe in questa materia; le azioni dell' Iliade e quella dell' Epeide erano in se stesse eccessivamente brevi; ma sono cosi bellamente estese e variate con invenzione di episodi, con intervenimenti di numi e con omogenei poetici ornamenti che esse formano una piacevole istoria, bastevole ad occupar la memoria senza sopraffarla. L'azione di Milton è fiorita di tale una varietà di circostanze che io presi tanto piacere in leggendo il contenuto de' suoi libri, quanto nelle meglio condotte istorie che io m'abbia mai incontrato. Può essere che le tradizioni sulle quali furono fondate l' Niade e l'Eneide avessero più circostanze nell'istoria della caduta dell'Uomo, qual è narrata dalla Scrittura. Inoltre fu più facile per Omero e Virgilio il mescolare verità con fingimenti, chè non correano pericolo di offendere la religione di loro patria. Ma Milton , non solo avea pochissime circostanze sopra cui edificare il suo poema, ma era di più obbligato a governarsi col massimo riguardo in ogni cosa che v'aggiugnesse di sua propria invenzione. E malgrado a tutti gli ostacoli che avea , egli ha arricchita la sua istoria di tanti meravigliosi avvenimenti di così stretta analogia colle sacre pagine, che ben può dilettare il più delicato lettore, senza recare offesa al più scrupoloso.

Esaminata l'azione del Paradiso perduto veniamo ora a considerarne gli attori. Quest' è il metodo di procedere di Aristotele; considerar prima l'argomento, poi i costumi; o come diciamo in inglese, la favola ed i caratteri.

Omero ha sorpassato tutti i poeti eroici nella moltitudine e varietà de' suoi caratteri. Ogni nume intro

mitted into his poem, acis a part which would have been suitable to no other deity. His princes are as much distinguished by their manners as by their dominions; and even those among them, whose characters seem wholly made up of courage, differ from one another, as to the particnlar kinds of courage in wich they excel. In short, there is scarce a speech, or action, in the Fiad, which the reader may not ascribe to the person that speaks or acts, without seeing his name prefixed to it.

Homer does not only outshine all other poets in the variety, but also in the novelty of his characters. He has introduced among his Grecian princes, a person who had lived in three ages of men, and conversed with Theseus, Hercules, Polyphemus, and the first race of heroes. His principal actor is the son of a goddess, not to mention the offspring of other deities who have likewise a place in his poem, and the venerable Trojan prince, who was the father of so many kings and heroes. There is, in these several characters of Homer, a certain dignity, as well as novelty, which adapts them in a more peculiar manner to the nature of an heroic poem; and, to give them the greater variety, he has described a Vulcan, that is a buffoon, among his gods, and a Thersites among his mortals.

Virgil falls infinitely short of Homer in the characters of his poem, both as to their variety and povelty. Æneas is a perfect character; but as for Achates, though he is styled the hero's friend, he does not any thing in the whole poem which may deserve that title. Gyas, Mnestheus, Sergestus, and Cloanthus are all of them men of the same character.

fortemque Gyanı, fortemque Cluanthum.

VIRG.

dotto nel suo poema tratta una parte che non si converrebbe a veruna altra deità. I suoi prencipi sono sì ben distinti per le loro maniere come pei loro domini; e que' medesimi il cui carattere sembra stare tutto nel coraggio, differiscono uno dall'altro quasi nel particolare genere di coraggio in che elli primeggiano. In breve v'è appena discorso od azione nell' Iliade che il lettore non possa attribuire alla persona che parla od opera senza vedervi apposto il nome.

Omero sovrasta a tutti gli altri poeti non solo per la varietà ma sì per la novità de' suoi caratteri. Egli ba introdotto fra suoi prencipi greci una persona che ha vissuto in tre età d'uomini, e conversato con Teseo, Ercole, Polifemo é colla prima stirpe di Eroi. L'attore suo principale è il figliuolo di una Dea , senza nominare i figli di altre deità, i quali hanno parimente luogo nel suo poema, e il venerabile prencipe Troiano che fu padre di tanti re ed eroi. V' è in questi diversi caratteri di Omero una cotal dignità e novità che in una maniera più particolare li rende atti alla natura del poema eroico ; ed a spargerli di maggior varietà, egli vi descrisse in mezzo un Valcano che è un buffone tra i suoi Dei ed un Tersite fra i suoi mortali.

Virgilio è infinitamente inferiore ad Omero nei caratteri del suo poema

e per la varietà e per la novità. Enea è veramente un carattere perfetto; ma Acate per esempio, benchè detto l'amico dell'Eroe pure nulla fa in tutto il poema che gli meriti questo titolo. Giante , Mnesteo , Sergesto e Cloanto, son tatti domini del medesimo carattere.

... fortemque Gyam, fortemque Cloanthum.

VIRC.

There are several very natural incidents in the part of Ascanius, as that of Dido cannot be sufficiently admired. I do not see any thing new or particular in Turnus. Pallas and Evander are remote copies of Hector and Priam, as Lausus and Mezentius are almost parallels to Pallas and Evander. The character of Nisus and EuriaJus are beautiful, but common. We must not forget the parts of Sinon, Camilla, and some few others, which are fine improvements on the Greek poet. In short, there is neither that variety nor novelty in the persons of the AEneid which we meet with in those of the Iliad.

If we look into the characters of Milton, we shall find, that he has introduced all the variety his fable was capable of admitting. The whole species of mankind was in two persons, as the time to which the subject of his poem is confined. We have, however, four distinct characters in these two persons. We see man and woman in the highest innocence and perfection, and in the most abject state of guilt and infirmity. The two last characters are, indeed, very common and obvious; but the two first are not only more magnificent, but more new than any characters, either in Virgil or Homer, or indeed in the whole circle of nature.

Milton was so sensible of this defect in the subject of his poem, and of the few characters it would afford him, that he has brought into it two actors of a shadowy and fictitious nature, in the persons of Sin and Death ; by which means, he has introduced into the body of his fable a very beautiful and well invented allegory : but notwithstanding the fineness of this allegory may atone for it in some measure, I cannot think that persons of such a chimerical existence are proper actors in an epic poem; because there is not that degree of probability annexed to them which is requisite in writings of this kind.

« PreviousContinue »