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verses, Ille ego, etc., commonly placed at the beginning, and the passage 567-588 in the second book.
Thus the Aeneid, like some of the grandest sculptures of Michael Angelo, was left unfinished, and with some parts, perhaps, in the rough. But I am not sure that our interest is not even enhanced in the works of both of these great Italian masters by the very fact that these unfinished parts show us the hand, as it were, still holding the chisel, and in the act of creation.
There is another fault, too. Vergil was an imitator. He gloried in imitation. He borrowed without stint from Homer, from Apollonius, from the Greek tragedies, and, in short, he laid under contribution all the earlier poets both of Greece and of Rome. Nothing beautiful in them, nothing fitted to his purpose escaped his search. But he so appropriated to himself, and assimilated to his own modes of thought their ideas, images, and forms of expression, that they come before us in the Aeneid in all the freshness and individuality of new creations. The Aeneid stands nearly in the same relation to all preëxisting literature as does the "Paradise Lost." The authors of these two epics are the greatest of all plagiarists; but the borrowed thought in both of them assumes so much of their individuality that their plagiarism becomes a beauty and a virtue. They are plagiarists of the older poets in the same sense that the painter is a plagiarist of
But while the Aeneid, through the premature death of the poet, has been left to us somewhat incomplete, and while it claims no great degree of originality, but is largely the offspring, not of Vergil alone, but of the genius of all antiquity, it always has been, and always will be, justly regarded as the best and noblest of all the poetic creations of the Roman mind, and as one of the choicest productions of all literature. There are fashions in criticism as well as in other things; not, indeed, so changeful and transitory as those of dress, but fashions nevertheless; and of late years some scholars, even eminent scholars, have fallen into the habit or affectation of speaking with some contempt of "the court poets of the Augustan age." This fashion will have its day; but it can not set aside the verdict of so many generations past. Vergil and
Horace are in no danger. The Aeneid is too grand, too beautiful, too pure, to be despised, neglected, or lost.
It is replete with all the qualities which are essential to a great work of art. It is great in conception and invention. It is wonderfully diversified in scenes, incidents, and characters, while it never departs from the vital principle of unity. It is adorned with the finest diction and imagery of which language is capable. In discoursing of great achievements and great events, it never comes short of the grandeur which befits the epic style; in passages of grief and suffering it takes hold of our sympathies with all the power of the most affecting tragedy. What a sublime epic of itself is the account of the sack of Troy! what a tragedy of passion and fate is presented in the story of Dido! Indeed, the student will find in the Aeneid many dramatic scenes, many vivid pictures of life and manners, many lively narratives of adventure, any one of which would be of itself a poem, and would secure to its author an enviable fame.
Of the preeminent worth of Vergil's poems, and of their importance as literary studies, the most striking proof is presented in the fact that so many of the classics of modern poetry, in all cultivated languages, have manifestly been produced under the moulding and refining influence of this great master of the art. Dante, who felt all the power of "the Mantuan," ascribes to him whatever excellence he has himself attained in beauty of style; and, in the generous avowal of his indebtedness, he utters one of the noblest eulogies ever bestowed by any poet upon a brother poet :
"Oh degli altri poeti onore e lume,
Vagliami 'l lungo studio, e'l grande amore,
* Dell' Inferno, Canto I, 82.