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intelligibly stated in Theophrastus or in the Geoponica. It is precisely this measure which I would wish now to extend to the Aeneid. So far it may seem that I am substantially at one with the opinion which I have mentioned as that which is now generally entertained on Virgil's claims as an epic poet. It is possible however that the habit of sharply contrasting the characteristics of the several works of Virgil may have led to an exaggeration on the one side, as I believe it has on the other, that the Aeneid may have been brought too exclusively to the standard of the Iliad and Odyssey, and that Virgil may have been blamed, as Pope complains that Homer has been blamed, for not doing what he never intended.
There can be little doubt that too much has been made of Virgil's supposed disqualification or disinclination for epic poetry. We have his own confession in the Sixth Eclogue that his early ambition was to sing of kings and battles : and though Phoebus may have whispered in his ear that such themes were too high for one so young, so humble, and so unknown, we are not obliged to conclude that the aspiration was then and there finally abandoned, or that as he rose naturally from short pastorals to a long didactic poem, he may not have cherished the hope of rising by an equally natural ascent to a still longer epic. If Pope's epic poem of Alcander was the dream of his boyhood, when he fancied himself the greatest poet that ever lived, his epic poem on Brutus was no less the vision of his later years, when he had come, as he thought, to take a just measure of his powers. That Augustus may have exercised some pressure on Virgil, urging him to undertake heroic poetry, is very possible; but Virgil's words in the Third Georgic, and the similar language held by other poets, such as Horace and Propertius, would lead us to agree with a recent German editor’, that what the emperor wished for was a direct celebration of his own actions ; nor is there any thing, even in the apocryphal notices of the pseudo-biographer, to compel us to any other conclusion. It was only natural that Augustus should take an interest, as we know him to have done, in the progress of a poein which, in grandeur of scope and compass, promised to transcend any previous effort of the Roman muse, and so could not but reflect indirect glory on his reign. We may observe, however, that in the only words of Virgil on the subject which have come down to us : the poet expresses himself with considerable reserve, and is by no means forward to gratify the imperial curiosity. Nor need we to lay any stress on the story which, supported as it is by the authority of the elder Pliny', there
doubt, that Virgil himself, when dying, condemned his Aeneid to the flames. Rightly understood, that story seems to con
seems no reason
* Gossrau, Praef. ad Aeneidem.
3 Macrobius, Sat. i. 24.
• Nat. Hist. vii. 30,
tain, not a confession that he had mistaken his powers, but simply one more instance of the fastidious and exacting nature of his self-criticism. The words of the pseudo-biographer, who in this case at least is telling a plausible tale, inform us distinctly that it was the uncorrected and unfinished state of the work which made Virgil anxious that it should not survive him, " comburi iussit ut rem inemendatam imperfectamque '.' The explanation is consonant to all that we know of Virgil's character, as shown in his writings; and it can only be a private opinion which we may ourselves entertain about the merit of the poem that would lead us to seek for any other. The biographer tells us, and here again his story is credible enough, that Virgil was overtaken by death at the time when he was intending to spend three years in polishing and elaborating the Aeneid and we may imagine for ourselves what would be the value of three years of correction in the judgment of a poet like Virgil, and how abortive he might consider the work which had lost the advantage of so long a gestation. We cannot, indeed, except in a very few obvious cases, such as the hemistichs, tell what may have been the actual shortcomings of the poem as they appeared to its author. He may have introduced verses, as the story says he did, which were intended as mere temporary make-shifts, props to stay the building until more solid supports should be forthcoming; but modern criticism has not in general been very happy in pointing out these weak places, and for the present we must be content to admit that, as regards the execution of the poem, at any rate, our conceptions of what is required fall infinitely short of Virgil's own; and that though we may hope, in some measure, to appreciate what he has done, we can form no notion of what he left yet to do. Such an admission of ignorance is no more than the tribute which we pay, naturally and cheerfully, to a consummate artist. In any case, we need not doubt that the feeling which made Virgil wish to rob the world of his greatest poem was simply the mortification of leaving in a state of comparative imperfection a work which he had intended to be his masterpiece. To imagine that he was sensible of the unreality which, to a certain extent, characterizes the Aeneid, as compared with the Homeric poems, is to imagine an anachronism and an impossibility, to attribute to him a thought which is inconsistent with the whole tenor of his writings, and must have been alien to the entire current of sentiment among his contemporaries, whether admiring or adverse. He seems never to have tormented himself with doubts that he had not realized the rustic vigour of Theocritus, or the primitive simplicity of Hesiod. He appropriates their form boldly and openly, and does not ask himself whether he has reproduced their spirit. To be the Roman
Donatus, Life of Virgil, § 14. 52.
6 Ibid. § 9. 35.
Homer; to write the sequel of the tale of Troy, not as an inferior, but as an equal, not as a younger son of the victorious race, but as the heir of those many ages which had lifted the conquered people to a height far above their conquerors; to combine the glories of the heroic age with the august antiquities of his own nation; this was an ideal which might well captivate a mind like Virgil's, and which less partial voices than those of an applauding court might have told him that he was able to attain.
The chasm which separates the Aeneid from the Iliad and Odyssey is undoubtedly one which is not easily spanned. It is true that sufficient account has not always been taken of the numerous intervening objects which break the distance and afford resting places to the eye. The substance of the Homeric poetry, the conduct of the action and the conception of the actors, came to Virgil modified by the intermediate agency of the Greek drama. His view of the form may have been similarly affected by the example of those later Greek epics of which the poem of Apollonius is the only surviving specimen, and by the precepts of that critical fraternity of which the author of the Argonautics was no undistinguished member. But the unsurpassed eminence of the two writers, the bard or bards of pre-historic Greece and the poet of Augustan Rome, will always make them prominent objects of comparison or contrast; and the parallel is itself one which Virgil, far from avoiding, has done his utmost to challenge. To a modern reader the exactness of the parallel cnly serves to make the contrast deeper and more unmistakeable. Mr. Gladstone says nothing which a critic not sworn, like himself, absolutely to the service of Homer, need hesitate to admit, when he calls attention to the extraordinary amount of admitted imitation and obvious similarity on the surface of the Aeneid, and pronounces nevertheless that the poem stands in almost every fundamental particular in the strongest contrast to the Iliad'. Both features, the identity and the diversity, are, as I have just said, sufficiently familiar to us; we have seen them in Virgil's treatment of Theocritus and Hesiod, and we shall not be surprised to meet them again in his treatment of Homer. On the identity, indeed, there is but little to say which has not been anticipated in what I have advanced in my Introduction to the Eclogues. The diversity is a more complex question, and may well occupy us somewhat longer.
The production of the Aeneid was part of that general burst of literary enthusiasm which distinguished the Augustan period. Roman
; Studies on Homer, vol. ii. p. 502. I may here express my obligations generally to this part of Mr. Gladstone's work, which has in fact suggested much of the present Essay, though I have mostly found myself unable to agree with his views.
literature had always been imitative; Pacuvius and Attius had set themselves to make the best they could out of Sophocles and Aeschylus; and it was doubtless in his own judgment, as well as in that of eulogistic critics, that Ennius appeared to be wise and brave, and a second Homer. But the period which witnessed the establishment of the empire generated new hopes and aspirations among the poets of Rome. The fervour of an age, half revolutionary, half organic in its character, had produced intellectual activities which the imperial system was not slow to welcome and cherish. The writers of the new era saw that Greece had as yet yielded but few of her spoils to her semibarbarous invaders; and they planned fresh expeditions, which should be undertaken under more exalted auspices, and return crowned with greener and more luxuriant laurels. The ebullition of anticipated triumph which opens the Third Georgic doubtless represents the real feeling of the poet, though the vision which he there professes to see does not correspond in its details with that which his better genius afterwards revealed to him. Greece was to be conquered, and conquered with her own weapons. The games were to be the veritable Olympic games, transplanted to the banks of the Mincio, those games of which the race and the caestus are the type; and the ceremonial of the day is to be varied with the accessories of a Roman triumph. It was in this spirit that he addressed himself to the task of reproducing Homer. The imitation of externals was a thing not to be avoided or dexterously concealed, but to be openly and boldly embraced; and it was the hitherto unapproached excellence of the model which was held to constitute the glory of the success. Even in his own day there appear to have been critics, probably rival versifiers, who reproached him with having taken so much from Homer; and the answer which he is said to have made shows the light in which he wished his own labours to be regarded '. "Let them try to steal for themselves as they say I have stolen for myself, and they will find that it is easier to rob Hercules of his club than to rob Homer of a single verse." It was an act of high-handed brigandage, which, rightly appreciated, carried with it its own justification. In the long hours of laborious days, paring down and refining the verses which had been poured out in the exuberance of the morning', he had grappled with the Grecian Hercules, and had again and again wrested from
8 Hor. 2 Ep. 1. 161 foll.
Hor. 2 Ep. 1. 50 foll. The 'somnia Pythagorea' are evidence enough of what he thought of his relation to Homer.
1 Donatus, § 16. 64, who gives the authority of Asconius Pedianus. He adds, however, something about Virgil resolving to yield to the pertinacity of his critics; but the precise meaning is not clear, as the words seem to be corrupt.
2 Gellius 17. 10, Donatus, § 9. 33. Quinctilian, Inst. 10. 3, cites Varus for the statement that the number of verses composed by Virgil daily was very small.
him that weapon which had so long been the terror of meaner freebooters :. I have elsewhere remarked on Virgil's absolute silence about Homer, who, throughout the Aeneid, is never named or even indicated; but no one would interpret it as the silence of a writer anxious to ignore or conceal bis obligations. Even were epic narrative as favourable to the introduction of personal notices as pastoral dialogue or didactic disquisition, it would have been superfluous to mention Homer in a poem which invites comparison with the Iliad and Odyssey in its whole external form, and even in its very title, and contains an imitation or translation from Homer in almost every page.
This avowed rivalry, I venture to think, should be borne in mind in estimating, not only the similarity of the Homeric and Virgilian epics, but their discrepancies. When we require that Virgil, drawing as he does his characters from the circle of Homeric legend, should exhibit them as they are exhibited in Homer, we are not only forgetting what Virgil could scarcely have forgotten if he would, the changes which those characters underwent as they passed under the hands of Attic and Alexandrian schools of poetry, but we are mistaking the whole attitude assumed by Virgil with reference to his illustrious predecessor. Homer, in his eyes, is not the father alike of history and of poetry, the sole authority for all our knowledge about the Greeks and the Trojans, their ethnology, their polity, their moral relations to each other; he is the rival poet of a rival nation, the party chronicler of a quarrel which the Trojans had bequeathed to their successors, and those successors, after many centuries, had pushed to a victorious issue. Was it likely that a Trojan would have accepted the Homeric estimate of his nation and his nation's cruel enemies ? and was it to be expected that the heir of the Trojans should dwarf his representation of Trojan worth and Trojan valour to a Homeric standard ? The lions had at last come to be the painters; and though they could not represent their progenitor as victorious over the man in that great legendary struggle, they could pourtray it as a contest of fraud and cruelty with heroic endurance and genuine bravery ; they could poise the event more doubtfully in the balance, and call down indignation on the crimes that stained the hour of triumph; they could point to the retribution which fell, even within the period of the legend, on the homes of those who had made others homeless, and shadow forth in prophetic vision the yet more terrible recompense which history was to bring in the fulness of time. Aeneas
3 That this view of the character of Virgil's imitations was taken by the ancients themselves is shown by a passage in the Third ‘Suasoria’ of the elder Seneca (quoted by Heyne, Dissertatio de Carmine Epico Vergiliano), who says, speaking of a supposed appropriation of Virgil's words by Ovid, “ fecisse quod in multis aliis versibus Vergilius fecerat, non surripiendi causa sed palam imitandi, hoc animo ut vellet adgnosci.”