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Taken from the DIVINE LEGATION, &c. Book II. Se&t. 4.


HE purpose of this difcourfe is to fhew, that Eneas's adventure to the INFERNAL SHADES, is no other than a figurative description of his INITIATION INTO THE MYSTERIES: and particularly a very exact one of the SPECTACLES of the ELEUSINIAN.

To understand the propriety of the author's purpose in the use of this fine episode, it will be proper to confider the nature of the ÆNEIS.

Homer's two poems had each a plain and entire story, to convey as perfect a moral: And in this he is justly efteemed excellent. The Roman poet could make no improvement here: The Greek was compleat and perfect; fo that the patrons of Virgil, even Scaliger himfelf, are forced to feek for his fuperior advantages in his epifodes, VOL. III. descriptions,


defcriptions, fimiles, and in the chastity and correctnefs of his thoughts and diction: In the mean time, they have all overlooked the principal advantage he had over his great exemplar.

Virgil found the epic poem in the first rank of human compofitions; but this was too narrow a foundation for his enlarged ambition: He was not content that its fubject fhould be to inftruct the world in MORALS, much lefs did he think of PHYSICS, though he was fond of natural enquiries, and Homer's allegories had opened a back-door to let in the philofopher with the poet; but he afpired to make it a SYSTEM OF POLITICS. On this plan he wrote the Æneis; which is indeed as perfectly such, in verfe, by EXAMPLE, as the Republics of Plato and Tully were in profe, by PRECEPT. Thus he added a new province to epic poefy. But though every one saw that Auguftus was shadowed in the perfon of Æneas, yet it being fuppofed that those political inftructions, which the poet defigned for the fervice of mankind, were for the fole use of his master, they miffed of the true nature of the poem. And in this ignorance, the fucceeding epic writers, following a poem whofe genius they did not underftand, wrote worse than if they had only taken Homer, and his fimpler plan, for their direction. A great modern poet, and beft judge of their merit, affures us of this fact; and what hath been faid will help us to explain the reafon of it: The epic poets, fays this admirable writer, have used the fame practice (that of Virgil, of running two fables into one) but generally carried it fo far as to fuperinduce a multiplicity of fables, deftroy the unity of action, and lofe their readers in an unreasonable length of_time*.

Such was the revolution Virgil brought about in this nobleft region of poefy; an improvement fo great, that the trueft poet had need of all the affistance the sublimest

* Preface to the Iliad of Homer.

genius could lend him; nothing less than the joint aid of the Iliad and Odyffes being able to furnish out the execution of his great idea: For a system of politics delivered in the example of a great prince, must shew him in every public occurrence of life. Hence Æneas was, of neceffity, to be found voyaging with Ulyffes, and fighting with Achilles.

But if the improved nature of his subject compelled him to depart from that fimplicity in the fable, which Ariftotle, and his beft interpreter, Boffu; find so divine in Hömer *; he gained confiderable advantages by it in other circumstances of the compofition: For now, those ornaments and decorations, for whofe insertion the critics could give no other reasons than to raise the dignity of the poem, become effential to the fubject. Thus the choice of princes and heroes for his personages, which were, before, only üfed to grace the scene, now conftitute the nature of the action †: And the machinery of the gods, and their intervention on every occafion, which was to create the marvellous, becomes, in this improvement, an indifpenfable part of the poem. A divine interpofition is in the very spirit of ancient legislation, where, we fee, the principal care of the lawgiver was to possess the people with the full belief of a providence. This is

Nous ne trouverons point, dans la fable de l'Æneide, cette fimplicité qu' Aristote a trouvée fi divine dans Homére. Traité du poeme epique, 1. i. c. 11.

Le retour (fays Bossu) d'un homme en fa maison, & la querelle de peux autres, n'ayant rien de grand en foi, deviennent des actions illuftres & importantes, lorfque dans le choix des noms, le poete dit que c'eft Ulyffe qui retourne en Ithaque, & que c'eft Achille & Agamemnon qui querellent.He goes on,-Mais il y a des actions qui d'elles mêmes font très importantes, comme l'eftablissement, ou la ruine d'un état, ow d'une religion. Telle eft donc l'action de l'Eneide, 1. ii. c. 19. He faw here a remarkable difference in the fubjects: it is ftrange this fhould not have led him to see that the Æneis is of a different species.

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the true reafon of fo much machinery in the Æneis; for which, modern critics accufe the author's judgment, who, in a poem written in the refined and enlightened age of Rome*, followed the marvellous of Homer fo closely.

But this key to the Æneis not only clears up a great many paffages obnoxious to the critics, but adds an infinite beauty to a vaft number of incidents throughout the whole poem: Of which, take the following instances: the one in religion, the other in civil policy.

1. Æreas, in the eighth book, goes to the court of Evander, in order to engage him in a confederacy against the common enemy. He finds the king and his people bufied in the celebration of an annual facrifice. The purpose of the voyage is dispatched in a few lines, and the whole episode is employed in a matter altogether foreign to it, that is to fay, the facrifice, the feaft, and a long history of Hercules's adventure with Cacus. But it is done with great art and propriety, and in order to introduce into this political poem that famous inftitute of Cicero in his Book of Laws, defigned to moderate the excess of labouring fuperftition, the ignota ceremoniæ, as he calls them, which at that time fo much abounded in Rome-Divos et eos, qui cœleftes femper habiti, colunto, et ollos, QUOS ENDO COELO MERITA VOCAVERINT, HERCULEM, Liberum, Æfculapium, Caftorem, Pollucem, Quirinum-Thus copied by Virgil in the beginning of Evander's speech to Æneas.

"Rex Evandrus ait: Non haec folemnia nobis,
Has ex more dapes, hanc tanti numinis aram,
VANA SUPERSTITIO, veterumque ignara deorum,
Inpofuit. Sævis, hofpes Trojane, periclis
Servati facimus, MERITOSQUE novamus honores.—

• Ce qui eft beau dans Homére pourroit avoir été mal recu dans les ouvrages d'un poëte du tems d'Augufte. Idem ib. 1. iii. c. 8. de l'admirabile.


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