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In turning from the Eclogues and Georgics to the Aeneid, we are no longer confronted by the opinion which insists on Virgil's claims as a strictly original poet. The days are past when Scaliger could compare Virgil and Homer in detail, and pronounce that the scholar had in almost every instance excelled his master; nor would a modern reader easily tolerate even those less invidious parallels, such as were not infrequent in the last century, where Virgil was measured against Homer on the same principles on which Johnson has measured Pope against Dryden, and with substantially the same results. It is hard to read without a smile the apologetic tone in which Pope himself vindicates Homer against the admirers of Virgil, pleading that the old Greek has at all events the advantage of having written first; that if he had a less cool judgment, he holds the heart under a stronger enchantment, and that to endeavour to exalt Virgil at his expense is much the same as if one should think to raise the superstructure by undermining the foundation.' It is now the turn of the critic of the Aeneid to use the language of extenuation and speak with bated breath. On the one side it is admitted, as it is asserted on the other, that in undertaking the Aeneid at the command of a superior 2 Virgil was venturing beyond the province of his genius, and that all we can expect to find is the incidental success which could not fail to be obtained even on uncongenial ground by the poet of the Georgics. I have elsewhere explained the reasons which lead me to question the appropriateness of the special praise usually given to Virgil's agricultural poetry, and conceded, though with more hesitation, to his pastoral compositions, as if the true bent of his mind were to be found in his sympathy with external nature, at the same time that I have spoken as strongly as it was in my power to speak of the marvellous grace and delicacy, the evidence of a culture most elaborate and most refined, which shine out in the midst of a thousand incongruities of costume and outward circumstance, and make us forget

1 Preface to Homer.

[That the Aeneid was undertaken "at the command of a superior" there is no evidence. See p. lxvi.-H. N.]

that we are reading Bucolic poems of which line after line is to be found in Theocritus, and precepts about husbandry which are far more 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 direct celebration of his own actions; nor is there anything in the notices of Suetonius 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 poem 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 lay any stress



3 Gossrau, Praef. ad Aeneidem.

4 [See Suetonius quoted on p. lxvi.—H. N.]
Macrobius, Sat. i. 24.

on the story which, supported as it is by the authority of the elder Pliny, there seems no reason to doubt, that Virgil himself, when dying, condemned his Aeneid to the flames. Rightly understood, that story seems to contain, 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 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. Suetonius tells us 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, tell, except in a very few obvious cases, such as the hemistichs, and perhaps also certain inconsistencies in the narrative, of which I have spoken elsewhere,' 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

'Nat. Hist. vii. 114. Comp. Gell. xvii. 10 [Sueton., Vita Vergilii 39, Macrobins, Sat. 1. 24.-H. N.]

'See Introductions to Books 3 and 5.

8 Suetonius, Vita Vergilii 24.

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 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.9

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 Greek 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 only serves to make the contrast deeper and more unmistakable. 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 for me to say which has not been anticipated in what I have

[For the verdicts of ancient criticism on the Aeneid, see vol. i. (fourth edition), pp. xxix. foll.-H. N.]

1 Studies on Homer, vol. iii. 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


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 distinguishes the Augustan period. Roman 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 semi-barbarous 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

2 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.

* [Suetonius, Vita Vergilii 46. "Asconius Pedianus libro quem contra obtrectatores Vergilii scripsit pauca admodum obiecta ei proponit, eaque circa historiam fere et quod pleraque ab Homero sumpsisset; sed hoc ipsum sic defendere adsuetum ait, 'Cur non illi quoque eadem furta temptarent? verum intellecturos facilius esse Herculi clavam quam Homero versum subripere.'"-H. N.]

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