« PreviousContinue »
Such were the games by azure Thetis given,
1:5 First bleeds Antinous: thick the shafts resound:
120 And batter'd brains and blood besmear the stones.
130 Not more thy patience than her constant mind.
And model to the future age, shall last:
Thus they while Hermes o'er the dreary plain
When our triumphant navies touch'd your shore;
O king of men! I faithful shall relate
The fiction pleased, our generous train complies,
140 And even the best that bears a woman's name.
145 The ground himself had purchased with his pain,
If yet I share the old man's memory:
160 (Their light and dearest object long ago),
Now changed with time, with absence and with woe.
Thro' rows of shade, with various fruitage crown'd, 255
175 But well repair'd; and gloves against the thorn.
| And clear'd a plant, encumber'd with its wood.
180 The ruins of himself! now worn away
With eager transport to declare the whole,
190 More gentle methods on weak age employs:
Great is thy skill, ob father! great thy toil,
I read a monarch in that princely air,
I paid, and hospitable gifts bestow'd:
Yet by another sign thy offspring know;
300 While, yet a child, these fields I loved to trace,
305 Twelve pear-trees, bowing with their pendant load, 395
310 Their latent buds, and Sol exalts the juice.
Smit with the signs which all his doubts explain,
To this Ulysses: As the gods shall please
Twelve cloaks, twelve vests, twelve tunics stiff with gold;
But, tell me who thou art? and what thy race?
What port received thy vessel from the main?
Then thus the son. From Alybas I came,
Thus having said, they traced the garden o'er,
340 And air celestial dawning o'er his face.
My strength were still, as once in better days:
This arm had aided yours, this hand bestrown
355 The swains, fatigued with labours of the day:
Quick through the father's heart these accents ran;
Thy son, with twenty winters now grown old;
375 Who knows thy bless'd, thy wish'd return? oh say,
380 And straight resumed his seat); while round him bows
385 Through all the city, of the suitors dead.
And next his sons, a long succeeding train.
Weeping they bear the mangled heaps of slain,
Big was his eye with tears, his heart with woes:
Down his wan cheek the trickling torrent ran,
Each future day increase of wealth shall bring,
His people blessing, by his people bless'd.
485 Descended Pallas from the Olympian hill.
Great deeds, oh friends! this wondrous man has wrought,
Shame to this age, and all that shall succeed!
And tells the news. They arm with all their power.
495 And six were all the sons of Dolius' race:
500 The opening gates at once their war display:
Here ceased he, but indignant tears let fall
510 Wide o'er the world their martial fame was spread; Regard thyself, the living, and the dead.
"Twas Heaven that struck, and Heaven was on his side.
His moderate words some better minds persuade:
They case their limbs in brass; to arms they run;
Is not thy thought my own? (the god replies
Thy eyes, great father! on this battle cast,
So spoke Telemachus! the gallant boy
525 Jove and Jove's daughter then the chief implored,
BY MR. POPE.
CANNOT dismiss this work without a few observations on the character and style of it. Whoever reads the Odyssey with an eye to the Iliad, expecting to find it of the same character or of the same sort of spirit, will he grievously deceived, and err against the first principles of criticism, which is, to consider the nature of the piece, and the intent of its author. The Odyssey is a moral and political work, instructive to all degrees of men, and filled with images, examples, and precepts of civil and domestic life. Homer is here a person,
Upon the whole, he affirms the Odyssey to have less sublimity and fire than the Iliad, but he does not say it wants the sublime or wants fire. He affirms it to be a narrative, but not that the narration is defective. He affirms it to abound in fictions, not that those fictions are ill invented, or ill executed. He affirms it to be nice and particular in painting the manners, but not that those manners are ill painted. If Homer has fully in these points accomplished his own design, and done all that the nature of his poem demanded or allowed, it still remained perfect in its kind, and as much a master-piece as the Iliad.
The amount of the passage is this: that in his own particular taste, and with respect to the sublime, Longinus preferred the Iliad: and because the Odyssey was less active and lofty, he judged it the work of the old age of Homer.
If this opinion be true, it will only prove, that Homer's age might determine him in the choice of his subject, not that it affected him in the execution of it; and that which would be a very wrong instance to prove the decay of his imagination, is a very good one to evince the strength of his judgment. For had he (as Madam Dacier observes) composed the Odyssey in his youth, and the Iliad in his age, both must in reason have been exactly the same as they now stand. To blame Homer for his choice of such a subject, as did not admit the same incidents and the same pomp of style as his former, is to take offence at too much variety, and to imagine, that when a man has written one good thing, he must ever after only copy himself.
The Odyssey is the reverse of the Iliad, in moral, subject, manner, and style; to which it has no sort of relation, but as the story happens to follow in order of time, and as some of the same persons are actors in it. Yet from this incidental connection many have been misled to regard it as a continuation or second part, and thence to expect a purity of character inconsistent with its nature. It is no wonder that the common reader should fall The Battle of Constantine, and the School of Athens, into this mistake, when so great a critic as Longinus are both pieces of Raphael: shall we censure the School seems not wholly free from it; although what he has of Athens as faulty, because it has not the fury and fire said has been generally understood to import a severer of the other? or shall we say that Raphael was grown censure of the Odyssey than it really does, if we consider grave and old, because he chose to represent the manthe occasion on which it is introduced, and the circum-ners of old men and philosophers? There is all the stances to which it is confined.
The Odyssey (says he) is an instance how natural it is to a great genius, when it begins to grow old and decline, to delight itself in narrations and fables. For that Homer composed the Odyssey after the Iliad, many proofs may be given,' &c. From hence, in my judgment, it proceeds, that as the Iliad was written while his spirit was in its greatest vigour, the whole structure of that work is dramatic and full of action; whereas the greater part of the Odyssey is employed in narration, which is the taste of old age: so that in this latter piece we may compare him to the setting sun, which has still the same greatness, but not the same ardour or force. He speaks not in the same strain; we see no more that sublime of the Iliad, which marches on with a constant pace, without ever being stopped or retarded: there appears no more that hurry, and that strong tide of motions and passions, pouring one after another: there is no more the same fury, or the same volubility of diction, so suitable to action, and all along drawing in such innumerable images of nature. But Homer, like the ocean, is always great, even when he ebbs and retires; even when he is lowest, and loses himself most in narrations and incredible fictions: as instances of this, we cannot forget the descriptions of tempests, the adventures of Ulysses with the Cyclops, and many others. But though all this be age, it is the age of Homer. And it may be said for the credit of these fictions, that they are beautiful dreams, or if you will, the dreams of Jupiter himself. I spoke of the Odyssey, only to shew, that the greatest poets, when their genius wants strength and warmth for the pathetic, for the most part employ themselves in painting the manners. This Homer has done in characterising the suitors, and describing their way of life; which is properly a branch of comedy, whose particular business it is to represent the manners of men.'
silence, tranquillity, and composure in the one, and all the warmth, hurry, and tumult in the other, which the subject of either required: both of them had been imperfect, if they had not been as they are. And let the painter or poet be young or old, who designs or performs in this manner, it proves him to have made the piece at a time of life when he was master not only of his art, but of his discretion.
Aristotle makes no such distinction between the two poems: he constantly cites them with equal praise, and draws the rules and examples of epic writing equally from both. But it is rather to the Odyssey that Horace gives the preference, in the Epistle to Lollius, and in the Art of Poetry. It is remarkable how opposite his opinion is to that of Longinus: and that the particulars he chooses to extol, are those very fictions, and pictures of the manners, which the other seems least to approve. Those fables and manners are of the very essence of the work: but even without that regard, the fables themselves have both more invention and more instruction, and the manners more moral and example than those of the Iliad.
In some points (and those the most essential to the epic poem) the Odyssey is confessed to excel the Iliad; and principally in the great end of it, the moral. The conduct, turn, and disposition of the fable is also what the critics allow to be the better model for epic writers to follow; accordingly we find much more of the cast of this poem than of the other in the Eneid, and (what next to that is perhaps the greatest example) in the Telemachus. In the manners it is no way inferior: Longinus is so far from finding any defect in these, that he rather taxes Homer with painting them too minutely. As to the narrations, although they are more numerous as the occasions are more frequent. yet they carry no more the marks of old age, and are neither more prolix, nor more circumstantial, than the We must first observe, it is the sublime of which Lon-conversations and dialogues of the Iliad. Not to menginus is writing: that, and not the nature of Homer's tion the length of those of Phoenix in the ninth book, poem, is his subject. After having highly extolled the and of Nestor in the eleventh (which may be thought in sublimity and fire of the Iliad, he justly observes the compliance to their characters), those of Glaucus in the Odyssey to have less of those qualities, and to turn more sixth, of Æneas in the twentieth, and some others, must on the side of moral, and reflections on human life. Nor be allowed to exceed any in the whole Odyssey. And is it his business here to determine, whether the elevated that the propriety of style, and the numbers, in the spirit of the one, or the just moral of the other, be the narrations of each are equal, will appear to any who greater excellence in itself. compare them.
Secondly, the fire and fury of which he is speaking, cannot well be meant of the general spirit and inspiration which is to run through a whole epic poem, but of that particular warmth and impetuosity necessary in some parts, to image or represent actions or passions, of haste; tumult and violence. It is on occasion of citing some such particular passages in Homer, that Longinus breaks into this reflection; which seems to determine his meaning chiefly to that sense.
To form a right judgment, whether the genius of Homer had suffered any decay; we must consider, in both his poems, such parts as are of a similar nature, and will bear comparison. And it is certain we shall find in each the same vivacity and fecundity of invention, the same life and strength of imagining and colouring, the particular descriptions as highly painted, the figures as bold, the metaphors as animated, and the numbers as harmonious, and as various.
The Odyssey is a perpetual source of poetry: the stream is not the less full for being gentle; though it is true (when we speak only with regard to the sublime) that a river, foaming and thundering in cataracts from rocks and precipices, is what more strikes, amazes, and fills the mind, than the same body of water, flowing afterwards through peaceful vales and agreeable scenes of pasturage.
The Odyssey (as I have before said) ought to be considered according to its own nature and design, not with an eye to the Iliad. To censure Homer, because it is unlike what it was never meant to resemble, is as if a gardener, who had purposely cultivated two beautiful trees of contrary natures, as a specimen of his skill in the several kinds, should be blamed for not bringing them into pairs: when in root, stem, leaf, and flower, each was so entirely different, that one must have been spoiled in the endeavour to match the other.
Longinus, who saw this poem was partly of the nature of comedy,' ought not, for that very reason, to have considered it with a view to the Iliad. How little any such resemblance was the intention of Homer, may ap pear from hence, that, although the character of Ulysses was there already drawn, yet here he purposely turns to another side of it, and shows him not in that full light of glory, but in the shade of common life, with a mixture of such qualities as are requisite for all the lowest accidents of it, struggling with misfortunes, and on a level with the meanest of mankind. As for the other persons, none of them are above what we call the higher comedy: Calypso, though a goddess, is a character of intrigue; the suitors yet more approaching to it; the Phæacians are of the same cast: the Cyclops, Melanthius, and Irus, descend even to droll characters; and the scenes that appear throughout are generally of the comic kind; banquets, revels, sports, loves, and the pursuit of a
From the nature of the poem, we shall form an idea of the style. The diction is to follow the images, and to take its colour from the complexion of the thoughts. Accordingly the Odyssey is not always clothed in the majesty of verse proper to tragedy, but sometimes descends into the plainer narrative, and sometimes even to that familiar dialogue essential to comedy. However, where it cannot support a sublimity, it always preserves a dignity, or at least a propriety.
There is a real beauty in an easy, pure, perspicuous description, even of a low action. There are numerous instances of this both in Homer and Virgil: and perhaps those natural passages are not the least pleasing of their works. It is often the same in history, where the representations of common, or even domestic things, in clear, plain, and natural words, are frequently found to make the liveliest impression on the reader.
The question is, how far a poet, in pursuing the description or image of an action, can attach himself to little circumstances which contribute to form a full, and yet not a confused, idea of a thing.
Epithets are of vast service to this effect, and the right use of these is often the only expedient to render the narration poetical.
The great point of judgment is to distinguish when to speak simply, and when figuratively: but whenever the poet is obliged by the nature of his subject to descend to the lower manner of writing, an elevated style would be affected, and therefore ridiculous; and the more he was forced upon figures and letters to avoid that lowness, the more the image would be broken, and consequently
One may add, that the use of the grand style on little subjects, is not only ludicrous, but a sort of transgression against the rules of proportion and mechanics: it is using a vast force to lift a feather.
I believe, now I am upon this head, it will be found a just observation, that the low actions of life cannot be put into a figurative style, without being ridiculous; but things natural can. Metaphors raise the latter into dignity, as we see in the Georgics: but throw the former into ridicule, as in the Lutrin. I think this may very well be accounted for: laughter implies censure; inanimate and irrational beings are not objects of censure; therefore they may be elevated as much as you please, and no ridicule follows: but when rational beings are represented above their real character, it becomes ridiculous in art, because it is vicious in morality. The bees in Virgil, were they rational beings, would be ridiculous by having their actions and manners represented on a level with creatures so superior as men; since it would imply folly or pride, which are the proper objects of ridicule.
The use of pompous expressions for low actions or
thoughts, is the true sublime of Don Quixote. How far unfit it is for epic poetry, appears in its being the perfection of the mock epic. It is so far from being the sublime of tragedy, that it is the cause of all bombast: when poets, instead of being (as they imagine) con. stantly lofty, only preserve throughout a painful equality of fustian: that continued swell of language (which runs indiscriminately even through their lowest characters, aud rattles like some mightiness of meaning in the most indifferent subjects) is of a piece with that perpetual elevation of tone which the players have learnt from it; and which is not speaking, but vociferating.
There is still more reason for a variation of style in epic poetry than in tragic, to distinguish between that language of the gods proper to the muse who sings, and is inspired; and that of men, who are introduced speak ing only according to nature. Farther, there ought to be a difference of style observed in the speeches of hu man persons, and those of deities; and again, in those which may be called set harangues or orations, and those which are only conversation or dialogue. Homer has more of the latter than any other poet; what Virgil does by two or three words of narration, Homer still performs by speeches: not only replies, but even rejoinders are frequent in him, a practice almost unknown to Virgil. This renders his poems more animated, but less grave and majestic and consequently necessitates the frequent use of a lower style. The writers of tragedy lie under the same necessity if they would copy nature; whereas that painted and poetical diction which they perpetually use, would be improper even in orations designed to move with all the arts of rhetoric: this is plain from the practice of Demosthenes and Cicero; and Virgil in those of Drances and Turnus, gives an eminent example, how far removed the style of them ought to be from such an excess of figures and ornaments; which indeed fits only that language of the gods we have been speaking of, or that of a muse under inspiration.
To read through a whole work in this strain, is like travelling all along the ridge of a bill; which is not half so agreeable as sometimes gradually to rise, and sometimes gently to descend, as the way leads, and as the end of the journey directs.
Indeed the true reason that so few poets have imitated Homer in these lower parts, has been the extreme diffi culty of preserving that mixture of ease and dignity essential to them. For it is as hard for an epic poem to stoop to the narrative with success, as for a prince to descend to be familiar, without diminution to his greatness.
The sublime style is more easily counterfeited than the natural: something that passes for it, or sounds like it, is common to all false writers: but nature, purity, perspicuity, and simplicity, never walk in the clouds; they are obvious to all capacities; and when they are not evident, they do not exist.
The most plain narration not only admits of these, and of harmony (which are all the qualities of style), but it requires every one of them to render it pleasing. On the contrary, whatever pretends to a share of the sublime, may pass, notwithstanding any defects in the rest; nay, sometimes without any of them, and gain the admiration of all ordinary readers.
Homer, in his lowest narrations or speeches, is ever easy, flowing, copious, clear, and harmonious. shows not less invention in assembling the humbler, than the greater, thoughts and images: nor less judg ment in proportioning the style and the versification to these, than to the other. Let it be remembered, that the same genius that soared the highest, and from whom the greatest models of the sublime are derived, was also he who stooped the lowest, and gave to the simple narrative its utmost perfection. Which of these was the harder task to Homer himself, I cannot pretend to determine; but to his translator I can affirm (however unequal all his translations must be) that of the latter has been much more difficult.
Whoever expects here the same pomp of verse, and the same ornaments of diction, as in the Iliad, he will, and he ought to be disappointed. Were the original otherwise, it had been an offence against nature; and were the translation so, it were an offence against Homer, which is the same thing.
It must be allowed that there is a majesty and har mony in the Greek language, which greatly contribute to elevate and support the narration. But I must also observe that this is an advantage grown upon the language since Homer's time: for things are removed from vulgarity by being out of use; and if the words we could find in any present language were equally sono