Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

sonages to relate a part of the action that passed before the poem opens.

Homer follows one method in his liad, and the other in his Odyssey. It is to be observed, however, that if the narrative be given by any of the actors, it gives the poet greater liberty of spreading out such parts of the subject, as be inclines to dwell upon in person, and of comprising the rest within a short recital. When the subject is of great extent, and comprehends the transactions of several years, as in the Odyssey and Æneid, this methed seems preferable. But, wben the sobject is of smaller compass and shorter duration, as in the liad apd Jerusalem, the poet may, without disadvantage, relate the whole in his own person.

What is of most importance in the narration is, that it be perspicuous, animated, and enriched with every poetic beauty. No sort of composition requires more strength, dignity and fire, than an epic poem. It is the region in which we look for every thing sublime in description, tender in sentiment, and bold or lively in expression. The ornaments of epic poetry, are grave and chaste. Nothing loose, ludicrous, or affected, finds place there. All the objects it presents, onght to be great, tender, or pleasing. Descriptions of disgosting or shocking objects are to be avoided. Hence the fable of the Harpies in the Æneid, and the allegory of Sin and Death, in Paradise Lost, should have been omitted.

HOMER'S ILIAD AND ODYSSEY. The fatkier of epic poetry is Homer; and in order to relish him, we must divest ourselves of modern ideas of dignity and refinement, and transport our imagination almost three thousand years back in the history of mankind. The reader is, to expect a picture of the ancient world. The two great characters of Homer's poetry, are fire and simplicity. But, to have a clear idea of his merit, let us consider the Iliad under the three heads of the subject or action, the characters and the narration:

The subject of the Iliad is happily chosen. For no subject could be more splendid than the Trojan war. A great confederacy of the Grecian states, and ten years seige of Troy, must bave spread far abroad the renown of many military exploits, and given an extensive interest to the beroes, who were concerned in them. Upon these traditions, Homer grounded his poem; and, as he lived two or three centuries after the Trojan war, he had full liberty to intermingle fable with history. He chose not, however, the whole Trojan war for his subject; but with great judgment, selected the quarrelbetweep Achilles and Agamemnon, which includes the most interesting period of the war.

He has thus given greater unity to his poem. He has gained one hero, or principal character, that is, Achilles; and shown the pernicious effects of discord among confederated princes.

The praise of high invention has in every age been justly given to Homer. His incidents, speeches, characters, divine and human; his battles, his little history pieces of the persons slain, discover a boundless invention. Nor is his judgment less worthy of praise. His story is conducted with great art. He rises upon us gradually. His heroes are introduced with exquisite skill to our ac

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

quaintance. The distress thickens, as the poem advances; every thing serves to aggrandize Achilles, and to make him the capital figure.

In characters, Homer is without a rival. He abounds in dialogue and conversation, and this produces a spirited exhibition of his personages. This dramatic method, however, though more natural, expressive, and animated, is less grave and majestic, than parrative. Some of Homer's speeches are unseasonable, and others trifling. With the Greek vivacity, he has also some of the Greek loquacity.

In no character, perhaps, does he display greater art, than in that of Helen. Notwithstanding herfrailty and crimes, he contrives to make her an interesting object. The admiration, with which the old generals behold her, when she is coming toward them; her veiling herself and shedding tears in the presence of Priam; her grief at the sight of Menelaus; ber upbraiding of Paris for his cowardice, and her returning fondness for him, are exquisite strokes, and worthy of a great master.

Homer has been accused of making Achilles too brutal a character; and critics seem to bave adopted this censure from two lines of Horace;

Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,

Jura negat sibi nata; nihil non arrogat armis. It appears that Horace went beyond the truth.

billis is passionate ; but he is not a contemner of law.

He has reason on his side ; for, though he discovers too much heat, it must be allowed, that he had been notoriously wronged. Beside bravery and contempt of death, he has the qualities of openness and sincerity. He loves his sub

jects, and respects the gods. He is warm in his friendships; and throughout, he is high spirited, gallant, and honourable.

Homer's gods make a great figure; but his machinery was not his own invention. He followed the traditions of his country.

But, though his machinery is often lofty and magnificent, yet his gods are often deficient in dignity. They have all the human passions; they drink, and feast, and are vulnerable, like men. While, however, he at times degrades his divinities, he knows how to make them appear with most awful majesty. Jupiter for the most part, is introduced with great dignity; and several of the most sublime conceptions in the Iliad are founded on the appearances of Neptune, Minecva, and Appollo.

The style of Homer is easy, natural, and highly animated. Of all the great poets, he is the most simple in his style, and resembles most the style of the poetical parts of the Old Testament. Pope's translation of him affords no idea of his manner. His versification, however, is allowed to be uncommonly melodious; and to carry beyond that of any poet, resemblance of sound to sense.

In narration, Homer is always concise and descriptive. He paints his objects in a manner to our sight. His battles are singularly admirable. We see them in all their burry, terror, and confusion. In similes no poet abounds so much. His comparisons, however, taken in general, are pot his greatest beauties.; they come upon us in too quick succession; and often disturb his parration or description. His lions, bults, eagles, and herds of sheep, recur too frequently,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

The criticism of Longinus upon the Odyssey, is not without foundation; tbat in this poem Hoiper may be likened to the setting sun, whose grandeur remains without the heat of his meridian beams. It wants the vigour and sublimity of the Iliad; yet possesses so many beauties, as to be justly entitled to high praise. It is a very amusing poem, and has much greater variety than the Iliad. It contains many interesting stories and pleasing pictures of ancient manners. Instead of the ferocity which pervades the Iliad, it presents us most amiable images of humanity and hospitality. It entertains us with many a wonderful adventure, and many a landscape of nature; and instructs us by a rich vein of morality and virtue, running through every part of the poem.

There are some defects, however, in the Odyssey. Many of its scenes fall below the majesty of an epic poem. The last twelve books are, in many places, languid and tedious; and, perhaps, the poet is not happy in the discovery of Ulysses to Penelope. She is too cautious and distrustful; and we meet not that joyous surprise, expected on such an occasion.

THE ÆNEID OF VIRGIL. Tos distinguishing excellencies of the Æneid are elegance and tenderness. Virgil is less apimated and less sublime than Homer; but he has fewer negligences, greater variety, and more dignity. The Æneid has all the correctness and improvements of the Augustan age. We meet no contention of heroes about a female slave,

« AnteriorContinuar »