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What is of most importance in the tenor of the narration is, that it be perspicuous, animated, and enriched with all the beauties of poetry. No sort of composition requires more strength, dignity, and fire, than the epic poem. It is the region within which we look for every thing that is sublime in description, tender in sentiment, and bold and lively in expression; and therefore, though an author's plan should be faultless, and his story ever so well conducted, yet if he be feeble, or flat in style, destitute of affecting scenes and deficient in poetical colouring, he can have no success. The ornaments which epic poetry admits, must all be of the grave and chaste kind. Nothing that is loose, ludicrous, or affected, finds any place there. All the objects which it presents ought to be either great, or tender, or pleasing. Descriptions of disgusting or shocking objects, should as much as possible be avoided; and therefore the fable of the Harpies, in the third book of the Eneid, and the allegory of Sin and Death, in the second book of Paradise Lost, had been. better omitted in these celebrated poems.




AS the epic poem is universally allowed to possiss the highest rank among poetical works, it merits a particuar discussion. Having treated of the nature of this composition, and the principal rules relating to it, I proceed to make som observations on the most distinguished epic poems, ancien and modern.

Homer claims on every account, our first attention, as the father not only of epic poetry, but, in some measure, of poetry in general. Whoever sits down to read Homer, must consider that he is going to read the most ancient book in the world, next to the Bible. Without making this reflection, he cannot enter into the spirit, nor relish the composition of the author. He is not to look for the correctness and Elegance of the Augustan age. He must divest himself of our modern ideas of dignity and refinement: and transport his imagination almost three thousand years back in the history of mankind. What he is to expect, is a picture of the ancient world. He must reckon upon finding characters and manners, that retain a considerable tincture of the savage state; moral ideas, as yet imperfectly formed; and the appetites and passions of men brought under none of those restraints, to which in a more advanced state of society, they are accustomed. But bodily strength, prized as one of the chief heroic endowments; the preparing of a meal, and the appeasing of hunger, described as very interesting objects; and the heroes boasting of themselves openly, scolding one another outrageously, and glorying, as we should now think very indecently, over their fallen enemies.

The opening of the Iliad possesses none of that sort of dignity, which a modern looks for in a great epic poem. It turns

on no higher subject, than the quarrel of two chieftains about a female slave. The priest of Apollo beseeches Agamemnon to restore his daughter, who in the plunder of a city, had fallen to Agamemnon's share of booty. He refuses. Apollo, at the prayer of his priest, sends a plague into the Grecian camp. The augur, when consulted, declares that there is no way of appeasing Apollo, but by restoring the daughter of his priest. Agamemnon is enraged at the augur; professes that he likes this slave better than his wife Clytemnestra ; but since he must resore her in order to save his army, insists to have another in he place; and pitches upon Briseis, the slave of Achilles. Achilles, as was to be expected, kindles into a rage at this denand; reproaches him for his rapacity and insolence, and, aftr giving him many hard names, solemnly swears, that, if he i to be thus treated by the general, he will withdraw his troops, nd assist the Grecians no more against the Trojans. He withdraws accordingly. His mother, the goddess Thetis, interests Jupiter in his cause; who, to revenge the wrong which Achilles had suffered, takes part against the Greeks, and suffers them to fall into great and long distress; until Achilles is pacified, and reconciliation brought about between him and Agamemnon.

Such is the basis of the whole action of the Iliad. Hence rise all those "speciosa miracula," as Horace terms them, which fill that extraordinary poem; and which have had the power of interesting almost all the nations of Europe, during every age, since the days of Homer. The general admiration commanded by a poetical plan, so very different from what any one would have formed in our times, ought not, upon reflexion, to be matter of surprise. For, besides that a fertile genius can enrich and beautify any subject on which it is employed, it is to be observed, that ancient manners, how much soever they contradict our present notions of dignity and refinement, afford, nevertheless, materials for poetry, superior in some respects, to those which are furnished by a more polished state of society. They discover human nature more open and undisguised, without any of those studied forms of behaviour which now conceal men from one another. They give free scope to the strongest and most impetuous emotions of the mind, which

make a better figure in description, than calm and temperate feelings. They show us our native prejudices, appetites and desires, exerting themselves without control. From this state of manners, joined with the advantage of that strong and expressive style, which, as I formerly observed, commonly distinguishes the compositions of early ages, we have ground to look for more of the boldness, ease and freedom of native genius, in compositions of such a period, than in those of more civilized times. And, accordingly, the two great characters of the Homeric poetry are, fire and simplicity. Let us now proceed to make some more particular observations on the Iliad, under the three heads of the subject and action, the characters, and narration of the poet.

The subject of the Iliad must unquestionably be admitted to be, in the main, happily chosen. In the days of Homer, no object could be more splendid and dignified than the Trojan war. So great a confederacy of the Grecian states, under one leader; and the ten years' siege which they carried on against Troy, must have spread far abroad the ren wn of many military exploits, and interested all Greece in the traditions concerning the heroes who had most eminently signalized themselves. Upon these traditions, Homer grounded his poem; and though he lived, as is generally believed, only two or three centuries after the Trojan war, yet, through the want of written records, tradition must, by this time, have fallen into the degree of obscurity most proper for poetry; and have left him at full liberty to mix as much fable as he pleased, with the remains of true history. He has not chosen, for his subject, the whole Trojan war; but, with great judgment, he has selected one part of it, the quarrel betwixt Achilles and Agamemnon, and the events to which that quarrel gave rise ; which, though they take up forty-seven days only, yet include the most interesting, and most critical period of the war. By this management, he has given greater unity to what would have otherwise been an unconnected history of battles. He has gained one hero, or principal character, Achilles, who reigns throughout the work; and he has shewn the pernicious effect of discord among confederated princes. At the same time, I admit that Homer is less fortunate in his subject than Virgil. The VOL. II.


sence of Priam, her grief and self-accusations at the sight of Menelaus, her upbraiding Paris for his cowardice, and, at the same time, her returning fondness for him, exhibit the most striking features of that mixed female character, which we partly condemn, and partly pity. Homer never introduces her, without making her say something to move our compassion; while, at the same time, he takes care to contrast her character with that of a virtuous matron, in the chaste and tender Andromache.

Paris himself, the author of all the mischief, is characterised with the utmost propriety. He is, as we should expect him, a mixture of gallantry and effeminacy. He retreats from Menelaus, on his first appearance; but, immediately afterwards, enters into single combat with him. He is a great master of civility, remarkably courteous in his speeches; and receives all the reproofs of his brother Hector with modesty and deference. He is described as a person of elegance and taste. He was the architect of his own palace. He is, in the sixth book, found by Hector, burnishing and dressing up his armour; and issues forth to battle with a peculiar gaiety and ostentation of appearance, which is illustrated by one of the finest comparisons in all the Iliad, that of a horse prancing to the river.

Homer has been blamed for making his hero Achilles of too brutal and unamiable a character. But I am inclined to think, that injustice is commonly done to Achilles, upon the credit of two lines of Horace, who has certainly overloaded his character. Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,

Jura negat sibi nata; nihil non arrogat armis.

Achilles is passionate, indeed, to a great degree; but he is far from being a contemner of laws and justice. In the contest with Agamemnon, though he carries it on with too much heat, yet he has reason on his side. He was notoriously wronged; but he submits, and resigns Briseis peaceably, when the heralds come to demand her; only, he will fight no longer under the command of a leader who had affronted him. Besides his wonderful bravery and contempt of death, he has several other qualities of a hero. He is open and sincere. He loves his subjects, and respects the gods. He is distinguished by strong

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