Page images

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, Minerva, 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 hurry, terror, and confusion. In similes nò poet abounds so much. His comparisons, however, taken in general, are not his greatest beauties; they come upon us in too quick succession; and often disturb his narration or description. His lions, bulls, eagles, and herds of sheep, recur too frequently.

[ocr errors]

The criticism of Longinus upon the Odyssey is not without foundation; that in this poem Homer 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 distinguishing excellencies of the Eneid are elegance and tenderness. Virgil is less animated and less sublime than Homer; but he has fewer negliZ

gencies, greater variety, and more dignity. The Eneid has all the correctness and improvements of the Augustan age. We meet no contention of heroes about a female slave; no violent scolding, nor abusive language; but the poem opens with the utmost magnificence.

The subject of the Eneid, which is the establishment of Eneas in Italy, is extremely happy. No. thing could be more interesting to the Romans than Virgil's deriving their origin from so famous a hero as Eneas. The object was splendid itself; it gave the poet a theme, taken from the traditionary history of his country; it allowed him to adopt Homer's mythology; and afforded him frequent opportunities of glancing at all the future great exploits of the Romans, and of describing Italy in its ancient and fabulous state.

Unity of action is perfectly preserved in the Æneid. The settlement of Eneas in Italy by order of the gods is constantly kept in view. The episodes are properly linked to the main subject; and the nodus or intrigue of the poem is happily formed. The wrath of Juno, who opposes Eneas, gives rise to all his difficulties, and connects the human with the celestial operations through the whole poem.

Great art and judgment are displayed in the Eneid; but even Virgil is not without his faults. One is, that he has so few marked characters. Achates, Cloanthes,

Gyas, and other Trojan heroes, who accompanied Eneas into Italy, are undistinguished figures. Even Eneas himself is not a very interesting hero. He is described, indeed, as pious and brave; but his character is not marked by those strokes that touch the heart. The character of Dido is the best supported in the whole Eneid. Her warmth of passion, keenness of resentment, and violence of character, exhibit a more animated figure than any other Virgil has drawn.

The management of the subject also is in some respects exceptionable. The six last books received not the finishing hand of the author; and for this reason he ordered his poem to be committed to the flames. The wars with the Latins are in dignity inferior to the more interesting objects previously presented to us; and the reader is tempted to take part with Turnus against Eneas.

The principal excellency of Virgil, and what he possesses beyond all poets, is tenderness. His soul was full of sensibility. He felt himself all the affecting circumstances in the scenes he describes; and knew how by a single stroke to reach the heart. In an epic poem, this merit is next to sublimity. The second book of the Eneid is one of the greatest master-pieces ever executed. The death of old Priam, and the family-pieces of Eneas, Anchises, and Creusa, are as tender as can be conceived. In the fourth book, the

unhappy passion and death of Dido are admirable. The interview of Eneas with Andromache and He. lenus in the third book; the episodes of Pallas and Evander, of Nisus and Euryalus, of Lausus and Me-zentius, are all striking instances of the power of raising the tender emotions. The best and most finished books are the first, second, fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and twelfth.

Virgil's battles are in fire and sublimity far inferior to Homer's. But in one important episode, the descent into hell, he has outdone Homer in the Odyssey by many degrees. There is nothing in all antiquity, equal in its kind to the sixth book of the Eneid. The scenery, the objects, and the description, are great, solemn and sublime.

With regard to the comparative merit of these two great princes of epic poetry, it must be allowed that Homer was the greater genius, and Virgil the more correct writer. Homer is more original, more bold, more sublime, and more forcible. In judgment they are both eminent. Homer has all the Greek vivacity ; Virgil all the Roman státeliness. The imagination of Homer is the most copious; that of Virgil the most correct. The strength of the former lies in warming the fancy; that of the latter in touching the heart. Homer's style is more simple and animated; Virgil's more elegant and uniform.

« EelmineJätka »