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affronted him. Besides his wonderful bravery and contempt of death, he has several other qalities of a hero. He is open and sincere. He loves his subject, and respects the gods. He is dis tinguished by strong friendships and attachments; he is throughout high-spirited, gallant, and honourable, and allowing for a degree of ferocity which belonged to the times, and enters into the characters of most of Homer's heroes, he is, upon the whole, abundantly fitted to raise high admiration, though not pure esteem.
Under the head of characters, Homer's gods, or his machinery,* according to the critical term, come under consideration. The gods make a great figure in the Iliad; much greater, indeed, than they do in the Eneid, or in any other epic poem; and hence Homer has become the standard of poetic theology. Concerning machinery in general, I delivered my sentiments in the former lecture. Concerning Homer's machinery in particular, we must observe, that it was not his own invention. Like every other good poet, he unquestionably followed the traditions of his country. The age of the Trojan war approached to the age of the gods and demi-gods in Greece. Several of the heroes concerned in that war were reputed to be the children of these gods. Of course the traditionary tales relating to them and to the exploits of that age, were blended with the fables of the deities. These popular legends Homer very properly adopted, though it is absurd to infer from this, that therefore poets arising in succeeding ages, and writing on quite different subjects, are obliged to follow the same system of machinery.
In the hands of Homer, it produces, on the whole, a noble effect: it is always gay and amusing, always lofty and magnificent. It introduces into his poem a great number of personages, almost as much distinguished by characters as his human actors. It diversifies his battles greatly, by the intervention of the gods; and by frequently shifting the scene from earth to heaven, it gives an agreeable relief to the mind, in the midst of so much blood and slaughter. Homer's gods, it must be confessed, though they be always lively and animated figures, yet sometimes want dignity. The conjugal contentions between Juno and Jupiter, with which he entertains us, and the indecent squabbles he describes among the inferior deities, according as they take different sides with the contending parties, would be very improper models for any modern poet to imitate. In apology for Homer, however, it must be remembered, that according to the fables of those days, the gods are but one remove above the condition of men. They had all the human passions. They drink and feast, and are vulnerable like men, they have children and kinsmen, in the opposite armies; and except that they are immortal, that they have houses on the top of Olympus, and winged chariots, in which they are often flying down
This term is used as implying that the gods are the means or instruments by which Homer brings about the development of his story, and by which its incidents are influenced and unravelled.
to earth, and then reascending, in order to feast on nectar and ambrosia, they are in truth no higher beings than the human heroes, and therefore very fit to take part in their contentions. At the same time, though Homer so frequently degrades his divinities, yet he knows how to make them appear, in some conjunctures, with the most awful majesty. Jupiter, the father of gods and men, is for the most part introduced with great dignity; and several of the most sublime conceptions in the Iliad are founded on the appearances of Neptune, Minerva, and Apollo, on great occasions.
With regard to Homer's style and manner of writing, it is easy, natural, and in the highest degree animated. It will be admired by such only as relish ancient simplicity, and can make allowance for certain negligences and repetitions, which greater refinement in the art of writing has taught succeeding, though far inferior, poets to avoid. For Homer is the most simple in his style of all the great poets, and resembles most the style of the poetical parts of the Old Testament. They can have no conception of his manner, who are acquainted with him in Mr. Pope's translation only. An excellent poetical performance that translation is, and faithful in the main to the original. In some places, it may be thought to have even improved Homer. It has certainly softened some of his rudenesses, and added delicacy and grace to some of his sentiments. But withal, it is no other than Homer modernized. In the midst of the elegance and luxuriancy of Mr. Pope's language, we lose sight of the old bard's simplicity. I know indeed no author to whom it is more difficult to do justice in a translation, than Homer. As the plainness of his diction, were it literally rendered, would often appear flat in any modern language, so in the midst of that plainness, and often not a little heightened by it, there are everywhere breaking forth upon us flashes of native fire, of sublimity, and beauty, which hardly any language, except his own, could preserve. His versification has been universally ac knowledged to be uncommonly melodious; and to carry, beyond that of any poet, a resemblance in the sound to the sense and meaning.
In narration, Homer is, at all times, remarkably concise, which renders him lively and agreeable; though in his speeches, as I have before admitted, sometimes tedious. He is everywhere descriptive, and descriptive by means of those well-chosen particulars, which form the excellency of description. Virgil gives us the nod of Jupiter with great magnificence.
Annuit et totum nutu tremefecit Olympum.*-En. ix. 106.
But Homer, in describing the same thing, gives us the sable eye-brows of Jupiter bent, and his ambrosial curls shaken at the moment when he gives the nod, and thereby renders the figure more natural and lively. Whenever he seeks to draw our attention to some interesting object, he particularizes it so happily, as to paint it in a manner to our sight. The shot of Pandarus'
"He gave the nod, and all Olympus trembled."
arrow, which broke the truce between the two armies, as related in the fourth book, may be given for an instance; and, above all, the admirable interview of Hector and Andromache in the sixth book, where all the circumstances of the conjugal and parental tenderness, the child affrighted with the view of his father's helmet, Hector taking the child in his arms, and offering up a prayer for him to the gods; Andromache receiving back the child with a smile of pleasure, and at the same instant bursting into tears, as it is finely expressed in the original, form the most natural and affecting picture that can possibly be imagined.
In the description of battles, Homer particularly excels. He works up the hurry, the terror, and confusion of them in so masterly a manner, as to place the reader in the very midst of the engagement. It is here that the fire of his genius is most highly displayed; insomuch that Virgil's battles, and indeed those of most other poets, are cold and inanimate in comparison with Homer's.
With regard to similes, no poet abounds so much with them. Several of them are beyond doubt extremely beautiful: such as those of the fires in the Trojan camp compared to the moon and stars by night: Paris going forth to battle, to the war-horse prancing to the river; and Euphorbus slain, to the flowering shrub cut down by a sudden blast; all which are among the finest poetical passages that are anywhere to be found. I am not, however, of opinion that Homer's comparisons, taken in general, are his greatest beauties. They come too thick upon us, and often interrupt the train of his narration or description. The resemblance on which they are founded, is sometimes not clear; and the objects whence they are taken are too uniform. His lions, bulls, eagles, and herds of sheep recur too frequently; and the allusions in some of his similes, even after the allowances that are to be made for ancient manners, must be admitted to be debasing.
BORN in 1672, and died in 1719. Immortal as an essayist as long as the 66 Spectator” and “Guardian” shall remain "household words" in the English language; he likewise distinguished himself as a poet and dramatist of no mean ability. The history of the death of Cato of Utica, who, after the fatal defeat at Pharsalia, threw himself on his sword, after reading Plato's "Phædon,' or Dialogue on the Immortality of the Soul, will be found well narrated in "Plutarch's Lives."
It must be so-Plato, thou reasonest well
Else whence this pleasing hope, this fond desire,
Or whence this secret dread, and inward horror,
Back on herself, and startles at destruction?
Thus am I doubly arm'd-my death and life,
MEMORY, of all the powers of the mind, is the most delicate, and frail; it is the first of our faculties that age invades. Seneca, the father, the rhetorician, confesseth of himself, he had a miraculous one, not only to receive, but to hold. I myself could, in my youth, have repeated all that ever I had made, and so continued till I was past forty; since, it is much decayed in me. Yet I can repeat whole books that I have read, and poems of some selected friends, which I have liked to charge my memory with. It was wont to be faithful to me, but shaken with age now, and sloth, which weakens the strongest abilities, it may perform somewhat, but cannot promise much. By exercise it is to be made better, and serviceable. Whatsoever I pawned with it while I was young and a boy, it offers me readily, and without stops: but what I trust to it now, or have done of later years, it lays up more negligently, and oftentimes loses; so that I receive mine own (though frequently called for) as if it were new and borrowed. Nor do I always find presently from it what I seek; but while I am doing another thing, that I laboured for will come: and what I sought
with trouble, will offer itself when I am quiet. Now in some men I have found it as happy as nature, who, whatsoever they read or pen, they can say without book presently; as if they did then write in their mind. And it is more a wonder in such as have a swift style, for their memories are commonly slowest; such as torture their writings, and go into council for every word, must needs fix somewhat, and make it their own at last, though but through their own vexation.