« AnteriorContinuar »
superior agency to do-What! to bring Æneas and Dido to bed together; which if necessary to the plan of the poem, might well enough have been left to plain human nature. If the reconciliation of these two contending deities, so as to be consistent with the separate views of each, required the event; yet it must be confessed, that their divine wisdom adopted a rather vulgar method of accomplishing it. It might have been managed as an affair of ingenuous love ; and, if deities must be summoned, Juno might have bestowed all her majesty on the hero, and Venus all her seductive graces on the Carthaginian queen. Thus the event would have been accomplished with more grace and dignity; the frailty of the fair one would have been more extenu. ated, and the gallantry of the Trojan better supported; while it would have afforded a rich field of elegant and affecting description poet.
But I mention not this as the most objectionable introduction of heathen
deities into the ancient epic. The passage, as it has issued from the pen of Virgil, is full of beauties. More truly ridiculous and disgusting interferences of the celestial machinery abound.
Sometimes, indeed, the representation of the persons of the deities summons all the genius of Homer and Virgil, of each in their respective line of excellence. The majesty of Jove by the former, and the grace of Venus by the latter, are animated descriptions of the grand and the beautiful in the human form. · The one gave existence to the statue of Phidias, while it is not improbable, that the Medicean Venus suggested to Virgil his conception of the Paphian queen. There is a correspondence of form and elegance in both, and the vera incessu patuit Dea is presented in the perceptible and almost inchoate movement from the pedestal, which is so happily expressed in the statue.
Homer and Virgil were poets of the first order. The question is not with them, but with the foolish and contemptible deities,
whom the faith of their day imposed upon them.
There are two ways in which the supernatural beings interfere with the human actors of the poem. The one is by a kind of inspiration, elevating those, whom they favour, and depressing and terrifying those, whom they hate and persecute. This to a poet may, perhaps, be tolerated, though it is a miserable exhibition of the popular divinities, and accounts too well for the debased moral of the heathens, their partial affections, their vindictive and implacable' passions, their want of all sympathy for man as man. It
be considered in this way, as a mere poetical fiction or imagery, conveying in more emphatic terms the idea of the grand, or the terrible. But the poetical illusion vanishes, when in the second way these deities are personally introduced on the stage ; never above, generally below the standard of men ; 'serving to no purpose but as the necessary appendages of a national poem, or as a sacrifice to a political religion,
but derived from a popular faith, which was the
very dotage of a low, gross, and vicious superstition.
Of this second class are the following instances, which, among many others that might be adduced, it may be sufficient to notice.
Diomed is a warrior of the highest order. Is his heroism exalted' by the personal accompaniment and cooperation of Minerva?
She the man inspires,
Æneas is in the most imminent danger from his resistless arm. Thus far is still tolerable, and, by a little more strain of the imagination, Minerva might still be considered as but a représentative of the hero's personal valour. -But Venus personally interposes to rescue her mortal son. She is foiled and wounded in the attempt; nor does Mars himself, the dread god of battles, fare better, when opposed to the martial goddess in the person of Diomed. Surely
this is heroism in burlesque. Those who can admire such a scene, must, methinks, have submitted their taste and understanding to as low a standard, as it was reduced with the heathens by their wretched theology. Though Homer told the tale, as he probably received it from tradition, yet it , seems as if he felt the ridiculousness of the scene, when he sends the discomfited god blubbering up to the court of Heaven, and impotently urging his complaints before his divine papa,
who only mocks his sorrows. But that the poet meant more than mere poetical allegory, by summoning his deities to the aid of his mortal combatants, is evinced by their humiliation in moments of difficulty and danger, when deserted by their heavenly assistants.
Hector is certainly a favourite character with Homer, both as a warrior and a man. He is, indeed, in every view, the most illustrious hero of the Iliad. From the gallantry of his spirit, he challenges the bravest knight of Greece to the combat. Ajax steps forth