Page images



The genius of the pastoral, as well as of every other respectable species of poetry, had its origin in the east, and from thence was transplanted by the muses of Greece; but whether from the continent of the Lesser Asia, or from Egypt, which, about the era of the Grecian pastoral, was the hospitable nurse of letters, it is not easy to determine. From the subjects, and the manner of Theocritus, one would incline to the latter opinion, while the history of Bion is in favour of the former.

However, though it should still remain a doubt through what channel the pastoral traveled westward, there is not the least shadow of uncertainty concerning its oriental origin.

In those ages which, guided by sacred chronology, from a comparative view of time, we call the early ages, it appears, from the most authentic historians, that the chiefs of the people employed themselves in rural exercises, and that astronomers and legislators were at the same time shepherds. Thus Strabo informs us, that the history of the creation was communicated to the Egyptians by a Chaldean shepherd.

From these circumstances it is evident, not only that such shepherds were capable of all the dignity and elegance peculiar to poetry, but that whatever poetry they attempted would be of the pastoral kind; would take its subjects from those scenes of rural simplicity in which they were conversant, and, as it was the offspring of harmony and nature, would employ the powers it derived from the former, to celebrate the beauty and benevolence of the latter.

Accordingly we find that the most ancient poems treat of agriculture, astronomy, and other objects within the rural and natural systems.

What constitutes the difference between the georgic and the pastoral, is love and the colloquial or dramatic form of composition peculiar to the latter: this form of composition is sometimes dispensed with, and love and rural imagery alone are thought sufficient to distinguish the pastoral. The tender passion, however, seems to be essential to this species of poetry, and is hardly ever excluded from those pieces that were intended to come under this denomination: even in those eclogues of the Amoebean kind, whose only purport is a trial of skill between contending shep

herds, love has its usual share, and the praises of their respective mistresses are the general subjects of the competitors.

It is to be lamented, that scarce any oriental compositions of this kind have survived the ravages of ignorance, tyranny, and time; we cannot doubt that many such have been extant, possibly as far down as that fatal period, never to be mentioned in the world of letters without horror, when the glorious monuments of human ingenuity perished in the ashes of the Alexandrian library.

Those ingenious Greeks, whom we call the parents of pastoral poetry, were, probably, no more than imitators, of imitators that derived their harmony from higher and remoter sources, and kindled their poetical fires at those then unextinguished lamps which burned within the tombs of oriental genius.

It is evident that Homer has availed himself of those magnificent images and descriptions so frequently to be met with in the books of the Old Testament; and why may not Theocritus, Moschus, and Bion have found their archetypes in other eastern writers, whose names have perished with their works? yet, though it may not be illiberal to admit such a supposition, it would certainly be invidious to conclude, what the malignity of cavillers alone could suggest with regard to Homer, that they destroyed the sources from which they borrowed, and, as it is fabled of the young of the pelican, drained their supporters to death.

As the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament was performed at the request, and under the patronage, of Ptolemy Philadelphus, it were not to be wondered if Theocritus, who was entertained at that prince's court, had borrowed some part of his pastoral imagery from the poetical passages of those books.

I think it can hardly be doubted that the Sicilian poet had in his eye certain expressions of the prophet Isaiah, when he wrote the following lines :

Νύν τα μεν φορέoιτε βάτοι, φορέoιτε δ' άκανθαι.
“A δε καλά Νάρκισσος επ' άρκευθοισι κομάσαι:
Πάντα δ' εναλλα γένοιτο, και α πίτυς όχνας ενέικαι

και τως κύνας όλαφος έλκοι. .
Let vexing brambles the blue violet bear,
On the rude thorn Narcissus dress his hair,
All, all reversed— The pine with pears be crown'd,

And the bold deer shall drag the trembling hound.
The cause, indeed, of these phenomena is very
different in the Greek from what it is in the He-
brew poet; the former employing them on the
death, the latter on the birth, of an important
person : but the marks of imitation are neverthe-
less obvious.

It might, however, be expected, that if Theocritus had borrowed at all from the sacred writers, the celebrated pastoral epithalamium of Solomon,

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

so much within his own walk of poetry, would not certainly have escaped his notice. His epithalamium on the marriage of Helena, moreover, gave him an open field for imitation; therefore, if he has any obligations to the royal bard, we may expect to find them there.

The very opening of the poem is in the spirit of the Hebrew song :

Ούτω δή πρώϊζα κατέδραθες, ώ φίλε γαμβρέ ; The colour of imitation is still stronger in the following passage :

'Aώς αντέλλουσα καλόν διέφαινε πρόσωπον,
Πότνια νυξ άτε, λευκόν έαρ χειμώνος ανέντος:
"Ωδε και ά χρυσέα Ελένα διαφαίνετ' εν αμίν,
Πιείρα μεγάλα άτανέδραμε κόσμος αρούρα.
"Η κάπα κυπάρισσος, ή άρματι θεσσαλός ίππος.

This description of Helen is infinitely above the style and figure of the Sicilian pastoral : “She is like the rising of the golden morning, when the night departeth, and when the winter is over and gone. She resembleth the cypress in the garden, the horse in the chariots of Thessaly.” These figures plainly declare their origin; and others, equally imitative, might be pointed out in the same idyllium.

This beautiful and luxuriant marriage pastoral of Solomon is the only perfect form of the oriental eclogue that has survived the ruins of time; a happiness for which it is, probably, more indebted

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »