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In characters, Homer is without a rival. He abounds in dialogue and conversation, and this produces a spiriled exhibition of his personages.
This dramatic method, however, though more natural, expressive, ar:d animated, is less grave and majestic than narrative, Some of Homer's speeches are unseasonable, and others trifling. With the Greek vivacity he has also some of the Greek loquacity.
In no character, perhaps, does he display greater art than in that of Helen. Notwithstanding her frailty and crimes, he contrives to make her an interesting object. The admiration with which the old generals behold her, when she is coming toward them; her veiling herself, and shedding tears in the presence of Priam her grief at the sight of Menelaus ; her uphraiding of Paris for his cowardice, and her returning fondness for him, are exquisite strokes, and worthy of a great master.
Homer has been accused of making Achilles too brutal a character ; and critics seem to have adopted this censure from two lines of Horace :
Impiger, iracundis, inexorabilis, acer,
appears that Horace'went beyond the truth. Achilles is passionate ; but he is not a contemner of law, He has reason on his side ; for though he discovers too much heat, it must be allowed that he had been notoriously wronged. Beside bravery and contempt of death, he has the qualities of openness and sincerity. He loves his subjects, and respects the gods. He is warm in his friendships ; and throughout he is high spirited, gallant and honourable.
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 diviniucs,
he knows how to make them appear with most awful majesty. Jupiler 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 Apollo.
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 poets ical 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 no 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 dis. turb his narration or description. His lions, bulls, eagles, and herds of sheep recur too frequently,
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
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 lan
of the poem.
guid 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 ENEID OF VIRGIL.
The distinguishing excellencies of the Æneid are elegance and tenderness. Virgil is less animated and less sublime than Homer, but he has fewer negligen. cies, greater variety and more dignity. The Æneid has all the correctness and improvements of the Au. gustan 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 Æneid, which is the establishment of Æneas in Italy, is extremely happy. Nothing could be more interesting to the Romans than Virgil's deriving their origin from so famous a hero as Æneas. 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 Æneas in Italy by order of the gods is constantly kept in view. The episodes are properly linked to the main subjecť; and the nodus or intrigue of the poem is happily formed. The wrath of Juno, who opposes Æneas, 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 Æneid; but even Virgil is not without his faults. One is, that he has 60 few marked characters. Achates, Cloanthes, Gyas, and other Trojan heroes, who accompanied Ænees into Italy, are undistinguished figures. Even Æneas
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 puch to be commisted to the danes. 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 por m this merit is next to sublimity. The second book of the Æneid is one of the greatest master-pieces ever executed. The death of old Priam, and the family pieces of Æneas, 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 Æneas with Andromache and Helenus in the third book ; the episodes of Pallas and Evander, of Ni. sus and Euryalus, of Lausus and Mezentius, 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, sol. emn 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 stateliness. 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.
Lucan is inferior to Homer and Virgil ; yet he deserves attention. There is little invention in his Phar. salia ; and it is conducted in too historical a manner to be strictly epic. It may be arranged, however, in the epic class, as it treats of great and heroic adventures. The subject of the Pharsalia has all the epic dignity and grandeur ; and it possesses unity of object, viz. the triumph of Cæsar over Roman liberty.
But though the subject of Lucan is confessedly heroic, it has two defects. Civil wars present objects too shocking for epic poetry ; and furnish odious and disgusting views of human nature. But Lucan's genius seems to delight in savage scenes.
The other defect of Lucan's subject is, that it was too near the time in which he lived. This deprived him of the assistance of fiction and machinery ; and thereby rendered his work less splendid and amusing. . The facts on which he founds his poem were too well known, and too recent to admit fables, and the interposition of gods.
The characters of Lucan are drawn with spirit and force. But though Pompey is his hero, he has not made him very interesting. He marks not Pompey by any high distinction, either for magnanimity or valour.