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Adam's Speech, at parting with the Angel, has in it a Deference and Gratitude agreeable to an Inferior Nature, and at the same time a certain Dignity and Greatness, suitable to the Father of Mankind in his State of Innocence.
oF we look into the three great Heroic ... Poems which have appear'd in the World, 3| we may observe that they are built upon | very slight Foundations. Homer lived - near 3oo Years after the Trojan War, and, as the Writing of History was not then in use among the Greeks, we may very well suppose, that the Tradition of Achilles and UZyffes had brought down but very few Particulars to his Knowledge, tho' there is no question but he has wrought into his two Poems such of their remarkable Adventures as were still talked of among his Contemporaries. The Story of Æneas, on which Virgil founded his Poem, was likewise very bare of Circumstances, and by that means afforded him an Opportunity of embellishing it with Fićtion, and giving a full Range to his own Invention. We find, however, that he has interwoven, in the course of his Fable, the principal Particulars, which were generally believed among the Romans, of Æneas his Voyage and Settlement in Italy. The Reader may find an Abridgment of the whole Story, as colle&ted out of the Ancient Historians, and as it was received among the Aomans, in Dionysius Halicarnaffeus. Since none of the Criticks have considered Virgil's Fable, with relation to this History of Æneas, it may not, perhaps, be amiss to examine it in this Light, so far as regards my present Purpose. Whoever looks into the Abridgment abovementioned, will find that the Charaćter of Æneas is filled with Piety to the Gods, and a superstitious Observation of Prodigies, Oracles, and Predićtions. Virgil has not only preserved this Charaćter in the Person of Æneas, but has given a place in his Poem to those particular Prophecies which he found recorded of him in History and Tradition. The Poet took the matters of Faćt as they came down to him, and circumstanced them after his own manner, to make them appear the more natural, agreeable or surprising. I believe very many Readers have been shocked at that ludicrous Prophecy, which one of the Harpyes pronounces to the Zrojans in the Third Book, namely, that before they had built their Intended City, they should be reduced by Hunger to eat their very Tables. But, when they heard that this was one of the Circumstances that had been transmitted to the Acomans in the History of Ameas, they will think the Poet did very well in taking notice of it. The Historian abovementioned, acquaints us that a Prophetess had foretold Ameas, that he should take his Voyage Westward, till his Companions should eat their Tables, and that accordingly, upon his landing in Italy, as they were eating their Flesh upon Cakes of Bread, for want of other Conveniences, they afterwards fed on the Cakes themselves, upon which one of the Company said merrily, “We are eating our Tables.' They immediately took the Hint, says the Historian, and concluded the Prophecy to be fulfilled. As Virgil did not think it proper to omit so material a Particular in the History of Æneas, it may be worth while to consider with how much Judgment he has qualified it, and taken off every thing that might have appeared improper for a Passage in an Heroic Poem. The Prophetess who foretells it is an
Such an Observation, which is beautiful in the mouth of a Boy, would have been ridiculous from any other of the Company. I am apt to think that the changing of the Trojan Fleet into Water-Nymphs, which is the most violent Machine of the whole Eneid, and has given Offence to several Critics, may be accounted for the same way. Virgil himself, before he begins that Relation, premises that what he was going to tell appeared incredible, but that it was justified by Tradition. What further confirms me that this change of the Fleet was a celebrated Circumstance in the History of Æneas, is, that Ovid has given a place to the same Metamorphosis in his account of the Heathen Mythology.
None of the Criticks, I have met with, having considered the Fable of the Aneid in this Light, and taken notice how the Tradition, on which it was founded, authorizes those Parts in it which appear the most Exceptionable; I hope the Length of this Refle&tion will not make it unacceptable to the curious Part of my Readers.
The History, which was the Basis of Milton's Poem, is still shorter than either that of the //iad or Æneid. The Poet has likewise taken care to insert every Circumstance of it in the Body of his Fable. The Ninth Book, which we are here to consider, is raised upon that brief Account in Scripture, wherein we are told that the Serpent was more subtile than any Beast of the Field, that he tempted the Woman to eat of the Forbidden Fruit, that she was overcome by this Temptation, and that Adam followed her Example. From these few Particulars Milton has formed one of the most Entertaining Fables that Invention ever produced. He has disposed of these several Circumstances among so many beautiful and natural Fićtions of his own, that his whole Story looks only like a Comment upon sacred Writ, or rather seems to be a full