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15 THE FABLE PERFECT OR IMPERFECT AS IS THE ACTION.
to Leda's Egg, or begun much later, even at the Rape of Helen, or the'Investing of Troy, it is manifest that the Story of the Poem would have been a Series of several Actions. He therefore opens his Poem with the Discord of his Princes, and with greatArt interweaves in the several succeeding parts of it, an account of every thing [material] which relates to tdhe Story [them], and had passed before that fatal Dissenfion. After the same manner Eneas makes his first appearance in the Tjzrrhene Seas, and within fight of Italy, because the Action proposed to be celebrated was that of his Settling himself in Latium. But because it was necessary for the Reader to know what had happened to him in the taking of Troy, and in the preceding parts of his Voya.ge, Virgil makes his Hero relate it by way of Episode in the second and third Books of the .-Encid. The Contents of both which Books come before those of the first Book in the Thread of the Story, tho' for preserving of this Unity of Action, they follow them in the Dispofition of the Poem. Milton, in Imitation of these two great Poets, opens his Paradzfi Lqfl with an Infernal Council plotting the Fall of Man, which is the Action he proposed to celebrate ; and as for those great Actions, which preceded in point of time, the Battel of the Angels, and the Creation of the World, (which would have entirely destroyed the Unity of his Principal Action, had he related them in the same Order that they happened) he cast them into the fifth, fixth and seventh Books, by way of Episode to this noble Poem.
Arislotle himself allows, that Hbmer has nothing to boast of as to the Unity of his Fable, tho' at the same time that great Critick and Philosopher endeavours to palliate this Imperfection in -the Greek Poet, by imputing it in some Measure to the very Nature of an Epic Poem. Some have been of Opinion, that the AEneid labours also in this particular, and has Episodes which may be looked upon as Excrescencies rather than as Parts of the Action. On the contrary, the
and grow out of one another in the most natural Method. .
'1'he third Qualification of an Epic Poem is its Greatmffr. The Anger of Arhillcs was of such Consequence, that it embroiled the Kings of Greexe, destroy'd the Heroes of Troy, and engaged all the Gods in Factions. A-i'nc'as's Settlement in Italy produced the Cazsars, and gave Birth to the Roman Empire. 11[iIt0n's Subject was still greater than either of the former; it does not determine the Fate of fingle Persons or 'Nations, but of a whole Species. The united Powers of Hell are joyned together for the Destruction of Mankind, which they effected in part, and would have completed, had not Omnipotence it self interposed. The principal Actors are Man in his greatest Perfection, and Woman in her highest Beauty. Their Enemies are the fallen Angels: The Mesfiah their Friend, and the Almighty their Proteftor. In short, every thing that is great in the whole Circle of Being, whether within the Verge of Nature, or out of it, has a proper Part assigned it in this noble Poem.
In Poetry, as in Architecture, not only the whole, but the principal Members, andlevery part of them, should be Great. I will not presume to say, that the Book of Games in the .-Em-in', or that in the Iliad, are not of this nature, nor to reprehend Virgiss Simile of a Top, and many other of the same nature in the Iliad, as liable to any Censure in this Particular; but I think we may say, without offence to [derogating from] those wonderful Performances, that there is an unquestionable Magnificence in every Part of Paradzse Lost, and indeed a much greater than could have been formed upon any Pagan System.
But Arzflolle, by the Greatness of the Action, does not only mean that it should be great in its Nature, but also in its Duration, or in other Words, that it should have a due length in it, as well as what we properly call Greatness. The just Measure of this kind of Magnitude, he explains by the following