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The Third and Fourth Books.
diate march on Thebes; to which Adrastus replies that he will think about it. After a week's deliberation, the Argive king resolves to find out the will of Heaven, and consults two prophets, Melampus and Amphiaraus. They agree to observe the flight of birds, and after a prayer to Jupiter, which reads like a philosophical apology for the practice of augury, are at last rewarded by an omen. They see an innumerable multitude of swans, which from their peaceful appearance they conclude to symbolize Thebes; these are attacked by seven eagles, of course the seven Argive chiefs, which in their turn meet with mysterious fates of various kinds, corresponding to the fates which actually await the doomed warriors. Statius, elsewhere minute even to tediousness, is here obscure and brief; he indemnifies us, however, by denouncing in his own person the passion for prying into futurity. Amphiaraus, being one of the seven intended chiefs, has discovered his own fate; and now, instead of telling what he knows, he buries himself in gloomy privacy, and keeps silence for twelve days. The war-fever rises, and Capaneus, one of the Argive magnates, threatens the augur, and throws contempt on his act. On this he speaks, and in terms which, though somewhat enigmatical, clearly announces coming ruin, warns his hearers to abandon the expedition. Capaneus retorts in a speech, where, by a happy inconsistency of impiety, the gods are alternately blasphemed and denied, and carries the people with him. Argia, the wife of Polynices, pays a midnight visit to her father, and presses on him her husband's claims. He soothes her, and the book closes.
At the opening of the Fourth Book we find that a second year has been spent in preparation, and that the expected day has come at last. The seven chiefs are recounted in order, Adrastus himself, Polynices, Tydeus, Hippomedon, Capaneus, Amphiaraus, Parthenopaus; some of them apparently leaders of independent contingents, others appointed to command tribes subject to the Argive crown. One or two incidents occur:-Eriphyle, the wife of Amphiaraus, is bribed by a fatal necklace, the property of the princess Argia, to induce her husband to join the army; Atalanta, the mother of Parthenopæus, parts with her son in words which show that she does not expect to see him again. The scene shifts, and we are at Thebes, which has already heard the rumour of invasion. As ai Argos, there is a wish to explore the future; and the blind Tiresias and his daughter Manto perform magical rites. At last the infernal world opens, and Manto is proceeding to describe the commonplace features of it for her father's benefit, when he tells her that he knows them already, and bids her concentrate her attention on the spirits of Argos and Thebes. These accordingly pass in
a somewhat tedious review, when Tiresias, finding that a kind of second-sight is given to him, singles out the ghost of Laius, and by a mixture of threatening and encouragement extorts the information that Thebes will conquer, that Polynices will not gain the throne, and that Edipus will have his will. We leave the invaded, and return to the invaders, who are on their march through the forest of Nemea. Bacchus, the patron of Thebes,
. resolves to trouble them, and prevails on the nymphs of the spot to dry up the rivers. Burning with thirst, in their wanderings they meet with Hypsipyle, the nurse of the child of Lycurgus, the king of the country, and are guided by her to a small stream which is still flowing. Upon this they throw themselves pell-mell, struggling for the water with a fury like that of an army in action, and continuing to drink when it is already foul and muddy. Again the book is ended by a sort of hymn, which on this occasion is addressed to the god of the stream, by one of the chiefs from the middle of the water.1
The Fifth Book contributes but little to the progress of the poem. Adrastus, wishing to show his interest in the benefactress of his army, asks Hypsipyle who she is, and hears a story in reply which occupies no less than 450 lines, more than half
She was a noble lady of Lemnos, and was living there with her father Thoas, when Venus, deeming herself neglected by the Lemnian women, made them first estrange themselves from their husbands, and finally resolve to slaughter the whole male population,—a resolution which they accomplished on the occasion of their husbands returning from an expedition against Thrace. Hypsipyle saved her father, who escaped to Chios, under the guidance of his father, Bacchus; but this act of splendid mendacity was not known, and the Lemnian ladies made her their queen. They were beginning to repent of their crime, when they were visited by the Argonauts, whom they first attempted to repulse, but finally fell in love with, Hypsipyle herself becoming the mother of twins by Jason. With the spring the Argonauts left them, and about the same time news arrived that Hypsipyle's father was alive. She fled, but fell in with pirates, who sold her to the master whose child she now nurses. This lengthy and irrelevant tale is told, like the story of the Thebaid itself, with much rhetorical indirectness ; a good deal of effort is required to follow it; and whether it tired the hearers or no, it certainly tires the readers.
1 There is a difficult line in this part (v. 829), which is not cleared up by such commentators as we ave been able to consult :
“Hac sævisse tenus populorum incepta tuorum
The Fifth and Sixth Books.
However, if not important in one sense, it is important in another. While the nurse is telling her troubles, the infant is killed by a serpent, which the poet supposes to carry its sting in its tail. The serpent is attacked by the heroes, and killed by Capaneus, who expresses a hope that he may be slaying a favourite of the gods; the Nymphs and Fauns mourn for the reptile, and Jupiter is nearly avenging it by lightning. Hypsipyle is frantic at her loss, as is her royal employer, the child's father, who would have killed her on the spot, but for the interposition of the Argive chiefs, and the sudden appearance of her two sons, who happen just at that moment to have arrived at the palace in quest of their mother. This time the book is ended, not by a hymn, but by an oracular utterance from Amphiaraus, who tells the afflicted father and the Argives that the child's death was destined, but that, by way of compensation, it has been made a deity.
The Sixth Book has often been pointed to as a signal instance of Statius' want of judgment. Like the Twenty-third Iliad and the Fifth Æneid, it is taken up with funeral games celebrated by the heroes in honour of the deified infant, as though the poet thought a book of games a constituent part of an epic, and introduced it without asking whether it was appropriate to the story or not. A favourable critic of the last century, who published a translation of the book, thinks it at once a pleasing relief from the horrors of the story, and a gentle introduction to the wars that are to come ; an opinion in which we do not think a continuous reader of the poem will agree with him. A somewhat better vindication will be found in the fact that this celebration seems to have formed part of the original Theban story, being, in fact, the legendary account of the institution of the Nemean games. But however the episode might have fared in the hands of a more judicious poet, in those of Statius it merely serves to distract us by a needless variety of incident. The games are conducted by the Argives, the father and mother simply abandoning themselves to wild and furious grief. There is a chariot-race, in which Polynices drives his father-in-law's horse, the famous Arion, and shares the fate of Phaethon, with whom he is compared. There is a foot-race, which is disturbed, like that in Virgil, by a trick, the second runner pulling the first back by the hair; but they run again, and the author of the foul play is fairly beaten. There is a throwing of quoits, which affords no remarkable incident. There is a boxingmatch, where the gigantic Capaneus is confronted by a cooler combatant, who baffles him, but whose life he would apparently
1 Harte, quoted by Malone in a note on Dryden's “ Discourse on Epic Poetry" (Dryden's Prose Works, vol. iv. p. 428).
have taken had he not been appeased by the prize. There is a wrestling-match, where Tydeus throws an opponent of Herculean bulk, complacently observing, as he takes the prize, how much more he might have done had he not left so much of his blood on the plains of Thebes. There was to have been a combat with cold steel, had not it struck Adrastus that his chiefs had better reserve their fury for the enemy than expend it on each other. All the seven generals have now shown some kind of superiority but Adrastus, who is accordingly complimented by being asked to volunteer a display of his strength or skill in shooting with the bow or hurling the javelin. He shoots at an ash-tree in the distance; the arrow hits the mark, but flies back to the place whence it had been shot. The spectators assign it to natural causes ; but it is really a portent, signifying that he alone is to return from the expedition.
The Seventh Book is much more business-like, not only bringing the heroes to Thebes, but accomplishing one of the chief events of the war. Jupiter, giving a nod which, we are assured, adds sensibly to the burden of Atlas, sends Mercury to stimulate Mars, who is to be told how the Argives are waiting their time, and to have the option given him of carrying on matters more vigorously, or abandoning his office of war-god, and leaving the conduct of the invasion to Pallas. Mars is found in his palace, which is described after the manner of Ovid; and he is not long in putting himself into motion. A false alarm is raised, and the Argives are made to think that the Thebans are advancing to meet them. Bacchus pleads to Jupiter for Thebes, and complains that he is being sacrificed to his step-mother: Jupiter answers that he is not influenced by Juno, but by the Fates, and that, though the race of Edipus must perish, Thebes itself is to be respited. Eteocles prepares to defend the city, and assembles his forces. Antigone appears on the walls as she does in the Phænissæ of Euripides, with an aged attendant, whom she questions about such of the Theban leaders as she does not know by sight. The old man enters into a long rhetorical detail, which is, as usual, obscure from want of simplicity, and breaks off weeping at the thought of Laius, his ancient master. Eteocles harangues his army, briefly and with some vigour. The invaders march on, though forbidding portents spring up along the whole line of their route; rivers flowing backward, showers of stones, oracles struck dumb, ghosts of great criminals appearing, and weeping statues. The Asopus swells as if to oppose their passage, but Hippomedon dashes into the stream, and the rest follow him. When they reach Thebes, Jocasta insists on seeing Polynices, and produces a momentary impression, which, how
The Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Books.
ever, a fierce speech from Tydeus is sufficient to dispel. The war is precipitated by an incident, evidently borrowed from the Seventh Æneid of Virgil. There are two tame tigers, which, having drawn the car of Bacchus in the famous Indian campaign, are allowed to run loose, and honoured with semi-divine observances. A Fury, who is apparently in attendance on Mars, brings back their savage nature; they attack the Argives, and are pierced through and through with javelins, and driven to Thebes. The sacrilegious author of their wounds is killed in his turn, and the battle begins. Amphiaraus, the doomed angur, performs prodigies of valour. In the midst of them, his charioteer is killed, and Apollo takes the vacant place, when a scene ensues, which Mr. Merivale? justly characterizes as a really fine one, though overdrawn and overloaded. Apollo reveals himself, and tells his votary that the hour of doom is come. Amphiaraus answers, shortly and sadly. The earth is felt to shake; a chasm opens at the horses' feet; and the augur goes down alive into the depth in his chariot, with one hand still on the reins, and the other on his weapon.
If Statius is able to draw a striking picture, he certainly is not able to leave it alone when drawn. The Eighth Book follows Amphiaraus down the chasm, and describes, at considerable length, the effect of his sudden appearance on the shades; how Pluto rises in gloomy wrath, but is appeased by the augur's prayers, and spares him as a lion is contented with trampling on a fallen foe. In the upper world, the lamentation is long and loud. The Argives spend the night in weeping, the Thebans in festivity. A new augur is appointed, who conducts his predecessor's funeral, and sings a rhetorical hymn to the earth. The battle recommences; and we have one of those enumerations of slaughter which are natural in Homer, scarcely tolerable in Virgil, and insufferable in a less simple and more ambitious writer, the chief actor being Tydeus. The daughters of Edipus are exchanging their sorrows in their chamber, when young Atys, who had been plighted to Ismene, is borne into the palace, having received his death-wound from the terrible Ætolian. At last, a Theban, Melanippus, succeeds in striking down Tydeus, though he is struck down by him in return. Tydeus begs his comrades to bring him his enemy's head, and, after gloating on it, is impelled by the Fury to gnaw it to the brain, just as Pallas was coming with Jupiter's permission to make him immortal. The pure goddess veils her face with the Gorgon shield, flies away with loathing, and leaves her fiendish favourite to die. The Ninth Book opens amid the horror of the Thebans and
Iistory of the Romans under the Empire.