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And Justin Martyr', one of the most learned fathers in the Christian church, extols the Works and Days of our poet, while he expresses his dislike to the Theogony.
2. Of the first Book.
The reason why our poet addresses to Perses, I have showed in my notes: while he directs himself to his brother, he instructs his countrymen in all that is useful to know for the regulating their conduct, both in the business of agriculture, and in their behaviour to each other. He gives us an account of the first ages, according to the common received notion among the Gentiles. The story of Pandora has all the embellishments of poetry which we can find in Ovid, with a clearer moral than is generally in the fables of that poet. His system of morality is calculated so perfectly for the good of society, that there is scarcely any precept omitted that could be properly thought of on that occasion. There is not one of the ten commandments of Moses, which relates to our moral duty to each other, that is not strongly recommended by our poet; nor is it enough, he thinks, to be observant of what the civil government would oblige you to: but, to prove yourself a good man, you must have such virtues as no human laws require of you, as those of temperance, generosity, &c. These rules are laid down in a most proper manner to captivate the reader; here the beauties of poetry and the force of reason combine to make him in love with morality. The poet tells us what
In his second Discourse or Cohortation to the Greeks.'
effect we are reasonably to expect from such virtues and vices as he mentions; which doctrines are not always to be taken in a positive sense. If we should say, a continuance of intemperance in drinking, and of our commerce with women, would carry us early to the grave, it is morally true, according to the natural course of things; but a man of a strong and uncommon constitution, may wanton through an age of pleasure, and so be an exception to this rule, yet not contradict the moral truth of it. Archbishop Tillotson has judiciously told us in what sense we are to take all doctrines of morality; Aristotle (says that great divine) observed long since, that moral and proverbial sayings are understood to be true generally, and for the most part; an that is all the truth that is to be expected in them; as when Solomon says, "Train up a child in the way wherein he shall go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." This is not to be taken, as if no child that is piously educated, did ever miscarry afterwards; but that the good education of children is the best way to make good men.'
3. Of the second Book, &c.
The second book, which comes next under our view, will appear with more dignity when we consider in what esteem the art of agriculture was held in those days in which it was writ: the Georgic did not then concern the ordinary and middling sort of people only, but our poet writ for the instruction of princes likewise, who thought it no disgrace to till the ground which
they perhaps had conquered. Homer makes Laertes not only plant, but dung his own lands; the best employment he could find for his health, and consolation in the absence of his son. The latter part of this book, together with all the third, though too mean for poetry, are not unjustifiable in our author. Had he made those religious and superstitious precepts one entire subject of verse, it would have been a ridiculous fancy; but as they are only a part, and the smallest part, of a regular poem, they are introduced with a laudable intent. After the poet had laid down proper rules for morality, husbandry, navigation, and the vintage, he knew that religion towards the gods, and a due observance of what was held sacred in his age, were yet wanted to complete the work. These were subjects, he was sensible, incapable of the embellishments of poetry; but as they were necessary to his purpose, he would not omit them. Poetry was not then designed as the empty amusement only of an idle hour, consisting of wanton thoughts, or long and tedious descriptions of nothing: but, by the force of harmony and good sense, to purge the mind of its dregs, to give it a great and virtuous turn of thinking: in short, verse was then but the lure to what was useful which indeed has been, and ever will be, the end pursued by all good poets. With this view, Hesiod seems to have writ, and must be allowed, by all true judges, to have wonderfully succeeded in the age in which he rose.
This advantage more arises to us from the writings of so old an author: we are pleased
with those monuments of antiquity, such parts of the ancient Grecian history, as we find in them.
4. A Comparison betwixt Hesiod and Virgil, &c,
I shall now endeavour to show how far Virgil may properly be said to imitate our poet in his Georgic, and to point out some of those passages in which he has either paraphrased or literally translated from the Works and Days.' It is plain he was a sincere admirer of our poet, and of this poem in particular; of which he twice makes honourable mention, and where it could be only to express the veneration that he bore to the author. The first is in his third pastoral.
In medio duo signa, Conon: et quis fuit alter,
Two figures on the sides emboss'd appear,
Notwithstanding the commentators have all disputed whom this interrogation should mean, I am convinced that Virgil had none but Hesiod in his eye. In the next passage I propose to quote, the greatest honour that was ever paid by one poet to another is paid to ours. Virgil, in his sixth pastoral, makes Silenus, among other things, relate how Gallus was conducted by a Muse to Helicon, where Apollo and all the Muses arose to welcome him; and Linus, approaching him, addressed him in this manner:
Hos tibi dant calamos, en accipe, Musæ,
Receive this present, by the Muses made,
The greatest compliment which Virgil thought he could pay his friend and patron, Gallus, was, after all that pompous introduction to the choir of Apollo, to make the Muses present him, from the hands of Linus, with the pipe, or calamus, Ascræo quos ante seni, which they had formerly presented to Hesiod;' which part of the compliment to our poet, Dryden has omitted in his translation.
To return to the Georgic. Virgil can be said to imitate Hesiod in his first and second books only in the first is scarcely any thing relative to the Georgic itself, the hint of which is not taken from the Works and Days;' nay, more, in some places, whole lines are paraphrased, and some literally translated. It must indeed be acknowledged, that the Latin poet has sometimes explained, in his translation, what was difficult in the Greek, as where our poet gives directions for two ploughs:
Δοια δε θεσθαι αροτρα ποιησάμενος κατα οικον
By auToyvov he means that which grows naturally into the shape of a plough, and by иитоν that made by art. Virgil, in his advice to have two ploughs always at hand, has this explanation of αυτογυον :