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E S S A Y
ERHAPS it may be necessary in this place at
the opening of Homer's Battels, to premise lome observations upon them in general. I shall first
endeavour to shew the Conduct of the Poet here. in, and next collect some Antiquities, that tend to a more distinct understanding of those descriptions which make so large a part of the Poem.
One may very well apply to Homer himself, what he says of his Heroes at the end of the fourth book, that whosoever should be guided thro' his battels by Minerva, and pointed to every scene of them, would see nothing thro the whole but subjects of surprise and applause. When the reader reflects that no less than the compass of twelve books is taken up in these, he will have reason to wonder by what methods our author could prevent de
scriptions of such a length from being tedious. It is not enough to say, that tho' the subject itself be the same, the actions are always different ; that we have now distinct combats, now promiscuous fights, now single duels, now general engagements; or that the scenes are perpetually varyd; we are now in the fields, now at the fortification of the Greeks, now at the ships, now at the gates of Troy, now at the river Scamander: But we must look farther into the art of the poet, to find the reasons of this astonishing variety.
We may first observe that diversity in the deaths of his warriors, which he has supplied by the vastest fertility of invention. These he distinguishes several ways: Sometimes by the charact.rs of the Men, their age, office, profellion, nation, family, &c. Cne is a blooming youth, whose father dissuaded him from the war; one is a priefi, whose piety could not save him; one is a sfort/man, whom Diana taught in vain ; one is the native of a far-diftant country, who is never to return; one is descended from a noble line, which ends in his death; one is made remarkable by his boasting ; another by his bisecching; and another, who is distinguished no way else, is marked by bis Habit and fingularity of his armour..
Sometimes he varies these deaths by the several pofitures in which his Heroes are represented either fighting or falling. Some of these are so exceedingly exact, that one may guess from the very polition of the combatant, whereabouts the wound will light: Obers so very peculiar and uncommon, that they could only be the effect of an imagination which had searched thro' all the ideas of nature. Such is that picture of Myłon in the fifth book, whose arm being numb'd by a blow on the elbow, drops the reins that trail on the ground; and then being suddenly struck on the temples, falls headlong from the chariot in a soft and deep place; where he finks op to the Shoulders in the sands, and continues a while fixed by the weight of his armour, with his legs quivering in the air, till he is trampled down by the horses.
Another cause of this variety is the difference of the wounds that are given in the Iliad: They are by no means like the wounds described by most other poets, which are commonly made in the self-fame obvious places : The heart and head serve for all those in general who understand no anatomy, and sometimes for variety they kill men by wounds that are no where mortal but in their poems. As the whole human body is the subject of these, so nothing is more necessary to him who would describe them well, than a thorough knowledge of its structure, even cho' the poet is not professedly to write of them as an anatomift ; in the same manner as an exact skill in anatomy is necessary to those Painters that would excel in drawing the naked, tho they are not to make every muscle as visible as in a book of chirurgery. It appears from so many passages in Homer that he was perfectly master of this science, that it would be needless to cite any in particular. One may only obferve, that if we horoughly examine all the wounds he has described, thos fo infinite in number, and so many ways diversify d, we shall hardly fnd one which will contradict this obfervation.
I must just add a remark, That the various periphrases and circumlocutions by which Homer exprefies the single act of dying, have supplied Virgil and the succeeding Poets with all their manners of phrasing it. Indeed he repeats the same verse on that occasion more often than they τον δε σκότG- όσσ' εκάλυψε---'Αραβησε δε τεύχε' επ' αυτώ, &c. But tho' it must be owned he had more frequent occasions for a line of this kind than any Poet, as no other has described half so many deaths, yet one cannot ascribe this to any fterility of expression, but to the genius of his times, that delighted in those reiterated verses. We find repetitions of the same fort affected by the sacred writers, such as, He was gathered to his prople ; He slept with his fathers; and the like.
And upon the whole they have a certain antiquated harmony, not unlike the burthen of a