Obrazy na stronie

song, which the car is willing to suffer, and as it were

[ocr errors]

rests upon.

As the perpetual horror of combates, and a fucceffion of images of death, could not but keep the imagination very niuch on the stretch ; Homer has been careful to contrive such reliefs and pauses, as might divert the mind to some other scene, without losing fight of his principal object. His comparisons are the more frequent on this account; for a comparison serves this end the most effectually, of any thing, as it is at once correspondent to, and dif. fering from the subject. Those criticks who fancy, that the use of comparisons distracts the attention, and draws it from the first image which should most employ it, (as. that we lose the idea of the battel itself, while we are led by a simile to that of a deluge or a storm:) Those, I say, may as well imagine we lose the thought of the sun, when we see his reflection in the water, where he appears more distinctly, and is contemplated 'more at ease, than if we gazed directly at his beams. For it is with the eye of the imagination as it is with our corporeal eye, it must sometimes be taken off from the object in order to see it the better. The same criticks that are displeased to have their. fancy distracted (as they call it) are yet so inconsistent with themselves as to object to Homer that his fimiles are too much alike, and are too often derived from the same aninal. But is it not more reasonable (according to their own notion) to compare the same man always to the same animal, than to see him sometimes a fun, sometimes a tree, and sometimes a river? Tho' Homer speaks of the fame creature, he so diversifies the circumstances and acci. dents of the comparisons, that they always appear quite different. And to say truth, it is not so much the animal or the thing, as the action or posture of them that em. ploys our imagination: Two different animals in the same action are more like to each other, than one and the same animal is to himself, in two different actions. And those who in reading Homer are shocked that 'tis always a lion, may as well be angry that 'tis always a man,


What may seem more exceptionable, is his inserting the same comparisons in the same words at length upon differ rent occafions, by which management he makes one single image afford many ornaments to several parts of the Poem. But

(may nog one say Homer is in this like a skilful impro: ver, who places a beautiful ftatue in a well-disposed gar.. den so as to answer several vistas, and by that artifice one fingle figure seems multiplied into as many objects as there are openings from whence it may be viewed

What farther relieves and softens these descriptions of batt tels, is the Poet's wonderful art of introducing many pathetic, circumstances about the deaths of the Heroes, which raise, a different movement in the mind from what those images naturally inspire, I mean compafton and pity: when he causes us to look back upon the loft riches, possessions, and hopes of those who die: When he transports us to their native countries and pateroal seats, to see the griefs of, their aged fathers, the despair and tears of their widows, or the abandoned condition of their orphans. Thus when Proteflaus falls, we are made to reflect on the lofty Palaces he left half finilhed; when the fons of Pbænops are killed, we behold the mortifying diftress of their wealthy father, who saw his estate divided before his eyes, and taken in trust for ftrangers. When Axylus dies, we are taught to compassionate the hard face of that generous and bospicable man, whose house was the house of all men, and who deserved that glorious elogy of Tbe friend of buman-kind.

It is worth taking notice too, what use Homer every where makes of each little accident or circumstance that, can naturally happen in a battel, thereby to caft a variety over his action; as well as of every turn of mind or emozion a Hero can possibly feel, such as resentment, revenge, concern, confusion, &c. The former of these makes his work resemble a large history piece, where even the less important figures and actions have yet fonie convenient place or corner to be thewn in ; and the latter, gives it all the advantages of tragedy, in those various



turns of paffion that animate the speeches of his Heroes, and render his whole Poem the most Dramatick of any Epick whatsoever.

It must also be observed, that the conftant' machines of the Gods conduce very greatly to vary these long battels, by a continual change of the scene from earch to heaven. Homer perceived them too necessary for this purpose to abstain from the use of them even after Jupiter had en. joined the Deities not to act on either side. It is remarkable how many methods he has found to draw them into every book; where if they dare not affift the warriors, at least they are very helpful to the Poet.

But there is nothing that more contributes to the variety; surprize, and Eclat of Homer's battels, or is more perfectly admirable in itself, than that artful manner of taking measure, or (as one may say) gaging his Heroes by each other, and thereby elevating the character of one person, by the opposition of it to that of some other whom he is made to excel. So that he many times de fcribes one, only to image another, and raises one only to raise another. I cannot better exemplify this remark, than by' giving an instance in the character of Diomed that lies before me. Let us observe by what a scale of oppo. sitions he elevates this Hero, in the fifth book, first to excel all human valour, and after to rival the Gods them felves. He distinguishes him firft from the Grecian Captains in general, each of whom he represents conquering a single Trojan, while Diomed constantly encounters two at once; and while they are engaged each in his diftinct post, he only is drawn fighting in every quarter, and Taughtering on every fide. Next he opposes him to Pandarus, next to Æneas, and then to Hector. So of the Gods, he fhews him first against Venus, then Apollo, then Mars, and lastly in the eighth book against Jupiter himself in the midst of his thunders. The fame conduct is ob. servable more or less in regard to every personage of his work,

This fubordination of the Heroes is one of the causes that make each of his battels rise above the other in greatness, terror, and importance, to the end of the Poem. If Diomed has performed all these wonders in the first combates, it is but to raise Hektor, at whose appearance he begins to fear. If in the next battels Hector triumphs not only over Diomed, but over Ajax and Patroclus, fets fire to the fleet, wins the armour of Achilles, and singly eclipses all the Heroes; in the midst of all his glory, Achilles appears, Hector flies, and is flain.

The manner in which his Gods are made to act, no less advances the gradation we are speaking of. In the first battels they are seen only in short and separate excursions : Venus affifts Paris, Minerva Diomed, or Mars Hector. In the next, a clear stage is left for Jupiter, to display his omnipotence, and turn the fate of armies alone. In the laft, all the powers of heaven are engaged and banded into regular parties, Gods encountering Gods, jove encouraging them with his thunders, Neptune raising his tempests, heaven flaming, earth trembling, and Plutu himself ftarting from the throne of hell.

II. I am now to take notice of some customs of antiguity relating to the arms and art military of those times, which are proper to be known, in order to form a right notion of our author's descriptions of war.

That Homer copied the manners and customs of the age he writ of, rather than of that he lived in, has been obferved in some instances. As that he no where represents cavalry or trumpets to have been used in the Trojan wars, tho' they apparenily were in his own time. It is not therefore imposible but there may be found in his works fome deficiencies in the art of war, which are not to be imputed to his ignorance, but to his judgment.

Horses had not been brought into Grrece long before the fiege of Troy. They were originally Eastern animals, and if we finid at that very period to great a number of them reckoned up in the wars of the Ifraelites, it is the less *



wonder, considering they came from Afia. The practice of riding them was so little known in Greece a few years before, that they looked upon the Centaurs who first used: it, as monsters compounded of men and horses. Nisor, in the first Iliad says, he had seen these Centaurs in his youth; and Polypetes in the second is said to have been. born on the day that his father expelled them from Pelion, to the desarts of Æthica. They had no other use of horses than to draw their chariots in battel; so that when. ever Homer speaks of fighting from an borfe, taming an horfe, or 'the like, it is conftantly to be understood of kghting from a chariot, or caming horses to that service. This (as we have said) was a piece of decorum in the Poet; for in his own time they were arrived to such a, perfection in horsemanship, that in the fifteenth Iliad, v. 822. we have a simile taken from an extraordinary. feat of activity, where one man, manages four horses at once, and leaps from the back of one to another at fulk Speed.

If we consider in what high efteem among warriors tbele 'Boble animals must have been at their first coming into Greece, we shall the less wonder at the frequent occasions Homer has taken to describe and celebrate them. It is not to strange to find them fet almost upon a level with men; at a time when a borfe in the prizes, was of equal value with a captives,

The shariots were in all probability very low. For we frequently find in the Iliad, that a person who stands erect on a chariot is killed (and sometimes by a ftroke on the head) by a foot foldier with a sword. This may farther

appear from the ease and readincts with which they alight or mount on every occasion; to facilitare which, the chariots were made open behind. That the wheels were but small, may be guessed from a custom they had of taking them off and setting them on, as they were laid by, or made use of. Hebe in the fifth book puts on the wheels of Juno's chariot, when the calls for it in hafte: And it sceans to be with allusion to the fame practice that

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]


« PoprzedniaDalej »