Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

Upon this account I have been always very much delighted with meditating on the soul's immortality, and in reading the several notions which the wisest of men, both ancient and modern, have entertained on that subject. What the opinions of the greatest philosophers have been, I have several times hinted at, and shall give an account of them from time to time, as occasion requires. It may likewise be worth while to consider, what men of the most exalted genius and elevated imagination have thought of this matter. Among these, Homer stands up as a prodigy of mankind, that looks down upon the rest of human creatures as a species beneath him. Since he is the most ancient heathen author, we may guess from his relation, what were the common opinions in his time concerning the state of the soul after death.

Ulysses, he tells us, made a voyage to the regions of the dead, in order to consult Tiresias how he should return to his own country, and recommend himself to the favour of the gods. The poet scarce introduces a single person, who doth not suggest some useful precept to his reader, and designs his description of the dead for the amendment of the living.

Ulysses, after having made a very plenteous sacrifice, sat him down by the pool of holy blood, which attracted a prodigious assembly of ghosts of all ages

and conditions, that hovered about the hero, and feasted upon the steams of his oblation. The first he knew was the shade of Elpenor, who, to shew the activity of a spirit above that of body, is represented as arrived there long before Ulysses, notwithstanding the winds and seas had contributed all their force to hasten his voyage thither. This Elpenor, to inspire the reader with a detestation of drunkenness, and at the same time with a religious care of doing

[graphic][subsumed][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][subsumed][merged small][subsumed][merged small]
[ocr errors]

proper honours to the head, describes himself as having broken his neck in a debauch of wine ; and begs Ulysses, that, for the repose of his soul, he would build a monument over him, and perform funeral rites to his memory. Ulysses, with great sorrow of heart, promises to fulfil his request, and is immediately diverted to an object much more moving than the former. The ghost of his own mother Anticlea, whom he still thought living, appears to him among the multitudes of shades that surround him ; and sits down at a small distance from him by the lake of blood, without speaking to hiin, or knowing who he was. Ulysses was exceedingly troubled at the sight, and could not forbear weeping as he looked upon her : but, being all along set forth as a pattern of consummate wisdom, he makes his affectio give way to prudence; and therefore, upon his seeing Tiresias, does not reveal himself to his mother, until he had consulted that great prophet, who was the occasion of this his descent into the empire of the dead. Tiresias having cautioned him to keep himself and his companions free from the guilt of sacrilege, and to pay his devotions to all the gods, promises him a safe return to his kingdom and family, and a happy old age in the enjoyment of them.

The poet, having thus with great art kept the curiosity of his reader in suspense, represents his wise man, after the dispatch of his business with Tiresias, as yielding himself up to the calls of natural affection, and making himself known to his mother. Her eyes are no sooner opened, but she cries out in tears, • Oh my son!' and inquires into the occasions that brought him thither, and the fortune that attended him.

Ulysses, on the other hand, desires to know what

the sickness was that had sent her into those regions, and the condition in which she had left his father, his son, and more particularly his wife. She tells him, they were all three inconsolable for his absence. As for myself,' says she, “ that was the sickness of which I died. My impatience for your return, my anxiety for your welfare, and my fondness for my dear Ulysses, were the only distempers that preyed upon my life, and separated my soul from my body.' Ulysses was melted with these expressions of tenderness, and thrice endeavoured to catch the apparition in his arms, that he might hold his mother to his bosom, and weep over her.

This gives the poet occasion to describe the notion the heathens at that time had of an unbodied soul, in the excuse which the mother makes for seeming to withdraw herself from her son's embraces. "The soul,' says she, is composed neither of bones, flesh, nor sinews; but leaves behind her all those incuinbrances of mortality to be consumed on the funeral pile. As soon as she has thus cast her burden, she makes her escape, and flies away from it like a dream.'

When this melancholy conversation is at an end, the poet draws up to view as charming a vision as could enter into man's imagination. He describes the next who appeared to Ulysses, to have been the shades of the finest women that had ever lived upon the earth, and who had either been the daughters of kings, and mistresses of gods, or mothers of heroes ; such as Antiope, Alcmena, Leda, Ariadne, Iphimedia, Eriphyle, and several others, of whom he gives a catalogue, with a short history of their adventures. The beautiful assembly of apparitions were all gathered together about the blood. • Each of them,' says Ulysses, as a gentle satire upon female vanity, giving me an account of her birth and family.' This

« PoprzedniaDalej »