Obrazy na stronie
PDF
ePub

as

there is no need we should say much : there is nothing hard in the inside of an olive, nothing (hard) in the outside of a nut. We are arrived at the highest pitch of success [in arts] : we paint, and sing, and wrestle more skillfully than the annointed' Greeks. If length of time makes poems better, it does wine, I would fain know how many years will stamp a value upon writings. A writer who died a hundred years ago, is he to be reckoned among the perfect and ancient, or among the mean and modern authors ? Let some fixed period exclude all dispute. He is an old and good writer who completes a hundred years. What ! one that died a month or a year later, among whom is he to be ranked ? Among the old turn of his argument confines us to this sense. For he would show the folly of concluding the same of the old Roman writers, on their first rude attempts to copy the finished models of Greece, as of the old Greek writers themselves, who were furnished with the means of producing those models by long discipline and cultivation. This appears, certainly, from what follows:

"Venimus ad summum fortunæ: pingimus atque

Psallimus et luctamur Achivis doctiùs unctis. The design of which hath been entirely overlooked; for it hath been taken only for a general expression of falsehood and absurdity, of just the same import as the proverbial line,

“Nil intra est oleam, nil extra est in nuce duri.” Whereas it was designedly pitched upon to convey a particular illustration of the very absurdity in question, and to show the maintainers of it, from the nature of things, how senseless their position was. It is to this purpose: "As well may it be pretended that we Romans surpass the Greeks in the arts of painting, music, and the exercises of the palæstra, which yet it is confessed we do not, as that our old writers surpass the modern. The absurdity, in either case, is the same. For, as the Greeks, who had long devoted themselves, with great and continued application, to the practice of these arts (which is the force of the epithet uncti

, here given them), must for that reason carry the prize from the Romans, who have taken very little pains about them; so, the modern Romans, who have for a long time been studying the arts of poetry and composition, must needs excel the old Roman writers, who had little or no acquaintance with those arts, and had been trained by no previous discipline to 'the exercise of them." HURD.

7 Unctis. This is by no means a general, unmeaning epithet; but is beautifully chosen to express the unwearied assiduity of the Greek artists. For the practice of anointing being essential to their agonistic trials, the poet elegantly puts the attending circumstance for the thing itself. And so, in speaking of them as uncti, he does the same as if he had called them "the industrious, or exercising Greeks ;" which was the very idea his argument required him to suggest to us. HURD.

10

poets, or among those whom both the present age and posterity will disdainfully reject ? He may fairly be placed among the ancients, who is younger either by a short month only, or even by a whole year. I take the advantage of this concession, and pull away by little and little, as [if they were] the hairs of a horse's tail : and I take away a single one, and then again another single one; till, like a tumbling heap, (my adversary], who has recourse to annals and estimates excellence by the year, and admires nothing but what Libitina' has made sacred, falls to the ground.

Ennius'° the wise, the nervous, and (as our critics say) a second Homer, seems lightly to regard what becomes of his promises and Pythagorean dreams. Is not Nævius“ in people's hands, and sticking almost fresh in their memory? So sacred is every ancient poem. As often as a debate arises, whether this poet or the other be preferable ; Pacuvius bears away the character of a learned, Accius, of a lofty writer; Afranius' gown" is said to have fitted Menander; Plautus, to hurry afer the pattern of the Sicilian Epicharmus; Cæcilius, to excel in gravity, Terence in contrivance. These mighty Rome learns by heart, and these she views crowded in her narrow theater; these she esteems and accounts her poets from Livy the writer's age down to our time. Sometimes the populace see right; sometimes they are wrong. If they admire and extol the ancient poets so as to prefer nothing before, to compare nothing with them, they err; if they think and allow that they express some things in an obsolete, most in a stiff, many in a careless manner; they both think sensibly, and agree

8 Ratione ruentis acervi. This argument, called sorites, from a Greek word owpòs, signifying a heap, is composed of many propositions very little different from each other, and chained together in such a manner, that beginning with a sensible, incontestible truth, they lead by degrees to a conclusion evidently false. FRAN.

9 The goddess of funerals. Cf. Sat. ii. 6, 19.

10 Ennius, who boasted himself another Homer; who, when alive, was anxious to preserve this mighty character, is no longer disquieted about his reputation. Death has consecrated his name; the critics confirm his title; his promises are fulfilled, and his opinion of a transmigration of souls is no longer a dream, as his enemies pretend. PORPHYRION.

11 The commentators are much divided whether these words are spoken by Horace or the person who disputes with him. Bentley, Cunningham, and Sanadon read them with a point of interrogation. "Is not Nævius in the hands of every reader, and do we not repeat his works as if he . was a modern ?" FRAN.

12. Afrani toga. A new and happy expression, alluding to the subjects of his comedies, which were formed on the manners and customs of the Romans, and played in Roman dresses. They were therefore called togatce, as the Grecians were palliato. FRAN.

13 Livius Andronicus, the most ancient of the Latin poets, brought his first play upon the stage in 514. SAN.

with me, and determine with the assent of Jove himself. Not that I bear an ill-will against Livy's epics, and would doom them to destruction, which I remember the severe Orbilius taught me when a boy; but they should seem correct, beautiful, and very little short of perfect, this I wonder at : among which if by chance a bright expression shines forth, and if one line or two [happen to be] somewhat terse and musical, this unreasonably carries off and sells the whole poem. I am disgusted that any thing should be found fault with, not because it is a lumpish composition or inelegant, but because it is modern ; and that not a favorable allowance, but honor and rewards14 are demanded for the old writers. Should I scruple, whether or not Atta's drama trod the saffron and flowerslo in a proper manner, almost all the fathers would cry out that modesty was lost ; since I attempted to find fault with those pieces which the pathetic Asopus,16 which the skillful Roscius acted : either because chey esteem nothing right, but what has pleased themse ves; or because they think it disgraceful to submit to their juniors, and to confess, now they are old, that what they learned when young is de serving only to be destroyed. Now he who extols Numa's Salian" hymn, and would alone seem to understand that which, as well as me, he is ignorant of, does not favor and applaud the buried geniuses, but attacks ours, enviously hating us moderns and every thing of ours. Whereas if novelty had been detested by the Greeks as much as by us, what at this time would there have been ancient ? Or what would there have been for common use to read and thumb, common to every body. ! When first Greece, her wars being over, began to trifle, and through prosperity to glide into folly; she glowed with the love, one while of wrestlers, 18 another while of horses ; was fond of artificers in marble, or in ivory, or in brass ; hung her looks and attention upon a picture ; was delighted now with musicians, now with tragedians; as if an infant girl, she sported under the nurse; soon cloyed, she abandoned what [before] she earnestly desired. What is there that pleases or is odious, which you may not think mutable ? This effect had happy times of peace, and favorable gales [of fortune]

14 Honorem et proemia. The rewards and honors which this disputant demands for his favorite ancients, were, having their works placed, and their statues erected, in the library of Apollo. DAC.

15 Perfumed waters were scattered through the Roman theaters, and the stage was covered with flowers, to which Horace pleasantly alludes, when he supposes the plays of Atta limping over the stage like their lame author. Titus Quintius had the surname of Atta given him, which signifies a man who walks on tip-toe. We are obliged to Scaliger for discovering the beauty of this passage. FRAN.

16 Æsopus excelled in tragedy, from whence Horace calls him gravis, pathetic. Roscius had a lively, natural, familiar manner of speaking, proper for comedy. He composed a book upon theatrical eloquence, in which he attempted to prove, that any sentiment might be as variously expressed by action, as by the power of language. Cicero gives him this amiable character: "he was so excellent an actor, that he alone seemed worthy to appear upon a stage; but he was man of so much probity that he alone should never have appeared there.” FRAN,

At Rome it was long pleasing and customary to be up early with open doors, to expound the laws to clients ; to lay out money cautiously upon good securities :" to hear the elder, and to tell the younger by what means their fortunes might increase and pernicious luxury be diminished. The inconstant people have changed their mind, and glow with a universal ardor for learning: young men

and fathers

sup

crowned with leaves, and dictate poetry. I myself, who affirm that I

19

grave

17 Saliare Numc carmen. Numa composed hymns in honor of Mars, which were sung by his priests. They were called axamenta, because they were written upon tables of wood, axes. The language of them was grown so dark and obsolete, that Cicero confesses he did not understand them; and Quintilian says, in his time they were scarce intelligible to the priests themselves. FRAN.

18 The Greeks were so passionately fond of these athletic exercises, that Herodotus tells us they would not discontinue them, even during the most destructive wars; and Plutarch assures us, that the Romans of his time were persnaded that nothing contributed more to reduce them to slavery than their love for these diversions. Fran.

19 Cautos nominibus rectis. “Cauti nummi," sums of money lent upon good security. Thus the Latins used • cautum tempus, cauta summa, cautum chirographum." By “certis nominibus" are to be understood, solvent debtors, as in Cicero, “ bona nomina.” TORR.

m

write no verses, am found more false than the Parthians :: and, awake before the sun is risen, I call for my pen and papers and desk. He that is ignorant of a ship is afraid to work a ship; none but he who has learned, dares administer [even) southern wood to the sick; physicians undertake what belongs to physicians ; mechanics handle tools; but we, unlearned and learned, promiscuously write poems.

Yet how great advantages this error and this slight madness has, thus compute : the poet's mind is not easily covetous; fond of verses, he studies this alone ; he laughs at losses, flights of slaves, fires; he contrives no fraud against his partner, or his young ward; he lives on husks, and brown bread; though dastardly and unfit for war, he is useful at home, if you allow this, that great things may derive assistance from small ones. The poet fashions the child's tender and lisping mouth, and turns his ear even at this time from obscene language ; afterward also he forms his heart with friendly precepts, the corrector of his rudeness, and envy, and passion; he records virtuous actions, he instructs the rising age with approved examples, he comforts the indigent and the sick. Whence should the virgin, stranger to a husband, with the chaste boys, learn the solemn prayer, had not the muse given a poet? The chorus entreats the dívine aid, and finds the gods propitious; sweet in learned prayer, they implore the waters of the heavens ;" avert diseases, drive off impend

20 The Romans had frequent experience of Parthian perfidy. Such was their amusing Crassus with a treaty of peace, and cutting his army in pieces. Even their manner of flying when they fought, was a kind of military lie and imposture, which spoke the character of the nation ; nor is it an ill resemblance of a poet who renounces rhyming, yet continues to write. CRUQ.

21 In the time of a general drought, sacrifices, called aquilicia, were performed to Jupiter to implore rain. The people walked barefooted in procession, and hymns were sung by a chorus of boys and girls. But to reduce the god to a necessity of hearing them, they rolled a great stone, called lapis manalis, through the streets, being persuaded it had a virtue of bringing down rain. But the priests never brought forth this miraculous stone, until they were tolerably well assured of the success. Tages and Baccis, Baotian and Etruscan soothsayers, had remarked, that the fibers of the sacrifices were of a yellow color, when the wind turned to rain after a long drought, and ordered the water-stones to be then immediately rolled. “Fibræ jecinoris sandaracei coloris dum fuant, manales tunc verrere opus est petras." Such miracles required such art to support them. FRẠN.

[ocr errors]

n

« PoprzedniaDalej »