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This social right demands: for him the sails,
But, friend, discover faithful what I crave, 595 Artful concealment ill becomes the brave:
Say what thy birth, and what the name you bore,
(For from the natal hour distinctive names,
Tho' clouds and darkness veil th' encumber'd sky,
With fury burns; while careless they convey 615
These ears have heard my royal sire disclose
How Neptune rag'd, and how, by his command,
A monument of wrath: how mound on mound
But say thro' what waste regions hast thou stray'd,
A theme of future song! Say then if slain
THIS book has been more severely censured by the critics than any in the whole Odyssey: it may therefore be thought necessary to lay before the reader what may be offered in the poet's vindication.
Scaliger in his Poetics is very warm against it. Demodocus, observes that critic, sings the lust of the gods (fœditates) at the feast of Alcinous. And Bossu, though he vindicates the poet, remarks that we meet with some offensive passages in Homer, and instances in the adultery of Mars and Venus.
To know (says Aristotle in his Art of Poetry) whether a thing be well or ill spoken, we must not only examine the thing whether it be good or ill, but we must also have regard to him that speaks or acts, and to the person to whom the poet addresses; for the character of the person who speaks, and of him to whom he speaks, makes that to be good, which would not come well from the mouth of any other person. It is not on this account we vindicate Homer, with respect to the immorality that is found in the fable of the adultery of Mars and Venus: we must consider that it is neither the poet, nor his hero, that recites that story; but a Phæacian sings it to Phæacians, a soft effeminate people, at a festival. Besides, it is allowable even in grave and moral writings to introduce vicious persons, who despise the gods; and is not the poet obliged to adapt his poetry to the characters of such persons? And had it not been an absurdity in him to have given us a philosophical or moral song before a people who would be pleased with nothing but gaiety and effeminacy? The moral that we are to draw from this story is, that an idle and soft course of life is the source of all criminal pleasures; and that those persons who lead such lives, are generally pleased to hear such stories, as make
their betters partakers in the same vices. This relation of Homer is a useful lesson to them who desire to live virtuously; and it teaches, that if we would not be guilty of such vices, we must avoid such a method of life as inevitably leads to the practice of them.
Rapin attacks this book on another side, and blames it not for its immorality, but lowness. Homer, says he, puts off that air of grandeur and majesty which so properly belongs to his character; he debases himself into a droll, and sinks into a familiar way of talking: he turns things into ridicule, by endeavouring to entertain his reader with something pleasant and diverting for instance, in the eighth book of the Odyssey, he entertains the gods with a comedy, some of whom he makes buffoons: Mars and Venus are introduced upon the stage, taken in a net laid by Vulcan, contrary to the gravity which is so essential to epic poetry.
It must be granted, that the gods are here painted in colours unworthy of deities, yet still with propriety, if we respect the spectators, who are ignorant debauched Phæacians. Homer was obliged to draw them, not according to his own idea of the gods, but according to the wild fancies of the Phæacians. The poet is not at liberty to ascribe the wisdom of a Socrates to Alcinous: he must follow nature; and, like a painter, he may draw deities or monsters, and introduce, as he pleases, either vicious or virtuous characters, provided he always makes them of a piece, consistent with their first representation.
This rule of Aristotle in general, vindicates Homer, and it is necessary to carry it in our minds, because it ought to be applied to all incidents that relate to the Phæacians in the sequel of the Odyssey.
V. 6. And fill the shining thrones along the bay.] This place of council was between the two ports, where the temple of Neptune stood; probably, like that in the second book, open to the
V. 9. In form a herald ] It may be asked what occasion there is to introduce a goddess, to perform an action that might have been as well executed by a real herald? Eustathius observes, that this Minerva is either fame, which informs the Phæacians
that a stranger of uncommon figure is arrived, and upon this re:. port they assemble; or it implies, that this assembly was made by the wisdom of the peers, and consequently a poet may ascribe it to the goddess of wisdom, it being the effect of her inspiration. The poet, by the introduction of a deity, warns us, that some thing of importance is to succeed; this is to be ushered in with solemnity, and consequently the appearance of Minerva in this place is not unnecessary: the action of importance to be described is no less than the change of the fortunes of Ulysses; it is from this assembly that his affairs take a new turn, and hasten to a happy re-establishment.
V. 19. Pallas, with grace divine his form improves.] This circumstance has been repeated several times almost in the same words, since the beginning of the Odyssey. I cannot be of opinion that such repetitions are beauties. In any other poet they might have been thought to proceed from a poverty of invention, though certainly not in Homer, in whom there is rather a superfluity than barrenness. Perhaps having once said a thing well, he despaired of improving it, and so repeated it; or perhaps he intended to inculcate this truth, that all our accomplishments, as beauty, strength, &c. are the gifts of the gods; and being willing to fix it upon the mind, he dwells upon it, and inserts it in many places. Here indeed it has a particular propriety, as it is a circumstance that first engages the Phæacians in the favour of Ulysses: his beauty was his first recommendation, and consequently the poet with great judgment sets his hero off to the best advantage, it being an incident from which he dates all his future happiness; and therefore to be insisted upon with a particular solemnity. Plato in his Theætetus applies the latter part of this description to Parmenides. Αιδοιος τε μοι φαινεται ειναι, αμα δεινος
V. 35. Launch the tall bark. .] The word in the original is wewτonλo; which signifies not only a ship that makes its first voyage, but a ship that outsails other ships, as Eustathius observes. It is not possible for a translator to retain such singularities with any beauty; it would seem pedantry and affectation, and not poetry.