Page images

V. 57. Dear to the muse! who gave his days to flow

With mighty blessings, mix'd with mighty woe.]

It has been generally thought that Homer represents himself in the person of Demodocus; and Dacier imagines that this passage gave occasion to the ancients to believe that Homer was blind. But that he really was blind is testified by himself in his Hymn to Apollo, which Thucydides asserts to be the genuine production of Homer, and quotes it as such in his history:

Ω κεραί, τις δ' υμμιν ανης, ηδιστο αοιδών,

Ενθαδε πωλειται; και το τερπεσθε μαλιστα ;

Τρεις δ' εν μαλα πασαι υποκρίνασθε, αφ' υμέων

[blocks in formation]

That is, 'O virgins, if any person asks you who is he, the most pleasing of all poets, who frequents this place, and who is he who most delights you? reply, he is a blind man,' &c. It is true, as Eustathius observes, that there are many features in the two poets that bear a great resemblance: Demodocus sings divinely, the same is true of Homer; Demodocus sings the adventures of the Greeks before Troy, so does Homer in his Iliad.

If this be true, it must be allowed that Homer has found out a way of commending himself very artfully: had he spoken plainly, he had been extravagantly vain; but by this indirect way of praise, the reader is at liberty to apply it either solely to Demodocus, or obliquely to Homer.

It is remarkable, that Homer takes a very extraordinary care of Demodocus, his brother poet; and introduces him as a person of great distinction. He calls him in this book the hero Demodocus: he places him on a throne studded with silver, and gives him an herald for his attendant; nor is he less careful to provide for his entertainment, he has a particular table, and a capacious bowl set before him to drink as often as he had a mind, as the original expresses it. Some merry wits have turned the last circumstance into raillery, and insinuate that Homer in this place, as well as in the former, means himself in the person of Demodocus; an intimation, that he would not be displeased to meet with the like hospitality.

V. 74. The stern debate Atrides hears with joy.] This passage is not without obscurity, but Eustathius thus explains it from Athenæus: in the Iliad the generals sup with Agamemnon with sobriety and moderation: and if in the Odyssey we see Achilles and Ulysses in contention to the great satisfaction of Agamemnon, it is because these contentions are of use to his affairs; they contend whether force or stratagem is to be employed to take Troy; Achilles after the death of Hector, persuaded to assault it by storm, Ulysses by stratagem. There is a further reason given for the satisfaction which Agamemnon expresses at the contest of these two heroes: before the opening of the war of Troy he consulted the oracle concerning the issue of it; Apollo answered, that Troy should be taken when two princes most renowned, the one for wisdom and the other for valour, should contend at a sacrifice of the gods: Agamemnon rejoices to see the prediction fulfilled, knowing that the destruction of Troy was at hand, the oracle being accomplished by the contest of Ulysses and Achilles.

V. 119. Euryalus, like Mars terrific, rose.] I was at a loss for a reason why this figure of terror was introduced amongst an unwarlike nation, upon an occasion contrary to the general description, in the midst of games and diversions. Eustathius takes notice, that the poet distinguishes the character of Euryalus, to force it upon our observation; he being the person who uses Ulysses with roughness and inhumanity, and is the only peer that is described with a sword, which he gives to Ulysses to repair his injury.

He further remarks, that almost all the names of the persons who are mentioned as candidates in these games are borrowed from the sea, Phæacia being an island, and the people greatly addicted to navigation. I have taken the liberty to vary from the order observed by Homer in the catalogue of the names, to avoid the affinity of sound in many of them, as Euryalus, Ocyalus, &c. and too many names being tedious, at least in English poetry, I passed over the three sons of Alcinous, Laodamas, Halius, and Clytoneus, and only mentioned them in general as the sons of Alcinous.

I was surprised to see Dacier render

. . . υιος Πολυνης Τεκλονίδαο,

The son of Polyneus the carpenter; it looks like burlesque: it ought to be rendered, The son of Polyneus Tectonides, a Patronymic, and it is so understood by all commentators.

V. 129.

. What space the hinds allow

Between the mule and ox, from plough to plough.]

This image drawn from rural affairs is now become obsolete, and gives us no distinct idea of the distance between Clytoneus and the other racers; but this obscurity arises not from Homer's want of perspicuity, but from the change which has happened in the method of tillage, and from a length of time which has effaced the distinct image which was originally stamped upon it; so that what was understood universally in the days of Homer is grown almost unintelligible to posterity. Eustathius only observes, that the teams of mules were placed at some distance from the teams of oxen; the mule being more swift in his labour than the ox, and consequently more ground was allowed to the mule than the ox by the husbandman. This gives us an idea that Clytoneus was the foremost of the racers, but how much is not to be discovered with any certainty. Aristarchus, as Didymus informs us, thus interprets Homer: As much as a yoke of mules set to work at the same time with a yoke of oxen, outgoes the oxen (for mules are swifter than oxen), so much Clytoneus outwent his competitors.' The same description occurs in the tenth book of the Iliad, verse 419, to which passage I refer the reader for a more large and different explication.

V. 149. By age unbroke!] It is in the original literally,' he wants not youth;' this is spoken according to appearance only, for Ulysses must be supposed to be above forty, having spent twenty years in the wars of Troy and in his return to his country. It is true Hesiod calls a person a youth, ainov, who was forty years of age, but this must be understood with some allowance, unless we suppose that the life of man was longer in the times of Hesiod, than in these later ages; the contrary of which

appears from many places in Homer, where the shortness of man's life is compared to the leaves of trees, &c. But what the poet here relates is very justifiable, for the youth which Ulysses appears to have proceeds from Minerva; it is not a natural quality, but conferred by the immediate operation of a goddess.

This speech concludes with an address of great beauty: Laodamas invites Ulysses to act in the games, yet at the same time furnishes him with a decent excuse to decline the invitation, if it be against his inclinations; should he refuse, he imputes the refusal to his calamities, not to any want of skill, or personal inability.

V. 190. And steals with modest violence our souls,

He speaks reserv'dly, but he speaks with force.]

There is a difficulty in the Greek expression, ασφαλέως αγορευει, aido Mixin; that is, he speaks securely with a winning modesty.' Dionysius Halicarnassus interprets it, in his Examination of Oratory, to signify that the orator argues per concessa,* and so proceeds with certainty, or acpaλews; without danger of refutation. The word properly signifies without stumbling," απροσκόπως, as in the proverb cited by Eustathius, φορηλοτερον αποσιν ήπες γλωτη προσκοπίειν: that is, it is better to stumble with the feet than with the tongue.' The words are concise, but of a very extensive comprehension, and take in every thing, both in sentiments and diction, that enters into the character of a complete orator. Dacier concurs in the same interpretation: He speaks reservedly, or with caution; he hazards nothing that he would afterwards wish (repentir) to alter. And all his words are full of sweetness and modesty.'

V. 219. That instant Pallas, bursting from a cloud.] There is not a passage in the whole Odyssey, where a deity is introduced with less apparent necessity: the goddess of wisdom is brought down from heaven to act what might have been done as well by any of the spectators, namely, to proclaim what was self-evident, the victory of Ulysses. When a deity appears, our expectations are awakened for the introduction of something important, but what action of importance succeeds? It is true, her appearance en

courages Ulysses, and immediately upon it he challenges the whole Phæacian assembly. But he was already victor, and no further action is performed. If indeed she had appeared openly in favour of Ulysses, this would have been greatly advantageous to him, and the Phæacians must have highly reverenced a person who was so remarkably honoured by a goddess: but it is not evident that the Phæacians, or even Ulysses, knew the deity, but took her for a man, as she appeared to be; and Ulysses himself immediately rejoices that he had found a friend in the assembly. If this be true, the descent of Pallas will prove very unnecessary; for if she was esteemed to be merely human, she acts nothing in the character of a deity, and performs no more than might have been performed by a man, and consequently gave no greater courage to Ulysses than a friend actually gave, for such only he believed her to be. Eustathius appears to be of the same opinion, for he says the place is to be understood allegorically, and what is thus spoken by a Phæacian with wisdom, is by the poet applied to the goddess of it.

V. 249. Should a whole host at once discharge the bow,
My well-aim'd shaft with death prevents the foe.]

There is an ambiguity in the original, and may imply either, that if Ulysses and his friends were at the same time to aim their arrows against an enemy, his arrow would fly with more certainty and expedition than that of his companions, or that if his enemies had bent all their bows at once against him, yet his shaft would reach his adversary before they could discharge their arrows. Eustathius follows the former, Dacier the latter interpretation. And certainly the latter argues the greater intrepidity and presence of mind: it shews Ulysses in the extremity of danger capable of acting with calmness and serenity, and shooting with the same certainty and steadiness, though multitudes of enemies endanger his life. I have followed this explication, as it is nobler, and shews Ulysses to be a consummate hero.

V. 257. Vain Eurytus...] This Eurytus was king of Oechalia, famous for his skill in archery; he proposed his daughter Iole in marriage to any person that could conquer him at the ex

« PreviousContinue »