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not being capable to be untied by human art, the invention of it is ascribed, not to a man, but to a goddess.

A poet would now appear ridiculous if he should introduce a goddess only to teach a hero such an art, as to tie a knot with intricacy: but we must not judge of what has been, from what now is; customs and arts are never at a stay, and consequently the ideas of customs and arts are as changeable as those arts and customs: this knot in all probability was in as high estimation formerly, as the finest watch-work or machines are at this day; and were a person famed for an uncommon skill in such works, it would be no absurdity in the language of poetry, to ascribe his knowledge in them to the assistance of a deity.

V. 510. To thee, my goddess, I address my vows.] This may seem an extravagant compliment, especially in the mouth of the wise Ulysses, and rather profane than polite. Dacier commends it as the highest piece of address and gallantry; but perhaps it may want explication to reconcile it to decency. Ulysses only speaks comparatively, and with relation to that one action of her saving his life: As therefore, says he, I owe my thanks to the heavens for giving me life originally, so I ought to pay my thanks to thee for preserving it; thou hast been to me as a deity: to preserve a life, is in one sense to give it.' If this appears not to soften the expression sufficiently, it may be ascribed to an overflow of gratitude in the generous disposition of Ulysses; he is so touched with the memory of her benevolence and protection, that his soul labours for an expression great enough to represent it, and no wonder if in this struggle of thought, his words fly out into an excessive but laudable boldness.


V. 519. From the chine Ulysses carves with art.] Were this literally to be translated, it would be that Ulysses cut a piece from the chine of the white-toothed boar, round which there was much fat. This looks like burlesque to a person unacquainted with the usages of antiquity: but it was the highest honour that could be paid to Demodocus. The greatest heroes in the Iliad are thus rewarded after victory, and it was esteemed an equivalent for all dangers. So that what Ulysses here offers to the poet, is offered out of a particular regard and honour to his poetry.

V. 531.


Thy soul the muse inspires,

Or Phœbus animates with all his fires.]

Ulysses here ascribes the songs of Demodocus to immediate inspiration; and Apollo is made the patron of the poets, as Eustathius observes, because he is the god of prophecy. He adds, that Homer here again represents himself in the person of Demodocus: it is he who wrote the war of Troy with as much faithfulness, as if he had been present at it; it is he who had little or no assistance from former relations of that story, and consequently receives it from Apollo and the muses. This is a secret but artful insinuation that we are not to look upon the Iliad as all fiction and fable, but in general as a real history, related with as much certainty as if the poet had been present at those memorable actions.

Plutarch, in his chapter of reading poems, admires the conduct of Homer with relation to Ulysses: he diverts Demodocus from idle fables, and gives him a noble theme, the destruction of Troy. Such subjects suit well with the sage character of Ulysses. It is for the same reason that he here passes over in silence the amour of Mars and Venus, and commends the song at the beginning of this book, concerning the contention of the worthies before Troy : an instruction, what songs a wise man ought to hear, and that poets should recite nothing but what may be heard by a wise



V. 604. In wondrous ships self-mov'd, instinct with mind.] There is not a passage that more outrages all the rules of credibility than the description of these ships of Alcinous. The poet inserts these wonders only to shew the great dexterity of the Phæacians in navigation; and indeed it was necessary to be very full in the description of their skill, who were to convey Ulysses home in despite of the very god of the ocean. It is for the same reason that they are described as sailing almost invisibly, to escape the notice of that god. Antiquity animated every thing in poetry; thus Argo is said to have had a mast made of Dodonæan oak, endued with the faculty of speech. But this is defending one absurdity, by instancing in a fable equally absurd: all that can be said in defence of it is, that such extravagant fables were believed,

at least by the vulgar, in former ages; and consequently might be introduced without blame in poetry; if so, by whom could a boast of this nature be better made, than by a vain Phæacian? Besides, these extravagancies let Ulysses into the humour of the Phæacians, and in the following books he adapts his story to it, and returns fable for fable. It must likewise certainly be a great encouragement to Ulysses to find himself in such hands as could so easily restore him to his country: for it was natural to conclude, that though Alcinous was guilty of great amplification, yet that his subjects were very expert navigators.

V. 619.


How, by his command,

Firm rooted in a surge a ship should stand.]

The ancients, as Eustathius observes, mark these verses with an obelisk and asterism. The obelisk shewed that they judged what relates to the oracle was misplaced, the asterism denoted that they thought the verses very beautiful. For they thought it not probable that Alcinous would have called to memory this prediction and the menace of Neptune, and yet persisted to conduct to his own country the enemy of that deity: whereas if this oracle be supposed to be forgotten by Alcinous, (as it will, if these verses be taken away) then there will be an appearance of truth, that he who was a friend to all strangers, should be persuaded to land so great and worthy an hero as Ulysses in his own dominions; and therefore they reject them to the 13th of the Odyssey. But, as Eustathius observes, Alcinous immediately subjoins,

'But this the gods may frustrate or fulfil,

As suits the purpose of th' eternal will.'

And therefore the verses may be very proper in this book, for Alcinous believes that the gods might be prevailed upon not to fulfil this denunciation. It has been likewise remarked that the conduct of Alcinous is very justifiable: the Phæacians had been warned by an oracle, that an evil threatened them for the care they should shew to a stranger: yet they forbear not to perform an act of piety to Ulysses, being persuaded that men ought to do their duty, and trust the issue to the goodness of the gods. This

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will seem to be more probable, if we remember Alcinous is igno-* rant that Ulysses is the person intended by the prediction, so that he is not guilty of a voluntary opposition to the gods, but really acts with piety in assisting his guest, and only complies with the common laws of hospitality.

It is but a conjecture, yet it is not without probability, that there was a rock which looked like a vessel, in the entrance of the haven of the Phæacians; the fable may be built upon this foundation, and because it was environed by the ocean, the transformation might be ascribed to the god of it.

V. 621.



How mound on mound

Should bury these proud tow'rs beneath the ground.]

The Greek word is aμqınadvfew, which does not necessarily imply that the city should be buried actually, but that a mountain should surround it, or cover it round; and in the thirteenth book we find that when the ship was transformed into a rock, the city continues out of danger. Eustathius is fully of opinion, that the city was threatened to be overwhelmed by a mountain: the poet, says he, invents this fiction to prevent posterity from searching after this isle of the Phæacians, and to preserve his story from detection of falsification; after the same manner as he introduces Neptune and the rivers of Troy bearing away the wall which the Greeks had raised as a fortification before their navy. But Dacier, in the omissions which she inserts at the end of the second volume of her Odyssey, is of a contrary opinion, for the mountair is not said to cover the city, but to threaten to cover it: as appears from the thirteenth book of the Odyssey, where Alcinous commands a sacrifice to the gods to avert the execution of this denunciation.

But the difference in reality is small, the city is equally threatened to be buried, as the vessel to be transformed; and therefore Alcinous might pronounce the same fate to both, since both were threatened equally by the prediction: it was indeed impossible for him to speak after any other manner, for he only repeats the words of the oracle, and cannot foresee that the sacrifice of the Phæacians would appease the anger of Neptune.

V. 635. Or bled some friend, who bore a brother's part,
And claim'd by merit, not by blood, the heart?]

This excellent sentence of Homer at once guides us in the choice, and instructs us in the regard, that is to be paid to the person of a friend. If it be lawful to judge of a man from his writings, Homer had a soul susceptible of real friendship, and was a lover of sincerity. It would be endless to take notice of every casual instruction inserted in the Odyssey; but such sentences shew Homer to have been a man of an amiable character as well as excellent in poetry: the great abhorrence he had of lies cannot be more strongly expressed than in those two passages of the ninth Iliad, and in the fourteenth Odyssey: in the first of which he makes the man of the greatest soul, Achilles, bear testimony to his aversion of them; and in the latter declares, that 'the poorest man, though compelled by the utmost necessity, ought not to stoop to such a practice.' In this place he shews that worth creates a kind of relation, and that we are to look upon a worthy friend as a brother.

This book takes up the whole thirty-third day, and part of the evening; for the council opens in the morning, and at sun-setting the Phæacians return to the palace from the games; after which Ulysses bathes and sups, and spends some time of the evening in discoursing, and hearing the songs of Demodocus. Then Alcinous requests him to relate his own story, which he begins in the next book, and continues it through the four subsequent books of the Odyssey.

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