« 前へ次へ »
he evidently dwells on them with fondness; and where these are absent, his unsophisticated traits of the human heart, together with the antiquity of his pictures, gives them a charm that we should exchange with reluctance for the representations of a more intellectual state of society. Even the redundance of his diction and description seems so much a part of the overflowing fulness of his mind, that we should no more wish him to be succinct than we should desire to see the shores of the Mississippi trimmed into neatness.
The virtues of Greek heroism are rude in comparison with some of those which chivalry professed and even practised. But the high aspirations of chivalry had all some natural origin in the human breast; and a poet who knew man so well as Homer, and who found him raised above the torpor of barbarism, could not fail to exhibit all the elements, even of chivalrous virtue. Accordingly Hector's delicacy to Helen is the same which a Bayard or a Sidney would have shown in similar circumstances; and he reproves even his recreant brother with a generous lenity. His combat with Ajax is conducted with mutual magnanimity. We have no challenges, it is true, about the beauty of mistresses; and the word love, in our genuinely romantic meaning, does not meet us in Homer. Nevertheless, the very fathers of Troy speak with a gallant sensibility of Helen's beauty —the scenes of conjugal affection are superlatively beautiful, and the situation of women appears in the Iliad to be much more free and honourable than we afterwards find in the height of Attic refinement. In short, we meet in Homer's heroism with all the natural flowers of human virtue, whatever chivalrous cultivation might have afterwards added to their lustre and perfume.
But the effects of chivalry were by no means unmixed : it raised certain sentiments to a factitious magnitude at the expense of others, and its institutions tended, on the whole, to give a formal, hyperbolical, and monotonous cast to human character. Accordingly the personages of romantic fiction have little individuality; and when we have one accomplished knight errant, we may form a tolerable conception of the whole brotherhood, Their virtues are exaggerated, and require but a slight additional touch of exaggeration to convert them into caricature. Whereas Homer, in the ideal of poetry, retains the express image of man, and minutely observes his moral lineaments and proportions, whilst he enlarges heroism above the size of life. Amidst the boldest fables, all his men and women are natural, probable, and strongly discriminated individuals. They are varied as if by chance, yet all harmonizing with the spirit of the age, collectively represent its world of moral character. Achilles, in the centre, is of the order of spirits that electrify and command mankind. His alarming and sensitive being is the soul of the Iliad, and his very absence and repose are the causes of its disastrous action. He is unquestionably ferocious, but his quarrel is just, he is wronged-high-minded-hating falsehood like the gates of hell-young, beautiful, and predestined to fall. Casual glimpses of his manners are also given, that interestingly soften our conception of him. He is the only hero of the Iliad who amuses himself with music and poetry. The deputies of the army find him in his tent playing on his lyre, and chanting heroic songs; and, though he knows their hateful errand, he receives them with a calm and manly benignity. Horace does him injustice when he calls him a disclaimer of laws* and inexorable; for he melts into tears at the prostrate grey hairs of Priam, the father of the slayer of his friend, though he had lately withstood all the eloquence of Nestor.
It shows the security of Homer in his inspiration, to have introduced such an opponent to Achilles as Hector. But when he leads us to Troy, he makes us Trojans in our affections, and almost seems to become so himself. Prodigal in sympathy with the events and agents which he conjures up, his imagination as tenderly conceives the lamentations of Hecuba, and the heartsick swoon of Andromache, as it makes itself impetuously congenial with the vengeance of Achilles. Like nature, he is fruitful in creating characters, and like her, impartial in distributing and intrusting virtues to contending parties. Conscious that Achilles could shine by his own light, he fears not to show us his image through tears for the fate of Hector. In delineating Hector by the eulogies of his weeping country and friends, the climax is exquisitely perfected by Helen. All others who had bewailed him, she says, were bound to him by reciprocal ties; but her's was the grief of gratitude for the undeserved and gratuitous kindness of his mighty heart. He had interposed when others had reproached her—he had soothed her when her tears flowed at their reproaches.
Æneas creates a less ardent, though still respectable interest; and it is increased by a hint, which is thrown out with an air of minute historical probability, that Priam was jealous of his greatness, and that his virtues had been partially thrown into the shade. What expression in every figure of this mighty tablet!-what diversity even between men incompetent to great actions; as between the abject coward and vulgar braggart Thersites, and the gay good-natured Paris, whose spirit, though sunk in luxury, still shows some traces of his noble breed! The stout arm and heart of Ajax stand him in lieu of all piety, craft, or sensibility; whilst Sarpedon, bleeding in warfare not his own, spends his last generous breath in exhorting the brave to rally the battle. Homer is above all artificial antithesis in the painting of character; but in describing natures remotely different, he could not avoid exhibiting contrasts; and that which is visible between Achilles and Ulysses, is as perfect as heroic nature can afford.
inexorabilis, acer, Jura negat sibi nata, &c.-Hor,
The youthful Diomed is among the Greeks, next to Achilles, the apparent favourite of the poet:-all spirit and lustre, his valour burns like " the unwearied fire that plays on his shield and crest."* Like Achilles, he is insulted by Agamemnon, who charges him with cowardice on the eve of battle; but he is wise as well as warlike, and it is not till his actions have belied the imputation, that he retaliates upon his commander. When the Greeks have been worsted, and when Agamemnon proposes abandoning the siege, Diomed, the youngest of all the chiefs, rises in the council, and gives him a dignified rebuke. Agamemnon himself is not without the virtues of fraternal affection, and willingness to listen to able counsellors. He has also his day of distinction in the field. But his importance altogether is more royal than personal, and his faults are made conspicuous by his supremacy. Alternately presumptuous and despondent, he is the readiest to tax others with deficient courage, and the first himself to despair under public reverses. He is also unmerciful in victory. The cry of typer Aspros voè is addressed to him in vain, and he makes two of the most atrocious refusals of quarter that occur in the Iliad. It has been remarked, that Homer speaks as a friend to royal government; but still he describes it as too limited, or rather as too undefined, to be despotic; and the chiefs in the councils of the Iliad present us with a sort of Greek picture of Gothic feudalism. And if he shows respect for monarchy, he makes his kings no monopolists of virtue. In poetical justice, he seems to have thought it sufficient to give Agamemnon the diadem, and a few good qualities, as his share of importance in the poem, leaving brighter heroic endowments to chiefs subordinate in political power.
Amidst these forms which the Iliad exhibits in the bloom or strength of heroism, the aged characters are no less happily distinguished. Nestor looks back on a life of greatness and wisdom:-he has no rival in venerable years; his powers have
Niad v. 4,
reached the last ripeness of experience, but they have also something of the mellow tint that precedes decay. He dwells on his own exploits with an egotism and fulness that could only be endured in the most ancient of men. Phenix, the friend of Achilles, on the other hand, is also old, but his youth had been embittered by misery and vindictive passions; and when he comes to exhort the hero against excessive resentment, he confesses his early errors in a tone very different from the self complacency of Nestor.
Priam is neither very wise nor energetic; but his heart is warm with natural affections, and his woes and years sustain our reverence and solicitude. When the wail of the Trojans bursts from their walls, at the sight of Hector dragged in triumph by his conqueror,—when the frantic father implores his friends to let him go forth, and implore the pity of the destroyer, the struggle of his people to detain him, and the voice of his instinctive agony, surpass almost every thing in the pathos of poetry, and affect us more like an event passing before our eyes, than a scene of fictitious calamity. Never was the contrast jf weakness and strength more fearful, than when he throws himself at the feet of Achilles, whilst his feeble perspicacity makes us tremble at every moment, lest he should light up the inftammable temper of Achilles, fluctuating between wrath and compassion. Yet, hallowed by paternal sorrow, age and weakness prevail. The old man accomplishes his point, and the terrific victor condescends to the delicacy of even veiling Hector's corpse from his view.
The mythology of the great poet, cannot be acquitted of undignified passages; but among these the most notoriously objectionable, viz. the allusion to the suspension and flogging of Juno, has been generally deemed an interpolation by the best judges. Traits of grandeur and beauty, however, are not wanting, even in his mythology; witness the meeting of the King and Queen of Heaven on the mountain, where the flowers are described as springing up spontaneously on the spot of their embrace. And taken in a general view, his Heaven is made more amusing by its anthropomorphism than it could have been rendered by purer religious ideas. His divinities are only immortal men and women surpassing mortals in power and beauty, but not the less interesting because they transfer the passions of humanity to Olympus. His heroes are their kindred, and glow with the tints of their celestial consanguinity. His ethereal and heroic natures thus approach in partial contact like the blending skies and mountains of a beautiful landscape, where the hues of Heaven and earth insensibly melt into each other.
FROM THE DUTCH OF TOLLENS.
TO A MOURNER.
The creeping worm that, weak and weary,
Was slumbering in its narrow cell, Enraptur’d, bursts that prison dreary,
And, fluttering, leaves its witherd shell: Gently moving-gaily roving
Far away from earthly, care;
Through the boundless fields of air.
gaze no more upon the dead;
No earthly spirit lingers there;
HORACE, BOOK III. ODE XIX.
What years from Inachus divide
Quick, boy! a bumper to the Moon;
This wild din of ours,
Thee, beamy with thy clustering hair,