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SPECTATOR, N° 267.
Cedite Romani Scriptores, cedite Graii.
Give place, ye Roman, and ye Grecian Wits.
HERE is nothing in Nature more irk fome than general Difcourfes, especially when they turn chiefly upon Words. For this Reason I fhall wave the Dif cuffion of that Point which was started fome Years fince, Whether Milton's Paradife Loft may be called an Heroic Poem? Thofe who will not give it that Title, may call it (if they please) a Divine Poem. It will be fufficient to its Perfection, if
it has in it all the Beauties of the highest kind of Poe-
try; and as for those who alledge it is not an Heroic
Poem, they advance no more to the Diminution of it,
than if they should say Adam is not Æneas, nor Eve
I fhall therefore examine it by the Rules of Epic
Poetry, and fee whether it falls fhort of the Iliad
or Eneid, in the Beauties which are effential to that
Kind of Writing. The firft Thing to be considered
in an Epic Poem, is the Fable, which is perfect or
imperfect, according as the Action which it relates
is more or less fo. This Action fhould have three
Qualifications in it. Firft, It should be but One
Action. Secondly, It fhould be an Entire Action;
and Thirdly, It should be a Great Action. To con-
fider the Action of the Iliad, Eneid, and Paradife
Loft, in these three feveral Lights. Homer, to pre-
ferve the Unity of his Action, haftens into the Midst
of Things, as Horace has obferved: Had he gone up
to Leda's Egg, or begun much later, even at the
Rape of Helen, or the Investing of Troy, it is mani-
feft that the Story of the Poem would have been a
Series of feveral Actions. He therefore opens his
Poem with the Discord of his Princes, and artfully
interweaves, in the feveral fucceeding parts of it,
an Account of every Thing material which relates
to them, and had paffed before this fatal Diffenfion.
After the fame Manner, Eneas makes his first Ap.
pearance in the Tyrrhene Seas, and within the Sight
of Italy, because the Action proposed to be celebra-
ted was that of his fettling himself in Latium. But
because it was neceffary for the Reader to know what
had happened to him in the taking of Troy, and in
the preceding Parts of his Voyage, Virgil makes his
Heroe relate it by way of Episode in the fecond
and third Books of the Eneid: the Contents of both
which Books come before thofe of the first Book
in the Thread of the Story, tho' for preferving of
this Unity of Action, they follow it in the Difpo-
fition of the Poem. Milton, in Imitation of thefe
two great Poets, opens his Parad fe Loft with an in-
fernal Council plotting the Fall of Man; which is
the Action he propofed to celebrate; and as for those
Great Actions, the Battle of the Angels, and the
Creation of the World, (which preceded in Point of
Time, and which, in my Opinion, would have en-
tirely deftroyed the Unity of his Principal Action,
had he related them in the fame Order
that they happened) he caft them in-
to the fifth, fixth and feventh Books,
by way of Episode to this noble
Vid. the End of Spectator 327.
ARISTOTLE himself allows, that Homer has nothing to boast of as to the Unity of his Fable, though at the fame time that great Critic and Philofopher endeavours to palliate this Imperfection in the Greek Poet by imputing it in fome Measure to the very Nature of an Epic Poem. Some have been of Opinion, t that the Eneid alfo labours in this Particular, and has Epifodes which may be looked upon as Excrefcencies rather than as Parts of the Action. On the contrary, the Poem, which we have now under our Confideration, hath no other Episodes than fuch as naturally arise from the Subject, and yet is filled with fuch a Multitude of aftonishing Incidents, that it gives us at the fame time a Pleasure of the greatest Variety, and of the greatest Simplicity; uniform in its Nature, though diverfified in the Execution.
I must observe alfo, that as Virgil in the Poem which was defigned to celebrate the Original of the Roman Empire, has defcribed the Birth of its great Rival, the Carthaginian Commonwealth: Milton with the like Art in his Poem on the Fall of Man, has related the Fall of thofe Angels who are his profeffed Enemies. Befide the many other Beauties in fuch an Episode, its running parallel with the great Action of the Poem, hinders it from breaking the Unity fo much as another Episode would have done, that had not fo great an