Page images

ferves the Odyssey to have less of those qualities, and to turn more on the fide of moral, and reflections on human life. Nor is it his business here to determine, whether the elevated fpirit of the one, or the just moral of the other, be the greater excellence in itself.

Secondly, that fire and fury of which he is fpeaking, cannot well be meant of the general fpirit and inspiration which is to run through a whole Epic Poem, but of that particular warmth and impetuofity neceffary in fome parts, to image or represent actions or passions, of hafte, tumult, and violence. It is on occafion of citing fome fuch particular paffages in Homer, that Longinus breaks into this reflection; which seems to determine his meaning chiefly to that sense.

Upon the whole, he affirms the Odyffey to have lefs fublimity and fire than the Iliad, but he does not fay it wants the fublime or wants fire. He affirms it to be narrative, but not that the narration is defective. He affirms it to abound in fictions, not that thofe fictions are ill invented, or ill executed. He affirms it to be nice and particular in painting the manners, but not that those manners are ill painted. If Homer has fully in these points accomplished his own defign, and done all that the nature of his Poem demanded or allowed, it still remains perfect in its kind, and as much a master-piece as the Iliad.

The amount of the paffage is this; that in his own particular taste, and with respect to the Sublime, Lon

[blocks in formation]

ginus preferred the Iliad: and because the Odyssey was less active and lofty, he judged it the work of the old age of Homer.

If this opinion be true, it will only prove, that Homer's age might determine him in the choice of his fubject, not that it affected him in the execution of it and that which would be a very wrong inftance to prove the decay of his imagination, is a very good one to evince the strength of his judgment. For had he (as Madam Dacier obferves) compofed the Odyffey in his youth, and the Iliad in his age, both must in reafon have been exactly the fame as they now stand. To blame Homer for his choice of fuch a fubject, as did not admit the fame incidents and the fame pomp of style as his former; is to take offence at too much variety, and to imagine, that when a man has written one good thing, he must ever after only copy himself.

The Battle of Conftantine, and the School of Athens, are both pieces of Raphael: fhall we cenfure the School of Athens as faulty, because it has not the fury and fire of the other? or fhall we fay, that Raphael was grown grave and old, because he chose to reprefent the manners of old men and philofophers? There is all the filence, tranquillity, and compofure in the one, and all the warmth, hurry, and tumult in the other, which the subject of either required: both of them had been imperfect, if they had not been as they And let the painter or poet be young or old, who defigns and performs in this manner, it proves


[blocks in formation]

him to have made the piece at a time of life when he was master not only of his art, but of his difcretion.

Ariftotle makes no fuch diftinction between the two Poems: he conftantly cites them with equal praise, and draws the rules and examples of Epic writing equally from both. But it is rather to the Odyffey that Horace gives the preference, in the Epistle to Lollius, and in the Art of Poetry. It is remarkable how oppofite his opinion is to that of Longinus; and that the particulars he chooses to extol, are thofe very fictions and pictures of the manners. which the other feems leaft to approve. Those fables and manners are the very effence of the work: but even without that regard, the fables themselves have both more invention and more inftruction, and the manners more moral and example, than thofe of

the Iliad.

In fome points (and those the most effential to the Epic Poem) the Odyffey is confeffed to excel the Iliad; and principally in the great end of it, the moral. The conduct, turn and difpofition of the fable is also what the critics allow to be the better model for Epic writers to follow: accordingly we find much more of the caft of this Poem than of the other in the Eneid, and (what next to that is perhaps the greatest example) in the Telemachus. In the manners, it is no way inferior; Longinus is fo far from finding any defect in thefe, that he rather taxes Ho


mer with painting them too minutely. As to the narrations, although they are more numerous as the occafions are more frequent, yet they carry no more the marks of old age, and are neither more prolix nor more circumftantial, than the converfations and dialogues of the Iliad. Not to mention the length of thofe of Phanix in the ninth book, and of Neftor in the eleventh, (which may be thought in compliance to their characters,) those of Glaucus in the fixth, of Eneas in the twentieth, and fome others, must be allowed to exceed any in the whole Odyffey. And that the propriety of style, and the numbers, in the narrations of each are equal, will appear to any who compare them.

To form a right judgment, whether the genius of Homer had suffered any decay; we must consider, in both his Poems, fuch parts as are of a fimilar nature, and will bear comparison. And it is certain we shall find in each, the fame vivacity and fecundity of invention, the fame life and ftrength of imaging and colouring, the particular defcriptions as highly painted, the figures as bold, the metaphors as animated, and the numbers as harmonious and as various.

The Odyffey is a perpetual fource of Poetry: the ftream is not the lefs full, for being gentle; though it is true (when we fpeak only with regard to the sublime) that a river foaming and thundering in cataracts from rocks and precipices, is what more ftrikes, amazes, and fills the mind, than the fame body of water,

GG 3

water, flowing afterwards through peaceful vales and agreeable scenes of pafturage.

[ocr errors]


The Odyffey (as I have before said) ought to be confidered according to its own nature and defign, not with an eye to the Iliad. To cenfure Homer be cause it is unlike what it was never meant to resemble, is, as if a gardener who had purposely cultivated beautiful trees of contrary natures, as a specimen of his fkill in the feveral kinds, fhould be blamed for not bringing them into pairs; when in root, ftem, leaf, and flower, each was fo entirely different, that one must have been spoiled in the endeavour to match the other.

Longinus, who faw this Poem was "partly of the "nature of Comedy," ought not for that very reason to have confidered it with a view to the Iliad. How little any fuch resemblance was the intention of Homer, may appear from hence, that although the character of Ulyffes there was already drawn, yet here he purposely turns to another fide of it, and fhows him not in that full light of glory but in the fhade of common life, with a mixture of fuch qualities as are requifite to all the lowest accidents of it, ftruggling with misfortunes, and on a level with the meanest of mankind. As for the other perfons, none of them are above what we call the higher Comedy; Calypfo, though a Goddess, is a character of intrigue; the fuitors yet more approaching to it; the Phaacians are of the fame caft; the Cyclops, Malanthius, and


« PreviousContinue »