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Rufb to the vales, and, pour'd along the plain, Roar thro' a thoufand chanels to the main; The diftant fhepherd trembling hears the found: So mix both hofts, and fo their cries rebound.
THERE is no antient author more likely to betray an injudicious interpreter into meanneffes, than Homer; as it requires the utmost skill and address to preserve that venerable air of fimplicity, which is one of the characteristical marks of that poet, without finking the expreffion or the sentiment into contempt. Antiquity will furnish a very strong instance of the truth of this observation, in a fingle line which is preserved to us from a tranflation of the Iliad by one Labeo, a favorite poet, it feems, of Nero: it is quoted by an old scholiaft upon Perfius, and happens to be a verfion of the following paffage in the fourth book.
Ωμου βιβρωθοις Πριαμον Πριάμοιο τε παίδας. which Nero's admirable poet rendered literally thus:
Crudum manduces Priamum Priamique pifinnos.
I need not indeed have gone fo far back for my inftance: a Labeo of our own nation
would have fupplied me with one much nearer at hand. Ogilby or Hobbs (I for get which) has tranflated this very verfe in the fame ridiculous manner:
And eat up Priam and his children all.
BUT among many other paffages of this fort I obferved one in the fame book, which raised my curiofity to examine in what manner Mr. Pope had conducted it, Juno, in a general council of the gods, thus accosts Jupiter:
Πως εθέλεις αλιον είναι πονον ηδ' ατελες ον Ifpwb', ιδρωσα μόγῳ, καμείω δε μοι ιπποια Λαον αγείριση, Πριαμῳ κακα, τοιο τε παισιν. which is as much as if fhe had faid in plain English, "Why furely, Jupiter, you won't "be fo cruel as to render ineffectual all my "expence of labor and fweat. Have I not "not tired both my horfes, in order to "raife forces to ruin Priam and his fa"mily?" It requires the most delicate touches imaginable, to raise such a sentiment as this into any tolerable degree of dignity. But a skilful artist knows how to
embellish the most ordinary fubject; and what would be low and spiritless from a less masterly pencil, becomes pleafing and graceful when worked up by Mr. Pope's:
Shall then, O tyrant of th' etherial plain,
BUT to fhew you that I am not so enthufiaftic an admirer of this glorious performance, as to be blind to its imperfections; I will venture to point out a paffage or two (amongst others which might be mentioned) wherein Mr. Pope's ufual judgment feems to have failed him.
WHEN Iris is fent to inform Helen, that Paris and Menelaus were going to decide the fate of both nations by fingle combat, and were actually upon the point of engaging; Homer describes her as hastily throwing a veil over her face, and fleeing to the Scean gate, from whence fhe might have a full view of the field of battle:
αργενησι καλυψαμινή οθόνησιν, Ωρματ' εκ θαλαμοιο, τερέν και δακρυ χέουσα. Ουκ οιη' αμα τηγε και αμφίπολοι δύ' επονο,ότε. Αίψα δ' επειθ' ικανον, οτι Σκαιαι πυλαι ήσαν Il. iii. 142.
NOTHING could poffibly be more interefting to Helen, than the circumstances in which he is here reprefented: it was neceffary therefore to exhibit her, as Homer we fee has, with much eagerness and impetuofity in her motion. But what can be more calm and repofed than the attitude wherein the Helen of Mr. Pope appears?
O'er her fair face a fnowy veil fhe threw, And foftly fighing from the loom withdrew : Her handmaids
Her filent footfteps to the Scaan gate.
THOSE expreffions of fpeed and impetuofity, which occur so often in the original Hines, viz. αυτικα ωρματος καιψα ικανον, would have been fufficient, one fhould have imagined, to have guarded a tranflator from falling into an impropriety of this kind.
THIS brings to my mind another inftance of the fame nature, where our Eng
lish poet, by not attending to the particular expreffion of his author, has given us a picture of a very different kind than what Homer intended. In the first Iliad the reader is introduced into a council of the Grecian chiefs, where very warm debates arife between Agamemnon and Achilles. As nothing was likely to prove more fatal to the Grecians than a diffenfion between thofe two princes, the venerable old Neftor is reprefented as greatly alarmed at the confe quences of this quarrel, and rifing up to moderate between them with a vivacity much beyond his years. This circumftance Homer has happily intimated by a fingle word :
τοισι δε Νεα ωρ
Upon which one of the commentators very justly obferves ut in re magna et periculofa, non placidè affurgentem facit, fed prorumpentem fenem quoque. This circumftance Horace feems to have had particularly in his view in the epistle to Lollius ;
Neftor componere lites
Inter Peleiden feftinat et inter Atriden.
Ep. 1. 2.