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heroic things, the divine legends of the fabulous times, the atchievements of gods and demigods, had already been seised by poets, who preceded them; and became, as it were, private property, by the rights of prior oc. cupancy, in the epic and tragic poets. They could not hope to dazzle, by the extent and variety of their knowledge; the ground plot of the sciences had now been surveyed, and divided into a thousand portions ; and allotted to a thousand different proprietors, each of whom understood the nature, genius, and culture of the soil he possessed, and carefully managed his farm to the best advantage. Vain and visionary must have been the expectation of the poet, who sought to attract notice by profound learning, while he found himself excelled, in every branch of science, by him, whose province it was, to write on sciences alone. What then was to be done, by the ambition and genius of the daring poets, who aspired to wrest applause from readers polite, learned, and fastidious, who had the beauties of Homer treasured, in their minds, and were, in some degree, acquainted with the whole circle of sciences?-Such readers required to have their attention solicited, and their fancy captivated, by poetical exertions of uncommon merit, they called for originality, though it was difficult of attainment, they required to be charmed by new and exquisite allurements, by graces of an high and uncommon character. It became ne. cessary for Apollonius and Virgil, in the first instance, to devise something, by which they might hope to balance the excellence of the Homeric fable, in probability and interest, to arrest the attention of the reader, and obtain a full dominion over his mind. They were led to search, in the regions of pure invention, for what they no longer found in the records of supposed reality. They were taught, to interest the reader, by the num
ber ber and variety of uncommon incidents, and the complication of intrigue; to dazzle and amaze him, by pompous visions, magnificent fictions, sublime and grand machinery; by the variety and appositeness of their similitudes.
If Homer's work, according to Pope; * is a wild paradise, a copious nursery of productions of every kind, the poems of Apollonius and Virgil may be compared to pleasure grounds, laid out with the most exquisite taste, and filled with exotics from every soil; where nature is drest to such advantage by art, that all seems pure nature, and art disappears; where the noblest productions, of every soil, are arranged, and flourish in the most picturesque groupes. If Homer, in fine, has excelled more in the probable fable; Apollonius and Virgil excel, where they have studied to excel, in the marvellous and the allegorical.
Homer had seised, as we have seen, and appropriated to himself, the destruction of Troy, and the wanderings of Ulysses, the most popular legends of ancient story. Next to these in celebrity, and in some measure connected with them, inasmuch as it prepared the way for the expedition to Troy, and showed that the Greeks could contend with advantage against the Asiatics, and new adventure against ancient empire, and peaceful wealth, and luxurious population, was the Argonautic enterprise. This, also, as well as the Trojan war, had been i the favourite theme of poetry, and if not equal, it is, 1 without all question, the next in degree of interest.
Apollonius was not discouraged, by the great number of his precursors in this career, and his choice was felicitous.
- The subject was well adapted to the variety of talent, : which he possessed. It combined together, in an uncommon degree, the great, the marvellous, the various,
* Preface to his translation of Homer.
the pathetic, and the tender. It was a subject fitted to Hatter the national vanity, and partialities, of the Greeks.
-The romantic adventures of the Argonauts—their dangers, their daring, the perpetual change of scene, the loves of the Lemnian women and their queen, the passion and conflicts of Medea, her potent incantations, and the perilous situation of her lover, afford a wide field, to the genius of a poet. The latter poem of Homer, had something more accessible to mere mortal intellect, something less dazzling and overawing to the eye of imitation, than the divine Iliad; and, at the same time, something wonderfully engaging and popular, in the variety of scenery, the quick succession of objects, the exhibition of life and manners, which it comprehended. The story selected by Apollonius, coincides with the Odyssey, in the circumstance of the hero being a great traveller, in its containing a quick transition from object to object, a change and contrast of scenery, an interesting variety of strange adventures, a description of the manners and customs of different nations, all naturally introducing themselves, as incident to the subject of the poem, a maritime enterprise. In the details of the voyage, the account of the manners of different nations, the descriptions of places, in the episode of the visit of the Argonauts to Lemnos ; in the Darrative of the manner, in which the fleece was obtained, by the incantations and intervention of Medea, and the conflicts of Jason; in the danger and despair of the adventurers, amid the inhospitable Syrtes; in the transformation of the h’esperian nymphs, the appearance of Glaucus, and of Triton, the destruction of Talus, Apollonius is highly original, and displays an admirable invention, sometimes great and sublime, sometimes gloomy and terrific, sometimes gorgeous and splendid, then, wild and playful, and, again, soft, tender, and
affecting; a delightful imagination, an abundant ferti. lity, which cannot be surpast.
Virgil, whose judgment was consummate, readily saw, that the stories of Grecian history were not well adapted, to make an-impression on the Roman reader. Finding the subjects it afforded unfavourable to his purpose, he wisely dismisses them, in general, with contempt, as trite and common, omnia jam vulgata. With great skill and dexterity, he contrives, to extract from the mass of fabulous and heroic history, a subject, which was fitted to excite an interest, in the bosoms of his countrymen, the fame and fortunes of the first founder of their parent city, the oracles, that announced the future greatness of the Roman empire, the difficulties, : that delayed and impeded the establishment of its pa- .. rent stock in Italy, afforded themes, that came fully home to the heart and feelings of every Roman. At : the same time, such was the infinite address, with which the fable of the Æneid was chosen, the poet was able, by making his hero of the Julian line, and deriving their descent, through him, from a divinity, to pay his court, with artful flattery, to his sovereign. At the same time, the fable was such, that the author was enabled, to avail himself of the beauties of preceding writers; to cull, from the epic poets of Greece, and from her most admired tragic writers, who may be considered as a sort of commentators on Homer, all that suited his purpose, and to enrich himself, by the naturalization of their beauties. Thus, he avails himself, of the wan. derings, the dangers, and adventures of Ulysses, and of the Argonauta-He imitates the loves, of Jason and Hypsipilè, and of Medea, and embodies them, in the person of Dido, for the embellishment of his poem. .
It did not so necessarily fall into the plan of Virgil, to make his hero a great traveller, but the beauty of the
narratives of the voyages in the Odyssey and Argonautics enchanted him. He saw, that the dryness of his story, and the triteness, which might, in some measure, be objected to it, (as if it were only a continuation of the Iliud,) and the scantiness of his materials, might be aided, by driving Æneas out of his course, and throwing him, by the force of adverse winds, on distant shores. Here we find a striking resemblance, between the authors of the Æneid, and of the Argonautics. But, the advantage, with respect to the travels of the heroes, is evidently on the side of the Grecian poet, in point of originality, interest, and probability. The voyage of the Argonauts is the profest original object of these brave adventurers. The reader seems to embark with them, at the port of Iolchos.--He looks forward, to the happy completion of it, as the great wish of the heroes--the grand subject of the poem. This leads you to expect surprising adventures, and the descriptions of many strange countries, and people. You see these gal. lant men offering themselves to dangers, seeking out difficulties, to atchieve a romantic and perilous adventure. » You see them frequently on the point of perishing, yet, still pursuing their object, with heroic steadiness and perseverance. This is, in itself, a grand and more interesting spectacle, than that of persons merely driven out of their course, by tempests, and conflicting with adverse winds. As the voyage in Apollonius, is more intimately connected, with the fable, and catastrophe of the poem, indeed, part of the very stuff, of which they are wrought, the poet found himself at liberty, to dilate in his accounts of the places the heroes visited, and the different tribes with which they met in the course of their voyage.
The Lusiad, which exhibits many features of resemblance to the Argonautics, has - this similar advan.