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mean authority, whether considered as a poet and philosopher, or as a professed student of the
Aeneid corroborating the sentiment of another
great authority, Mr. Gibbon ; and engaging us to reject the abstruse hypothesis of Warburton, whose attempt to reduce the sixth book of the Aeneid into an allegorical representation of the Eleusinian mysteries, tends to traduce much of what is sublimest in ancient literature , and to transform one of the grandest combinations of theology and poetry into a mystic representation of a quaint mummery (0.
Eternal is here synonimous with immortal; otherwise it were, not unorthodox as Mr. Biagioli apprehends but a gross blunder to talk of created, things being eternal. The Angels are not eternal, for they had a beginning; and it is to them Dante alludes, as having been created before hell or even the earth, in which hell is situated. It is au opinion on a theological question once much
debated Origen (3) having been of the sentiment
here subscribed to by Dante, and S. Austin holding
(i) Gibbon. Miscellaneous works, vol. 4. p. 46;. (a; Secoudo i Peripatctici furono ah eterno. ... inn noi roi teologi Cristiani. ..
Comento. vol- i. p. 5o. (3) riIpt Apxuv. Lib. i. Cap Tin. euro in.
the Angels were created at the same time as the rest of the universe (0.
The praise of sublimity given to these verses is surely of a better taste than the criticism with which that praise is qualified. 'It is to be regretted that Dante thought it necessary to insert in this inscription on the infernal gate the words divine power, supreme wisdom, and first love; which contain a theological definition of the Trinity. That divinepover and supreme wisdom should have concurred in the creation of the place of woe is intelligible; but the addition of the first love cannot be read without repugnance (»).' Now, [ think, the paragraph in question is not necessarily to be understood as conveying a position of dogmatical divinity, excepting the reader prefers so to understand it: but 1 am certain the complex idea formed by supreme power, wisdom, and love is of the very highest strain of poetry: and I doubt whether it be possible for the human mind to abstract for a moment any one of those three attributes from its notion of Jehovah. His love must be that of universal order or virtue:
(i) De Civ. Oe!. Lib. Viii. — Gelli, topra lo Inferno. vol. ». p. 40. (a) Si Ton en exceplr re seul trail, quelle iublime inscription! Hist. Litt, d'lulie. vol. a. p. 34.
He must delight in virtue
And that which He delights in must be happy (0. Then if it be his love of universal order that maketh him of necessity delight in virtue, and if what he delighteth in must be happy ; is it not an inevitable consequence that the self-same attribute must make vice with every infringement of universal order an object of his reprehension, and that that which is reprehended by him must be miserable? They are the opposite but incontestible effects of one single cause. It is then that perfect, boundless love, which takes in the whole creation at a glance, and of which the idea is inseparable from that of justice, which ordains the punishment of the wicked, as well as the recompense of the good: and, instead of objecting to the insertion of that truth upon the infernal gate , it becomes my duty to point it out as one of those sublime and rapid intellectual associations which are the characteristics of rare genius. For as to the theological propriety of the passage, I presume even the slight reflection just made will suffice to demonstrate it: and as to its taste, that is in the best taste, which is best adapted to the purpose in hand. Now what is the purpose of this entire poem, but to vindicate the laws of Providence 00? or of the verses we are considering, but to inspire a salutary terror? And what can be more calcula
(i) Mr. Addison's Cato .
(a) Hell, Comment, Canto i p.; I.