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very different manner from what it is at present, and recording with admirable fidelity the dogmas of that modern's religion, without swerving from
his own; so that he not only does not confuse
our ideas of Antiquity, but rather throws new light ou the subject. Let us moreover recollect that this monument of multifarious science was raised in the first years of the fourteenth Century,
and then turn to our own history yet without
a blush, for the rest of Europe lay plunged in an equal barbarism.
This then is the Virgilian Elysium, whose description is too long to insert here entirely: but who, on re-perusing those melodious Latin strains, will regret, that the Italian copy has left out the specification of some of its details, such as the chariots, lances, and coursers? If the rest of the picture enraptures the fancy, are not those figures misplaced that recall it back to daily misery by alluding to such .mere earthly occupations? This is that Abrahams bosom where Lazarus was comforted. This is that tranquil Limbo called ' of the-holy_
fathers ' by Catholics
Hie genus antiquum .... pulcherrima proles
Magnanimi heroes, nati inelioribus annis (0.
and by many of their Divines described in glowing colours, as blest with celestial visitations and the inexhaustible study of philosophy and virtue. This
(>) Aeocid. Lib. vi. ?: ft4£.
is that blissful region of hell to which even the Divinity himself descended without repugnance, (according to the Angelical doctor) but not beyond it (0. This in fine is that al Araf of the Mahometans, which contains " many Patriarchs, prophets, martyrs, and Angels in the form of men (»). " I know the eternal nature of the Virgilian Elysium has been doubted: and as for the al Araf, it is certainly not eternal, although of indefinite duration. But such obscurity is only a new instance of their resemblance to this Catholic Ilell-of-the-holy-fathers: for on the one hand, I find its eternity not declared in any positive statute; and on the other, .' it is made an article of faith that it was not eternal to all its occupants, viz: to those liberated Patriarchs. The Acneid does not inform us absolutely whether Elysium was eternal or not. Tartarus it tells us, was eternal (eternumque sedebit infelix): but if that state of punishment was eternal, some one of reward must have been so too. Then, if Elysium was not eternal it dwindles into a mildest kind of Purgatory; and not only for a few deified personages, but for all virtuous men there must have been some higher bliss in reserve. That many Pagans held this latter opinion, and amongst them Cicero and Virgil himself, I have already said (5);
(t) Solum ad locum Inferni in quo justi detlnebanlur. D. T. Aquini , Sen. i. <list. »». qoattt. a. art. i.
(a) Sale Sect. Iv. p. ia5. — Koran , Chap, Vil
but I doubt of its being a universal doctrine of Pagan theologians, because I do not find it asserted in the Aeneid. It would certainly be implied there, if any of its verses unequivocally limited the duration of Elysium to a thousand years: for then there must have been some eternal Paradise to counter-poise that eternal Tartarus; some final home for the aurai simplicis ignem as soon as its earthly stains were purged away, whether by pu~ nishments in the world of shades, or by returning to this one, in order to redeem the errors of its former life by living better. But to punish it when become stainless by sending it back to where its stains had been contracted, and exile it then from that blissful Elysium into this wretched existence, would be unjust and contradictory. The Pagan belief therefore as to Paradise, would not be so remote from our own , if it could be positively ascertained that it was an article of the Pagan, faith that Elysium was not eternal. But to me that is not clear; and even the following passage may be construed without any such admission: Quisque suos patimur manes: exinde per am plum Mittimur Elysium et pauci l&ta arva tenemus; Donee longa dies, perfecto temporis orbe, Concretam exemit labem, purumque reliquit Ethereum sensum atque aurai simplicis ignem. Has omnes, uhi mille rotam volvere per annas, Laetheutn ad fluiuen Deus evocat .
(l) Aeueid, Lib. vi. v. jO,
There is something dubious in the syntax, as well as in the sentiment; for donee may refer either to pauci, or to tenemus; and has omnes allude either to the inhabitants of Elysium, or to those of the adjacent purgatorial hell. But two things are evident: Firstly, that Virgil, contrary to his practise, is obscure here, and secondly, that there is no deciding from the passage as to whether Elysium was to be an eternal abode for its denizens, or whether they were at last to obtain their apotheosis and become enumerated among those few ( such as Romulus ) whom the Pagan Creed ( in this fir more parsimonious than the Roman Catholic one) taught, beyond all doubt, to be saints, not in Elysium , but in a celestial home, whether under the title of Dei, or Semidei (0. Whatever was Virgil's private opinion, he probably chose to avoid precision on a matter not expressly defined by the established religion of his Country. Dante , in a situation not dissimilar, followed his example; and had too good taste to prefer the decisive inferences of church-men, to the mild, liberal, noble indecision of the Church itself.
Quique pii vates et Phoebo digna locuti (»>
(i) Ollos quos endo c*lo merita vucaverint. Da Legibat. Lib. it. Op. 8.
(») Aentid. Lib. Ti v• 66».
was certainly to be understood as including Homer; but was not that generic eulogy rather meagre in the mouth of a man who had drawn on him so lavishly as Virgil? And who thus gave Macrobius a just occasion to affirm that the Aeneid was nothing but a mirror reflecting the Iliad and Odyssey (0. Dante is more grateful to his illustrious predecessors C1). His giving the poetic Sovereignity to Homer is only a confirmation of general opinion; nor do I believe that there will be any objection started to the rank assigned to Horace, or Ovid: but the one which Lucan is here made to occupy has been subjected to bitter criticism .
Whatever be the decision as to the epic superiority of the Pharsalia, its author was dear to Dante as the panegyrist of liberty ; and no doubt but in his eyes this moral destination would have enhanced the value of even inferior poetry. But whatever
(i) Omne opus Virgilianum velut de quodam Homerici Operis speculo fnrmatum est. Saturnalia. Lib. v. Cap. a.
(a) That he should award Poets precedence above all the Heroes, and Philosophers that are to appear, maybe condemned : but he it recollected — firstly , that it is unjust to argue from an abuse; and secondly that heavenly poptry, which has been so abused by its minor followers, was always in its chiefs, Homer, Virgil, Tasso, Milton, etc, an incentive to virtue; and thirdly, that it is an historical fact that they were Poets who shi-d the earliest light of knowledge throughout the world — as is still testified by those oldest of books, the Bible, and the Iliad and Odyssey: fqr, io the language of Strabo, 'it it impossible to he a good poet wilh^nt being first a good man ' —Sx OtOv Tl
•tyaSov yivcaQxi trottjTviv , fxij irportpov yivffi vTX i'v^pjt iyaSov. Lib. i. " Nor are any of the uohler poets false to this cause "— say* my Lord Shaftesbury with great truth. Characteristic!, Vol. i.p.