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How frigid and repulsive is this, to the parable of Genesis! The destruction of a costly edifice, even the poetical recollections awakened by'Smintheus of the silver bow ' are tame and weak, in comparison with such a sublime appeal to the best and
warmest feelings of our nature the parental .
Yet both inculcate the same lesson entire
submission to the divine dispensations, from a firm conviction that they must be equitable . Phlegyas was punished for vain resistance; Abraham rewarded for all-confiding deference. It may at first sight appear the prime defect of the fable of Paganism, that Apollo, and not the supreme Divinity is the acting power: but, in truth, it is chiefly defective not on this score, but on that of the coldness with which it applies to our affections. It is a reproach to which every part of the Pagan worship is liable, that of being too susceptible of misconstruction and of consequently giving easily rise to gross superstitions among the vulgar —— superstitions, which ( as I have said in the words of Dante (0) neither the founders of that worship, nor any of its enlightened professors ever intended. If by Apollo was understood one of the minor Deities, these were no more than subordinate ministers in the Platonic creed, as Angels are in ours; and an instructed Roman should not have heard with more admiration of Apollo working the
(i) Comment, Canto Til. p. Hi.
will of the Great First Cause, than a Christian of it's being an Angel of the Lord, not the Lord himself, who arrested the sacrifice which the Lord
in person had commanded "Gon did tempt
Abraham and said unto him Abraham.. . take thy son, thy only son, Isaac, and offer him for a burnt offering .... and Abraham bound Isaac ... and laid him on the altar, and took the knife to slay him ... and the Angel of Lord called out to him... Abraham, Abr.iham,lay not thine hand upon the lad,etc. (').*' Or, if a Pagan preferred attaching his mind to no secondary intelligence, but to the universal Jehovah to no Angel or Deity of the Lord, but the
Lord himself there was nothing to prevent his
doing so; for Macrobius has shown at length, that Apollo, or the sun, was frequently employed as one of the many synonimes which have served in various times and countries to designate one and the same Being (maximus Jupiter), the king of Gods ( Rex Deornm ), the Parent of all things divine as well as human (»). It is not in its substance, but manner (ill calculated to attain its end of bettering mankind ), that the story of Phlegyas and Apollo is open to criticism ; and marks, as clearly as any passage of which I am aware, the immense superiority of the Biblical over the Heathen doctors. For here is the self same thesis exemplified by each of them according to their peculiar genius
(i) Genesis , xxii, i-i9.
(2) Euudem esse Jovein ac Salem claris docetur indiciis.Sat. 1.i c. ]3. <;i*to TiII,
by these in a manner that shocks, and by
those that softens the heart: by these with a tale of rashness, revenge and sacrilege, of the violation of a virgin ( which it required an effort of the understanding to convince men was not unholy,because ordained by heaven ) and of the exasperation and eternal punishment of her father; the justice of which punishment, and the injustice of which exasperation could only be drawn from a metaphysical process too fine for popular comprehensions: and by those with a drama of most gratifying pathos, whose catastrophe was the dispersion of every fear and the crowning of every hope . What more venerably moving, than Abraham's unruffled faith and tenderness? —"and Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it upon Isaac, bis son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. " I know of no scene more profoundly affecting. And when the juvenile victim , with a look of soul-reposing, filial devotion , interrogates his hoary sire, who but sheds a tender tear? "And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, my father: and he said , here I am my son. And he said, behold the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? " Has another mortal dramatist ever represented a parent in a situation more truly pathetic? Or can any thing be conceived more touchingly sublime, than the inly-bleeding parent's simple response? "My son , God will himself «i«n vin.
provide a lamb for a burnt offering. So they went both of them together." " Abraham" ( said the Apostle ) " relying on the divine promise, that in Isaac his seed should be called, accounted that God could raise him up even from the dead ('). "So Abraham , having built the altar, and bound his son , stretched out his hand with the knife to slay him , when the Angel interposed:" By myself have 1 sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son; 1 will in blessing bless thee, and multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven , and as the sand on the sea shore."
If Dante uses here the feebler of these stories (to mark the flagitious nature of that anger which would attempt vain resistance to Omnipotence) we ought to observe, that he could not have introduced Abraham in hell; and that in availing himself of the other , he was incited by that tolerant, classic spirit, which ( as I have repeatedly shown ) engaged him to employ willingly the theo logical allegories of Antiquity. Virgil had made Phlegyas terrify by his own tortures: Dante makes him a teacher quite as effectual, by making him bear away the condemned souls to torture. Charon ferries them into hell; Phlegyas seizes on the worst portion, and hurries them down the hell of hells, . the depths of Tartarus.
(i) Hebrew», xi, i8—i9.
.... Gemuit sub pondere cymba Sutilis (0.
Boccaccio, citing Solomon, to prove that the more excellent and wise a virtuous man is , the more easily he is stirred up to noble indignation, adds that it was with reference to that text Dante used the epithet disdainful here (»). The Imolese says: 'Blest be the womb that bore thee' (Benedetta colei, che 'n te s' incinse ) was not a fortuitous exclamation , but a tribute of respect from Dante to his mother; who was truly beatified and had
a name expressive of her worth Gemma (s). *
Dante's wife we know was called Gemma Donati: hut there is legal proof that his mother's name was Bella (*). Either then the Imolese made a slight error, and confused the mother with her daughterin-law; or the former must have borne the two names. If her title was really Madonna Gemma Bella, there was double ground for vaunting. If
(i) Aeneid- Lib. vi. v. 4i3. (a) Comento , vol. a. p. 78.
(3) Heic nota , Lector, quod mater Dantis fuit vere beata . Vocatt est enim Gemma, et tanquam gemma pretiosa niisit lucera in muoduro Benvenuti Ira. ap. Mur. Antlq. Ital. Vol. i. p. io43.
(4) .... Dominae Belles matris dicti Dantis.. . et Dotninae Gemnut nunc vidua),sed olim uxoris dicti Dantis, et fills D- Manetti de Donatio, etc. ap. Pelli, Mem. ec. p aS.