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of expiation , and of some being punished eternally . Here therefore a modern is on no vantageground, and is left to his own single strength in a contest with the most distinguished inventors of Antiquity: nay, he labours under a disadvantage, since his rivals have their great names, and time, a great authorily, in their behalf Were his new machinery as powerful as theirs, it were scarcely to be hoped it could produce as overwhelming an effect. But is it as powerful? Our pictures of ineffable delight are far superior to the most brilliant fancies of the Heathen poets: our hell fades away before theirs . Fire is almost the only figure we employ. On this conviction, Dante acted; and made no scruple, either literary or religious, of availing himself of the only means by which it was at all feasible to rise to a competition with his venerated models, viz: by uniting the most striking of the infernal images of Paganism with those which his own Church afforded , as well as with some others gleaned from Islam . Did not this accumulation display his judgment? Is it not an instance of that common sense, which, according to Horace, is the source of all good writing? And if by it has been produced the most extensive and terrible allegory ever made of what cannot in reality be conceived by us, because it is infinite, ( the eternal penalty in another life for wickedness in this ) does he not approach nearest to the aim of all moralists? As long as the everlasting verities of
Christianity were respected, he knew that its parables might be varied at pleasure . Charon and Acheron are figures as admissable in religion as a causeway erected by sin and death, or the artillery of Satan, or the scoffings of Belial, and are nobler in poetry . Acheron was emblematical of eternal grief (0; Charon, of time (»): what law of Christianity forbids their being so still? Or are they mean or incredible, when compared with the grim feature upturning
His nostril wide into the murky air
Sagacious of his quarry? or with the hissings, and bitter apples of Pandemonium? Would Milton have done worse, had he here followed Dante (whom he on other occasions often follows) and introduced into his hell some of those older, allegorical forms which possessed a double title to veneration, religious and literary; instead of endeavouring to make up for the deficiency of sensible imagery in his Creed by inventions of his own which were in substance quite as unreal as those ancient ones, but which no genius could have clothed with adequate dignity; because they had never been sanctified by an adoption into the formulary of any Church, nor by any, solemn, classical associations?
(i) Quia apuj inferos nulla unquam sit latitia. Gcnealogia Deor. Lib. in. Cap. 4.
(a) Charon,quem Servius 'dtvolvit in Cronon , tempus est. Id- Lib. • . Cap. 31.
If it be correct ( as I think it generally is) to compare the various fine arts with each other, and judge them mutually by the analogy which certainly exists between them , then are the questions that I have just been putting doubly solved, and the decision of a Father in poetry is confirmed by a Father in painting. Michael Angelo, who scorned imitation, and far from copying seemed studious to avoid the antique, so that it is likely he even sometimes swerved consciously from the rules of taste in order to preserve his originality, not only took a part of the main plan of his famous picture, the Last Judgment, from Dante by a mixture of Pagan and Christian allegories (as I remarked before (0), but, imitating him exactly in many of its minute items, put the lines we are now commenting into action; and Charon 'with eyes like living coals' is seen busy receiving the ghosts into his little bark, and beating with his oar those who attempt to lie or sit down in it (»). Neither of such inventive and learned men could discover, in their own capacious fancy, or in the records of their Religion, any contrivance so well calculated as this union of theological images, to awake the mind to meditation on the most terrible mysteries of Christianity: yet the one was composing a poem
(i) Hell, Comment, Canto i. p. »S.
(a) Sadagia a sedere o in aim guisa ( Boccaccio. Comento, Toi. 1. p. i5J)—not linger as Mr. Cary has it. The ghosts, far from lingering, ware pressing to embark . .. . di trapassar si pronto .
strictly Christian, and the other a picture for a most celebrated Christian temple . I know not whether such authorities are decisive: but it will be pardonable to think so , until some poet, painter, philosopher,or preacher present us with a less imperfect emblem of a region of everlasting misery than any of which the world is yet possessed .
U. —— cxii. This metaphor is from the Aeneid — Quam multa in sylvis autumni frigore primo Lapsa cadunt foglia (').... but it has not so perfect an application there, as here: for Virgil designates only the number of the ghosts by it, but Dante both their number and the gradual manner in which they drop down into the boat; for autumnal leaves do not fall together,
but by little and little ad una ad una
according as they acquire full maturity, until at last each branch has rendered up all its robes to mother earth: so that I think M. Biagioli has a right to call this passage superiore di gran lunga a quella del Poeta Latino (a).
The original of this too belongs to Virgil, and forms the continuation of the verses cited in the last comment
(i) Lib Vi. v. 3oy.
(2) Comcnto. vol. i. p. 06.
.... aut ad terrain gurgite ab alto
Quam tnultae glomerantur aves, ubi frigidus annus
Trans pontum fugat et terris immittit apricis.
The common way of understanding com' augel per suo richiamo (0 (and in my opinion certainly the true one ) is ' as birds to their decoy.' For augel is here a noun collective, as avis is in Aquinos translation of the same passage
inquc arctos sociae velut illice cantu
Se laqueos adstringit avis, mala gurgitis atri Progenies sic complet aquas: and richiamo means not only what hawkers call technically a lure, but a bird-call, or anything used to decoy birds W. Here then Dante alluded to a field sport, which was, and is still common in Italy: and if his phraseology must be allowed to be inharmonious and jejune in comparison with his sweet original (3), yet the idea suggested by him is more apposite as a metaphor, and as poetical in itself. It was bold and good taste to