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“There are," says a late accomplished scholar, in his introduction to the study of the classic poets, “certain peculiar properties characterizing the Greeks and Romans, and contradistinguishing them from the present natives of Europe, which must be known, felt, and borne in mind, by those who would study the classic literature aright. The most essential of these consist in the facts, that the old Greek and Roman poets were—I. Pagans ;-II. Southerns, or Inhabitants of the South of Europe;—III. Ignorant of Chivalry.
I. The spirit of the old Paganism is more freely diffused in the poetry than in any other part of the ancient literature. The Fancy and the Imagination, the two chief working faculties of a poet, are the most susceptible of a deep impression from the forms and influences of a national mythology; and therefore it is, that, while in their historians, their orators, and even their philosophers we may, for the most part, recognise the Greeks and Romans for our own contemporaries of some foreign nation, in their poets we must be conscious of a tone oftentimes completely alien to the moral or popular associations of modern days. Not detailing the chances of actual wars, or (with an exception, sometimes, on the tragic stage,) the intrigues of ambition, which in all ages must be nearly the same; not aiming to persuade an audience to a given measure, by means identical with those in use in every country; not speculating clandestinely on the probable amount of truth in metaphysical or religious systems;—the poet, taking his stand, as he diil, upon the sure ground of human passion, addressed bimself, nevertheless, to the common hearts of liis own countrymen of every rank and every age. His object was to please and to captivate the minds of all, and, when he taught, his lessons were, for the most part, conveyed under th for of familiar and favourite fable. The morality of the nation was his morality, the popular religion in general was bis also. With him the eternal dwellers of Olympus spoke, and moved, and had a being; with him the common powers or functions of nature were impersonated; an old and awful genius lay shrouded in the dark-crested waves of the Scamander, and flowers and sacrificial wine were thank-offerings meet for the secret Naiad of Bandusia.
II. Intimately connected with the character of the Religion of the ancient Classics, is the fact of their being natives and inhabitants of the South of Europe. Whether Montesquieu has not contended for an influence on the laws and governments of men, which is disproved by history and experience, may well be doubted; but that the Greeks and Italians, from the earliest times to this bour have been, as nations, distinguished from the Northern tribes by a more sensuous conception of the Divinity, and by a craving after a visible and tangible representation of Him on earth, is indisputable. It is not difficult to account for the fact. The inhabitant* of those sunny lands, where the light of day is so bountifully spread abroad, was naturally a worshipper of the external face of nature; his studies, his exercises, his amusements, were all in the open air, and he prayed and sacrificed in the face of heaven. By a natural impulse of gratitude and admiration, which acted in the absence of a revealed knowledge of the true God, the early shepherd or herdsman would fain deify the fountains and rivers which purified him, the winds which refreshed him, the sun and the moon which lighted him; but these were either invisible influences, or bodies fre. quently or always out of his reach, and oftentimes withdrawn from his sight. He therefore wanted a visible and tangible Form, which, with various aspect, might symbolically represent them all-which he could believe might sympathize with humanity, and to which he might raise his eyes in adoration without debasement. Where could he find such a Form? His own was the only one. He laboured to shape the log or the stone, but his art failed him. At length, in course of time, Sculpture rose to that consummate power, that marble could be wrought into shapes worthy, as it seemed, of that Immortal and Beautiful, of which they were either the symbols or the images, accordingly as the Imagination of the spectator was more or less purified by philosophy. After this epoch, the creations of the art were multiplied, soinetimes embodying the already existing notions of a Divinity, at others boldly chiselling a new figure of the Sky, or the Sea, or the Wood, and setting it up for as much worship as admiration or superstition would render it. The * Simulacra Deorum” were sacred essentials in the popular and actual religion of the nation. No doubts of philosophy, no ridicule of satire, availed in later ages to weaken that congenial fondness for corporeal exhibition of the gods, which their laws sanctioned, and their taste made delightful.
• In illustration of the argument, see those glorious lines of Wodsworth's Excursion, Book iv., commencing
“Upon the breast of new-created earth,
Man walked," &c.
This incontrollable tendency to what has been called in one word Anthropomorphism, or a passion for representing the Infinite and the Invisible in human shape, is a striking feature in the works of the Greek and Latin Classic Poets and of those of modern Italy; for it is always in the Poetry of a Nation that we are to look for an expression of the genuine seelings and opinions of the People, as they exist in the very constitution of the national character. In almost all the great poets of whom we are speaking, the inability to spiritualize, and the power to paint, seem in equal proportions; and though it be true that on the given plan of the representations of the regions of the dead in the Æneid and the Divine Comedy-Æneas in the first, and Dante himself in the last, being supposed eye-witnesses therein-a minuteness of detail is dramatically proper, and constitutes that verisimilitude, which is so charming; yet that they, and especially the Christian Dante, should adopt such a mode of describing that unknown world of Shades, and having adopted, should execute, it with such a depth of body and intensity of colour throughout, is as clearly deducible from, and as strongly characteristic of, the national propension to materialism of a certain kind, as the very different conception of the same awful subject by Milton is of the predominance of a contrary tendency in a people of a Northern origin.
III. But neither the spirit of old Paganism nor that strong addiction to objects of sense, of which we have just been speaking, so strikingly distinguishes the classic writers from those of modern Europe, as their conception and expression of the passion of Love. The origin and growth of that gentle, yet almost despotic, empire which the weaker and the fairer sex at present exercise over the stronger, in every civilized country of the world, are, for the greater part, the work of Christianity and Chivalry. The converse of such a state of feeling is a uniform characteristic of the writings of the Greeks and Romans, though in different degrees, and still remains so of the nianners of all those nations on which the light of the Gospel has not yet shone. By the holy religion of Christ polygamy and concubinage were forbidden, and marriage became indissoluble and more honourable; by it women were declared equal objects of its precepts and joint-heirs of its promises, and love and care became the acknowledged rights of a Christian wife at the hands of her husband. Beyond this, however, it did not immediately operate. Indeed, what with an increasing barbarism of manners and the constant pestilence of a corrupt and corrupting priesthood, very much of that mysterious dignity, which the history as well as the spirit of the Gospel had conferred on women, was destroyed; when, in consequence of an event among the most singulariy wonderful in the annals of mankind, it revived in superadded splendour, never thenceforth to be obscured but in an eclipse of Christian civilization itself. That event was the first Crusade. Out of the habits of individual combats and the disorganized state of society consequent upon the breaking up of those vast Oriental armaments, sprung that romantic police, known by the name of Knighterrantry, or, more generally, of Chivalry. To succour the distressed and to defend the weak, in all cases, was the bounden duty of a knight; but more especially was he sworn to relieve, at any hazard, a woman from difficulty, and to protect her from danger or insult, at the expense of his life. Hence, and from the ground of that reverential affection to women, common to all the nations of Northern origin, grew up, on the part of the knight and subsequently of the gentleman, who is his successor, that respectful courtesy, that dignified submission to all women in general, as such, which, when kindled into passion for some one in particular, becomes the sacred and enlivening flame, by which every faculty of the mind is developed, every affection of the heart purified, and which alone can promise happiness on earth, by a satisfaction of an instinctive appetite in the light and under the sanction of a spiritual union. So pervading has the combined action of Christianity and Chivalry in this respect been, on all the people of modern Europe, that there is scarcely one among the many amatory poets who have lived since the revival of letters, in whose writings a new and exalting influence is not distinctly, though too often unintentionally, perceptible. There are, indeed, various degrees of this refinement and tenderness in the moderns, as there are various degrees of the sensual theory of the ancients; but enough exists of either kind in each respectively, to justify us in distinguishing the love of Christendom as the passion of affection,—the love of Paganism as the passion of appetite.*
For the numerous Extracts from the Greek and Latin poets, contained in this Volume, they will be found of various orders and degrees of merit-Sunt bona sunt quædam mediocria, &c., &c. Where indeed the Editor had a choice, as in the cases of Homer, Virgil, and other Poets, whose works, in any considerable proportion, remain to us, he has, for the most part, selected those passages from the perusal of which he was himself wont to receive the greatest pleasure. But with the larger number of ancient authors the case was altogether different, and he had either to pass them by unnoticed, or else to take such fragments of their writings, as the mold of time or deeper inroads of monkish prudery and superstition had left to us.--The editor has only to add ihat, from some of the later Latin poets, the extracts are fewer and shorter than had been intended, in consequence of the limited size of the volume and the accidental insertion of more than their just proportion from the works of two or three preceding authors.
PHILADELPHIA, SEPTEMBER, 1846.
* See H. N. Coleridge's Introduction to the Greek Poets.
TABLE OF CONTENTS.
Contention of Achilles and Agamemnon · Pope. 2 Creation of Pandora...
Sir C. A. Elton. 31
The parting of Hector and Andromache. ... ibid. 9 Jupiter and Typhous..
.. ibid. 34
Pheenir's endeavour to appease Achilles Couper. 10 CALLINUS...
·H. N. Coleridge. 35
Priam entreating for the dead body of Hector
Similes of Bees swarming.
Ulysses' descent into Hell
Another translation of the same J. H. Merivale,
The Homeric Hymns.
26 To the Beloved .......
Ambrose Philips. 43
Ilymn to Mercury
· Shelley. 26 The Deserted Wife.
.. Blackwood. 43
Hymn to Venus....
Congreve. 28 On a Beloved Companion.....Charles Merivale. 43
Hymn to Ceres
· Hole. 29 On an Illiterate Woman.. · Robert and 43
Youth and Age..
..... Robert Bland. 46
Farokes. 52 For iny late-let it pass Sir E. Bulwer Lytton. 08
Betwixt that place and the Thracian rock
On Timocreon of Rhodes.
W. Peter. 53
.......J. H. Merivale. 53 From Electra
On those who fell at Thermopyle Robert Bland. 53 A Chariot Race • Sir E. Buluer Lytton. 113
On the same...
. ibid. 53 From the Ajax
On the same..
W. Peter. 53 Ajax's Dying Speech.
Another translation of the same
W. L. Boules. 53 CRATES
On Cimon's Land and Sea Victory J.H. Merirale. 54
On those who fell at Eurymedon..
W. Hay. 51 From the Alcestis..
J. H. Merivale. 54
Why this Silence ?
Chapinan. ) 15
ibid. 54 From the Medea
0, that the gallant Argo:
ibid. 54 From the Ilippolytus...
Lord Denman. 54
Follow, follow me.
Another translation of the same. W. Peter. 54 From the Iphigeneia in Aulis
The Miseries of Life
. Robert Bland. 55 Had I, my Father....
On Othryades... .........J. H. Merirale. 55 From the Hecuba
On a Statue of Cupid..
Hodgson. 55 Tell me, ye Gales.
... Potter, 132
On the Death of Hipparchus...-J. H. Merivale. 55 Thou then, O natal Troy... S.T. Coleridge. 135