« PreviousContinue »
Porson's note on verses 139, 140, of the Medea, is one of the wonders of verbal criticism. He observes that the lines on which he is commenting are cited by the scholiast on Eschylus, but in such a way that they had previously escaped notice; and then proceeds to advert to various other quotations from poets which had experienced similar fortune, continuing latent in the text of authors or commentators, when editors ought to have detected them. "But," he remarks, "before I animadvert on the oversights of others, it will be well for me, perhaps, to correct my own errors, lest I be attacked with the old proverb, How is it, illconditioned man, that you look so keenly on other people's faults, and turn your glance away from your own?"" He then observes that, in a note on the fourth verse of the Orestes, he had made a mistake, in saying that Bentley had commenced a verse with xal instead of ws: that he had arranged four verses of the same play in a wrong order; and that in one of them, the 676th, he had given apà instead of pòs, not without judgment, as he thinks, but certainly without having given due notice of the change. "If a Le Clerc or a Pauw, however, had detected such an inadvertence, with what gentle words would he have addressed me! But let those men, et ceteræ ejusmodi quisquiliæ, rest in peace. It is the reputation only
Præclarorum hominum ac primorum signiferumque
that I have determined to assail in this note." He then proceeds to point out various verses in Plutarch, Athenæus, Stobæus, and some of the scholiasts, which had been passed over unheeded by Bentley, Wyttenbach,
and other eminent discerning spirits; and concludes with saying that he might have produced more examples, but that what he has given may suffice for a specimen, and will at least, he hopes, not be displeasing to his readers; "for," he continues, "though we very unwillingly allow our neighbour acuteness of judgment, or happiness of conception, yet I trust that credit for this labour, which depends only on industry and patience, or at best on a little tenacity of memory, will readily be granted me."
In alluding to the fourth verse of the Philoctetes, he would remark, he says, that the word NeoTróλue in it is to be taken as the first pæon, " if he thought any one of his pupils so dull and stupid as to be unable to see it for himself;" a shaft which is supposed to be shot at Hermann.
Whether such a string of observations, which occupy, in the form of a note, the best part of eight pages, are properly appended to the lines of the Medea, may be questioned. Doubtless some readers, who are not writers of notes, will think that a fitter place might have been found for them, and that a commentator should not be privileged to transfer whatever he pleases from his memory or his commonplace book to the margin of his author. But if the criticism be misplaced, its sagacity is not the less worthy of admiration.
But Hermann was to receive a heavier castigation in a subsequent annotation. Whatever remarks or allusions Porson had hitherto made in reference to him, he had not yet mentioned his name; but now, in his note on ver. 675, after observing that the Attic writers, he thought, never allowed themselves to use ys after To, του,
unless with a word between them, and noticing two exceptional passages requiring emendation, he says,
"These passages I would willingly submit to the correction of Godfrey Hermann, if I thought that he could as easily make corrupt places sound as he makes sound places corrupt. For who besides Hermann, in the fourth place of an iambic trimeter, ever I will not say overlooked a dactyl (for of oversights we are all guilty), but thrust in a dactyl by altering the text, as he has done in the 870th verse of the Nubes? Who besides Hermann, for the excellent word χυτρεοῦν, ever substituted χυτροῦν, a word which is not Greek, which is supported by no authority, and which is ruinous to the metre? But this Hermann has done in the 1476th verse of the Nubes; and his object, in doing so, was to throw obloquy on Dawes, Cui si non aliqua nocuisset, mortuus esset. These achievements, however, are nothing to his triumphant exploits with the innocent name of Hercules; for though, in his opinion, XUтpоûv is a proof of the lengthening of such syllables among the writers of comedy, nothing, he thinks, is more rare than the lengthening of such syllables among the writers of tragedy. We may therefore imagine Hermann speaking thus with himself: We Germans, who understand the quantity of syllables much better than the English, will correct all the passages of Euripides in which 'Hpakλéns occurs with the second syllable long.' Six passages accordingly, which were suffering from this disease, he proceeded to cure, if to cure is to assert disease where it is not, in order to show your own skill in manipulation. These passages are in the Heraclidæ, the Ion, and the Hercules Furens; nor do I doubt that he would cure, with equal success, ten other passages, which I will cite that he may try his hand upon them."
Porson then enumerates ten places in which 'Hpaxλéns occurs with the second syllable incontrovertibly long, but observes that Hermann will not be deterred by the fear of hiatus, or any other absurdity, from altering
them, since anything is to be endured rather than that 'Hpaxλéns should lengthen its second syllable. However justly Hermann deserved this exposure, it may be thought that Porson would better have consulted his own dignity by leaving him still unnamed.
In his note on ver. 750 he apologises for having cited the 79th verse of the Hecuba as the 80th, and the 626th verse of the Orestes as the 633rd, and expresses his surprise that the keen research of his critics had allowed such mistakes to pass uncensured. "But," he adds, “if any one shall hereafter animadvert on these mistakes, and prepare to let loose the whole fierceness of his anger upon them, let him, before he scorches me with his fury, consult my Addenda and Corrigenda." And, on observing that the conjunction Te might be left out of verse 750, he says, "Lest any one should charge me, on this account, with too great love of change, and with altering good readings only for the sake of alteration, know, excellent youths, that the conjunction is not found in the edition of Lascaris." The words in italics are a quotation from some criticism, but whose we have not discovered.
NOTES ON THE MEDEA.
In the 935th verse, the right reading, for the termination of the line, is exтpapσ on xepi, but Beck, following Aldus, had edited exтpapão. Porson gives this note: "Beck, who, with Aldus, reads éxтρα‡ãσi, gravely remarks, Brunck has exтpapãσ.' I therefore remark, with equal gravity, Lascaris has extραφῶσι.”
Porson sent Villoison a copy of his Medea, for which he thanked him in the same terms as for his other present:
"I avail myself, with much eagerness, of an opportunity that occurs of repeating my obligations to you for your beautiful edition of Homer, and of thanking you for your excellent edition of the Medea of Euripides. While you are at least equal to Bentley and Toup in profound knowledge of the Greek language, and in critical perspicacity, you are infinitely their superior in the knowledge of metre, without which it is impossible to touch a single Greek verse. It is incumbent on you to handle this important subject thoroughly, and set forth the doctrine of metre, which is as yet a secret confined to you alone, in a separate methodical and didactic treatise, written in Latin, for the use of all Europe. You would thus perform a signal service to Greek literature, a service which you only are able to perform. I cannot too strongly request it of you for my own sake.
“I see by your Medea that you are going to give us a new edition of the Hecuba, which I do not yet possess, any more than your Orestes and your Phænissæ. I have the strongest desire to study these excellent works.
"I hope that you have received a letter which I had the honour to address to you some time ago at Cambridge, where I supposed that you were residing, to thank you for your Homer. I beg you to believe that no one can have the honour to be with more grateful feelings,
"Your very humble and very obedient servant,
"Paris, Rue de Bièvre, No. 22,