Metamorphoses (tr. Garth, Dryden, et al.)/Preface
THE Method I propose in writing this Preface, is to take Notice of some of the Beauties of the Metamorphoses, and also of the Faults, and particular Affectations. After which I shall proceed to hint at some Rules for Translation in general; and shall give a short Account of the following Version.
I shall not pretend to impose my Opinion on others with the magisterial Authority of a Critic; but only take the Liberty of discovering my own Taste. I shall endeavour to show our Poet's Redundance of Wit, Justness of Comparisons, Elegance of Descriptions, and peculiar Delicacy in touching every Circumstance relating to the Passions and Affections; and with the same Impartiality and Frankness, I shall confess the too frequent Puerilities of his luxuriant Fancy, and the too great Negligence of his sometimes unlabour'd Versification.
I am not of an Opinion, too common to Translators, to think that One is under an Obligation to extol everything he finds in the Author he undertakes: I am sure one is no more oblig'd to do so, than a Painter is to make every Face, that sits to him, handsome. 'Tis enough if he sets the best Features he finds in their full and most advantageous Light. But if the Poet has private Deformities, tho' Good-breeding will not allow to expofe him naked, yet surely there can be no Reason to recommend him, as the most finish'd Model of Harmony and Proportion.
Whoever has this undistinguishing Complaisance, will not fail to vitiate the Taste of the Readers, and misguide many of them in their Judgment, where to approve, and where to censure.
It must be granted, that where there appears an infinite Variety of inimitable Excellencies, it would be too harsh and disingenuous to be severe on such Faults, as have escap'd rather thro' want of Leisure, and Opportunity to correct, than thro' the erroneous Turn of a deprav'd Judgment; How sensible Ovid himself was of the Uncorrectness of the Metamorphoses, appears from these Lines prefix'd before some of the Editions by the Care of his Commentators;
Orba parente suo quicunque Volumina tangis,
His saltem vestrâ detur in urbe locus.
Quòque magis faveas, non sunt hæc edita ab Ille,
Sed quasi de domini funere rapta sui. Quicquid in his igitur vitii rude carmen habebit,
Emendaturus, si licuisset,erat. Trist. El. Vi.
Since therefore the Readers are not solemnly invited to an Entertainment, but come accidentally; they ought to be contented with what they find: And pray what have they to complain of, but too great Variety? where, tho' some of the Dishes be not serv'd in the exactest Order, and Politeness, but hash'd up in haste; there are a great many accommodated to every particular Palate.
To like every thing, shows too little Delicacy; and to like nothing, too much Difficulty. So great is the Variety of this Poem, that the Reader, who is never pleas'd, will appear as monstrous, as he that is always so. Here are the Hurries of Battles for the Heroe, tender Emotions of Soul for the Lover, a Search and Penetiation into Nature for the Philosopher, Fluency of Numbers, and most expressive Figures for the Poet, Morals for the Serious, and Plaisantries for Admirers of Points of Wit.
'Tis certain a Poet is more to be suspected for saying too much, than too little. To add is often hazardous; but to retrench, commonly judicious. If our Author, instead of saying all he could, had only said all he should; Daphne had done well to fly from the God of Wit, in order to crown his Poet: Thus Ovid had been more honoured and ador'd in his Exile, than Augustus in his Triumphs.
I shall now attempt to give some Instances of the Happiness, and vast Extent of our Author's Imagination. I shall not proceed according to the Order of the Poem, but rather transcrib some Lines here, and there, as my Reflection shall suggest.
Nec circumfuso pendebat in aere tellus
Ponderibus librata suis———
Thus was the State of Nature before the Creation: And here it is obvious, that Ovid had a discerning Notion of the Gravitation of Bodies. Tis now demonstrated, that every Part of Matter tends to every Part of Matter with a Force, which is always in a direct simple Proportion of the Quantity of the Matter, and an inverse duplicate Proportion of the Distance; which Tendency or Gravitating is constant and universal. This Power, whatever it be, acting always proportionably to the solid Content of Bodies, and never in any Proportion to their Superficies; cannot be explain'd by any material Impulse. For the Laws of Impulse are physically necessary: There can be no άυτεξδ΄ σιο, or arbitrary Principle in meer Matter; its Parts cannot move unless they be mov'd; and cannot do otherwise, when press'd on by other Parts in Motion; and therefore 'tis evident from the following Lines, that Ovid strictly adhered to the Opinion of the most discerning Philosophers, who taught that all things were form'd by a wise and intelligent Mind.
Jussit & extendi campos, subsidere valles,
Frond tegi sylvas ———
The unhappy Queen laments, she is not able to give her Daughter royal Burial,
Non hæc est fortuna domûs ———
Then takes the Body in her decrepid Arms, and halts to the Sea to wash off the Blood,
———Ad littus passu processit anili
AIbentes laniata comas.———
The animated Thoughts, and lively lmages of this Poem, are numerous. None ever painted more to the Life, than our Author, tho' several Grotesque Figures are, now and then, seen in the same Groupe. The most plentiful Season, that gives Birth to the finest Flowers, produces also the rankest Weeds. Ovid has shown in one Line, the brightest Fancy sometimes; and in the next, the poorest Affectation.
Venus makes Court to Adonis,
Opportuna suâ blanditur Populus umbrâ;
Et requievit humo; pressitque & gramen & ipsum.
Met. B. 10. l. 556.
Phœbus requests Phaeton to desist from his Request.
———Consiliis, non curribus utere nostris.
Cæneus in the Battle of the Centaurs wounds Latreus in several Places.
———Vulnusque in vulnere fecit.
These are some of our Poet's Boyisms. There is another Affectation, call'd by Quintilian ΄Οξόμω ον, or a witty Folly, which wou'd not have appear'd quite so trifling, had it been less frequent.
Medea persuades the Daughters of Pelias to kill their Father, in order to have his Youth renew'd. She, that loves him best, gives the first Wound,
Et sit scelerata, facit scelus ——— Met. B. 7.
Althea is enrag'd at her Son Meleager, and to do Justice to the Manes of his Brothers, destroys him,
Impietate pia est ———
Envy enters Athens, and beholds the flourishing Condition of the City,
Vixque tenet lacrymas, quia nil lacrymabile cernit.
Ovid was much too fond of such Witticisms, which are more to be wonder'd at, because they were not the Fashion of that Age, as Punns and Quibbles are of this. Virgil, as I remember, is not found trifling in this Manner above once or twice.
Deucalion vacuum lapides jactavit in orbem,
Unde homines nati, durum genus ——— G.B. Ii. l. 63.
Juno is in Indignation at Æneas upon his Arrival in Italy.
Num capti potuere capi? Num incense cremavit
Troja viros? ——— Æ. 7. l. 295.
The Poet is so far from affecting this Sort of Wit, that he rarely ventures on so spirited a Turn of Fancy, as in these following Instances.
Juno upbraids Venus, and Cupid ironically, that two Deities cou'd be able to get the better of one weak Woman,
"Una dolo Divûm, si fæmina victa duorum est.
Æn. B. 4. l. 95.
Euryalus, going upon an Enterprise, expresses his Concern for his surviving Mother, if he shou'd fall, and recommends her to the Care of Ascanius, who answers,
The Fiat of the Hebrew Law-giver is not more sublime, than the Jussit of the Latin Poet, who goes on in the same elevated and Philosophical Style.
His super imposuit liquidum, & gravitate carentem
Here the Author spreads a thin Veil of Æther over his Infant Creation; and tho' his asserting the upper Region to be void of Gravitation, may not, in a mathematical Rigour, be true; yet 'tis found from the natural Enquiries made since, and especially from the learned Dr. Hally's Discourse on the Barometer, that if, on the Surface of the Earth, an Inch of Quicksilver in the Tube be equal to a Cylinder of Air of 300 Foot, it will be at a Mile's Height equal to a Cylinder of Air of 2700000: And therefore the Air at so great a Distance from the Earth, must be rarify'd to so great a Degree, that the Space it fills must bear a very small Proportion to that which is entirely void of Matter.
I think, we may be confident from what already appears, as well as from what our Author has writ on the Roman Feasts, that he cou'd not be totally ignorant of Astronomy. Some of the Criticks wou'd insinuate from the following Lines, that he mistook the annual Motion of the Sun for the Diurnal.
Sectus in obliquum———Met. B. 2.
Tho' the Sun be always in one or other of the Signs of the Zodiack, and never goes by either Motion more Northward, or Southward, than is here describ'd; Yet Phaeton being design'd to drive the Chariot but one Day, ought to have been directed in the Æquator, or a Circle Parallel to it, and not round the other Oblique one of the Ecliptick: a Degree of which, and that by a Motion contrary to the Diurnal, he was obliged to go in that length of Time.
I am inclined to think, that Ovid had so great an Attention to Poetical Embellishments, that he voluntarily declin'd a strict Observance of any Astronomical System. For tho' that Science was far from being neglected in former Ages; yet the Progress which was made in it, by no means equall'd that of our present Time.
Lucretius, tho' in other things most penetrating, describes the Sun scarce bigger, than he appears to the Eye.
Nec nimio solis major rota, nec minor ardor
Esse potest, nostris quam sensibus esse videtur.
And Homer, imagining the Seats of the Gods above the fix'd Stars, represents the falling of Vulcan from thence to the Isle of Lemnos, to continue during a whole Day.
Παν δ΄ημαρ Φερόμην, άμα δʹ ήελίω υαταδόντι
Κάππεσον έν Λήμνω———
The Greek Poet aims here to give a surprising Idea of the Height of the Celestial Mansions: but if the Computation of a modern Astronomer be true, they are at so much a greater Distance, that Vulcan wou'd have been more Years in falling, than he was Minutes.
But left I shou'd exceed the usual Length of a Preface, I shall now give some Instances of the Propriety of our Author's Similes, and Epithets; the Perspicuity of his Allegories; the Instructive Excellence of the Morals; the peculiar happy Turn of his Fancy; and shall begin with the Elegance of his Descriptions.
———Madidis Notus evolat alis,
Terribilem piceâ tectus caligine vultum.
Barba gravis nimbis, canis fluit unda capillis,
Fronte sedent nebulæ, rorant pennæque, sinusque}}
Sternuntur segetes, & deplorata coloni
Vota jacent, longique labor perit irritus anni.
These Lines introduce those of the Deluge, which are also very Poetical, and worthy to be compar'd with the next, concerning the Golden Age,
———Sine militis usu
Mollia securæ peragebant otia gentes.
Ipsa quoque immunis rastroque intacta, nec ullis
Saucia vomeribus, per se dabat omnia tellus.
Contentique cibis, nullo cogente, creatis,
Arbuteos fœtus, montanaque fraga legebant.
Et quæ decider ant patulâ Jovis arbore glandes.
Ver erat æternum, placidique tepentibus auris
Mulcebant Zephiri natos sine semine flores.
Virgil has also touch'd upon the same Subject in the end of the Second Georgick.
Aureus hanc vitam in terris Saturnus agebat,
Nec dum etiam audierant inflari classica, nec dum
Impositos duris crepitare incudibus enses.
Primus ab ætherio venit Saturnus Olympo
Aurea, quæperibent, illo sub rege fuerunt
Sæcula: sic placidâ populos in pace regebat.
Æ. B. 8. l. 319
Some of the Lines, a little foreign to the present Subject, are omitted; but I shall make the most admirable Author amends by transcribing at length his next Description. 'Tis of a Stag, which gave the first Occasion to the War betwixt the Trojans and the Rutulians: I chuse this, because my Design is to have these two great Poets seen together, where the Subject happens to be almost the same, tho' the Nature of the Poems be very different.
Cervus erat formâ præstanti, & cornibus ingens,
Tyrreidæ pueri, quem matris ab ubere raptum
Nutribant, Tyrrheusque pater, cui regia parens
Armenta, & latè custodia credita campi.
Assuetum imperiis soror omni Sylvia curâ
Mollibus intexens ornabat cornua sertis:
Pectebatque ferum, puroque in fonte lavabat.
Ille manûm patiens, mensæque assuetus herili
Errabat sylvis ——— Æn. B. 7. L. 483.
The Image which Ovid gives of the Favourite Stag slain accidentally by Cyparissus, seems not of less Dignity.
Ingens cervus erat, latéque patentibus altas,
Ipse suo capiti præbebat cornibus umbras:
Cornua fulgebant auro, demissaque in armos
Pendebant tereti gemmata monilia collo.
Bulla super frontem parvis argentea loris
Vincta movebatur: parilique ex ære nitebant
Auribus in geminis circum cava tempora bacca.
Isque metu vacuus, naturalique pavore
Deposito, celebrare domos, mulcendaque colla
Quamlibet ignotis manibus præbere solebat.
Gratus erat Cyparisse tibi, Tupabula cervum
Ad nova, tu liquidi ducebas fontis ad undam.
Tu modo texebas varios per cornua flores
Nunc, eques in tergo residens, huc latus & illus
Mollia purpureis frænabas ora capistris.
In the following Lines, Ovid describes the watry Court of the River Peneus, which the Reader may compare with Virgil's Subterranean Grott of Cyrene the Naiad, Mother to Aristæus.
Est nemus Hæmoniæ, prærupta quod undique claudit
Silva: vocant Tempe, per quæ Penëus ab imo
Effusus Pindo spumosis volvitur undis:
Dejectuque gravi tenues agitantia fumos
Nubila conducit, summasque aspergine sylvas
Impluit; & sonitu plus quam vicina fatigat.
Hæc domus, hæ sedes, hæc sunt penetralia magni
Amnîs: in hoc residens facto de cautibus antro.
Undis jura dabat, Nymphisque colentibus undas.
Conveniunt illuc popularia flumina primum;
Nescia gratentur, consolent urvé parentem,
Populifer Sperchëos, & irrequietus Enipeus,
Eridanusque senex, lenisque Amphrysos, & Æas.
Moxque amnes alii, qui, quà tulit impetus illos,
In mare deducunt fessas erroribus undas.
Met. B. I.}}
Tristis Aristæus Penei genitoris ad undam
Stat lacrymans ———
Jamque domum mirans genetrices, & humida regna,
Speluncisque lacus claufos, lucosque sonantes,
Ibat; & ingenti motu stupefactus aquarum,
Omnia sub magnâ labentia fulminâ terra
Spectabat diversa locis. Phasimque, Lycumque,
Et caput, unde altus primum se erumpit Enipeus,
Unde pater Tiberinus, & unde Aniena fluenta,
Et gemina auratus taurino cornua vultu
Eridanus, quo non alius per pinguia culta
In mare purpureum violentior influit amnis.
G. B. 4.
The Divine Poet goes on in Pomp of Numbers, and easy Magnificence of Words, till he introduces the Story of Orpheus and Euridice; in the Narration of which, he is as much superior to Ovid, as the Reeds of his own Mantuan Shepherds are less Musical, than the Lyre of Orpheus.
That I may not be too long on this Article, I shall recommend to the Reader, Ovid's admirable Description of Sleep.
———-Est prope Cimmerios——— Met. B. II.
That of Hunger
——— Eft locus extremis Scythiæ——— B. 8.
That of the Plague
———Dira lues——— B. 7.
That of Fame
———Orbe locus medio est———B. 12.
Virgil has also touch'd on the two last; in the one he had Lucretius in View; in the other, Homer: and I think it will not be to the Disadvantage of our Author to appear at the same time.
There are many other Descriptions scatter'd in the Metamorphoses, which for just Expression of Nature, and Majestick Modulation of Words, are only inferior to those already transcrib'd, as they are shorter; which makes the Objection, that his Diction is commonly loytring into Prose, a great deal too severe.
The Metamorphoses must be consider'd, as is observ'd before, very uncorrect; and Virgil's Works as finish'd: tho' his own Modesty wou'd not allow the Æneids to be so. It seems it was harder for him to please himself, than his Readers. His Judgment was certainly great, nor was his Vivacity of Imagination less; for the first without the last is too heavy, and like a Dress without Fancy; and the last without the first is too gay, and but all Trimming.
Our Author's Similitudes are next to be consider'd, which are always remarkably short, and convey some pleasing Idea to the Imagination. 'Tis in this Branch of the Poem, that he has discover'd as just a Judgment, as any of the Classicks whatever. Poets, to give a Loose to a warm Fancy, are generally too apt, not only to expatiate in their Simile's, but introduce them too frequently; by doing the first, they detain the Attention too long from the principal Narration; and by the latter, they make too frequent Breaches in the Unity of the Poem.
Those two Errors Ovid has most discerningly avoided. How short, and significant are generally his Comparisons! he fails not, in these, to keep a stiff Rein on a High-mettled Pegasus; and takes care not to surfeit here, as he had done on other Heads, by an erroneous Abundance.
His Simile's are thicker sown by much in the Table of Salmacis, and Hermaphroditus, than in any other Book, but always short.
The Nymph clasps the Youth close to her Breast, and both sensibly grow one.
———Velut si quis conducto cortice ramos
Crescendo jungi, pariterque adolescere cernat.
Met. B. 4.
Again, as Atalanta reddens in the Race with Hippomenes,
Inque puellari corpus candore ruborem
Traxerat; haud aliter quam cum super atria velum
Candida purpureum simulatas inficit umbras.
Met. B. 10.
Philomela's Tongue seem'd to move after it was cut out by Tereus.
Utque salire solet mutilatæ cauda colubræ,
Palpitat————————— Met. B. 6.
Cadmus sows the Dragons Teeth, and the Sons of the Earth rise gradually.
Inde fide majus glebæ cepêre moveri;
Primaque de sulcis acies apparuit hastæ;
Tegmina mox capitum picto nutantia cono,
Mox humeri, pectusque———
Sic ubi tolluntur festis aulæa theatris
Surgere signa solent, primumque ostendere vultum,
Cætera paulatim, placidoque educta tenore
Tota patent, imoque pedes in margine ponunt.
Met. B. 3.
The Objection to Ovid, that he never knows when to give over, is too manifest. Tho' he frequently expatiates on the same Thought, in different Words; yet in his Simile's, that Exuberance is avoided. There is in them all a Simplicity, and a Confinement to the present Object; always a Fecundity of Fancy, but rarely an Intemperance: Nor do I remember he has err'd above once by an ill-judg'd Superfluity. After he has describ'd the Labyrinth built by Dædalus, he compares it thus,
Non secus ac liquidus Phrygiis Mænandrus in arvis
Ludit, & ambiguo lapsu refluitque, fluitque;
Et nunc ad fontes, nunc ad mare versus apertum
Incertas exercet aquas———Met. B. 8.
He should have ended at the Close of the second Line, as Virgil should have done at the End of the fourth in his noble Simile, where Dido proceeds to the Temple with her Court about her.
Qualis in Eurotæ ripis, aut per juga Cynthi
Exercet Diana choros, quam mille secutæ
Hinc, atque hinc glomerantur Orëades, illa pharetram
Fert humero, gradiensque deas supereminet omnes:
Latonæ tacitum pertentant gaudia pectus. Æn. B. 4.
I see no Reason for the last Line: Tho' the Poet be justly celebrated for a most consummate Judgment, yet by an Endeavour to imitate Homer's Simile's, he is not only very long, but by introducing several Circumstances, he fails of an applicable Relation betwixt the principal Subject, and his new Ideas. He sometimes thinks fit to work into the Piece some differing Embroidery, which, tho' very rich, yet makes at best but glorious Patch-work. I really believe his excellent Poem had not been the less so, if, in this Article, he had thought fit to have walk'd on in his own regular and majestick Grace, rather than have been hurry'd forward through broken Byways by his blind Guide.
I shall transcribe one of his Simile's which is not cull'd out, but exactly of the same Texture with all the rest in the four last Books of the Æneids.
Turnus leaps in Fury from his Chariot.
Ac veluti montis saxum de vertice præceps
Cum ruit avulsum vento, seu turbidus imber
Proluit, aut annis solvit sublapsa vetustas,
Fertur in abruptum magno mons improbus actu,
Exultatque solo, sylvas, armenta, virosque
Involvens secum ——— Æn. B. 12. l. 684.
It does not seem to be at all material, whether the Rock was blown, or wash'd down by Wind or Rain, or undermin'd by Time.
But to return to Ovid, the Reader may take Notice how unforc'd his Compliments, and how natural his Transitions generally are. With how much Ease does he slide into some new Circumstance, without any Violation of the Unity of the Story. The Texture is so artful, that it may be compar'd to the Work of his own Arachne, where the Shade dyes so gradually, and the Light revives so imperceptibly, that it is hard to tell where the one ceases, and the other begins.
When he is going off from the Story of Apollo and Daphne; how happily does he introduce a Compliment to the Roman Conquerors.
———Et conjux quoniam mea non potes esse,
Arbor eris certè———
Tu Ducibus lætis aderis, cum læta triumphum
Vox canet, & longæ visent Capitolia pompæ.
Postibus Augtistis eadem fidissima custos
Ante fores stabis; mediamque tuebere quercum.
Met. B. I.
He compliments Augustus upon the Assassination of Julius; and, by way of Simile, takes the Opportunity from the Horror that the Barbarity of Lycaon gave.
———Sic cum manus impia sævit
Sanguine Cæsareo Romanum extinguere nomen, &c.
Julius is deify'd, and looks down on his adopted Son.
———Natique videns benefacta, fatetur
Esse suis majora, & vinci gaudet abilo. Met. B. 15.
And immediately follows,
Hic sua præferri quanquam vetat alla paternis,
Libera fama tamen, nullisque obnoxia jussis
Invitum præfert. ———
The Author in the two first Lines shows the affectionate Condescension of the Father; in the three last, the pious Gratitude of the Son.
The Compliments to Augustus are very frequent in the last Book of the Metamorphosis; as those to the same Emperor are in the Georgicks of Virgil, which also strike the Imagination by their agreeable Flattery.
Hæc super arvorum cultu, pecorumque canebam,
Et super arboribus; Cæsar dum magnus ad altum
Fulminat Euphratem bello, victorque volentes
Per populos dat jura, viamque affectat Olympo.
Again on Julius,
Imperium Oceano, famam qui terminet astris
Julius——— Æn. B. I.
The Compliments have a great Sublimity, and worthy of the Grandeur of the Heroes, and the Wit of Poet.
Ovid as much deserves Praise, for saying a great deal in a little, as Censure for saying a little in a great deal. None of the Classick Poets had the Talent of expressing himself with more Force and Perspicuity.
Phaeton desires some Pledge of his Father's Tenderness, and asks to be trusted with his Chariot. He answers,
Pignora certa petis; do pignora certa timendo.
Met. B. 2.
However, the latter complies with his Importunity: The Consequence is fatal, the World is set on Fire, even the Rivers feel the Force of the Conflagration. The Tagus boyls.
———Fluit ignibus Aurum.
The Nile retreats,
Occuluit que caput, quod adhuc latet———
Zanthus is parch'd up,
Arsurusque iterum Zanthus———
The Poet's Fancy is here full of Energy, as well as in the following Lines. Apollo courts Daphne, and promises himself Success, but is disappointed.
Quodque cupit, sperat, suaque illum Oracula fallunt.
The River Achelous combats Hercules, and assumes several Shapes in vain, then puts on at last that of a Snake; the Heroe smiles in Contempt.
Cunarum labor est angues superare mearum.
Ovid never excells himself so much, as when he takes Occasion to touch upon the Passion of Love; all Hearts are in a manner sensible of the same Emotions; and, like Instruments tun'd Unisons, if a String of any one of them be struck, the rest, by consent, vibrate.
Procris is jealous of Cephalus; she endeavours to be confirm'd in her Fears, but hopes the contrary,
———Speratque miserrima falli.
The next is not less natural,
———Sed cuncta timemus amantes.
Biblis is in love with Caunus. The Struggle is betwixt her unlawful Flame, and her Honour.
She's all Confusion at the Thoughts of discovering her Passion ———
———miserere fatentis amorem.
She attempts to write,
Incipit & dubitat: scribit, damnatque tabeIlas,
Et notat, & delet: mutat, culpatque probatque.
In the End, Inclination, it does always, gets the better of Discretion.
This last Fable shows how touchingly the Poet argues in Love Affairs, as well as those of Medea, and Scylla. The two last are left by their Heroes, and their Reflections are very natural, and affecting. Ovid seem'd here to have had Virgil's Passion of Dido in his Eye, but with this Difference; the one had convers'd much with Ladies, and knew they lov'd to talk a great deal: The other consider'd no less, what was natural for them to say, than what became them to say.
Virgil has, through the whole Management of this Rencounter, discover'd a most finish'd judgment. Æneas, like other Men, likes for Convenience, and leaves for greater. Dido, like other Ladies, resents the Neglect, enumerates the Obligations the Lover is under, upbraids him with Ingratitude, threatens him with Revenge, then by and by submits, begs for Compassion, and has Recourse to Tears.
It appears from this Piece, that Virgil was a discerning Master in the Passion of Love: And they that consider the Spirit, and Turn of that inimitable Line———Qui Bavium non odit——— cannot doubt but he had an equal Talent for Satyr.
Nor does the Genius of Ovid more exert on the Subject of Love, than on all others. In the Contention of Ajax, Ulysses his Elocution is most nervous and perswading. Where he endeavours to disswade Mankind frome indulging carnivorous Appetites in his Pythagorean Philosophy, how emphatical is his Reasoning!
Quid meruêre boves, animal sine fraude, dolisque,
Innocuum, simplex, natum tolerare laborem?
Immemor est demum, nec frugum munere dignus
Qui potuit curvi dempto modò pondere aratri
Ruricolam mactare suum ——— Met. B. 15.
I think Agricolam had been stronger, but the Authority of Manuscripts does not warrant that Emendation.
Through the whole Texture of this Work, Ovid discovers the highest Humanity, and a most exceeding good Nature. The Virtuous in Distress are always his Concern; and his Wit contrives to give them an Immortality with himself.
He seems to have taken the most Pains in the first and second Book of the Metamorphoses, tho' the thirteenth abounds with Sentiments most moving, and with calamitous Incidents, introduc'd with great Art. The Poet had here in View, the Tragedy of Hecuba in Euripides, and 'tis a wonder, it has never been attempted in our own Tongue. The House of Priam is destroy'd, his Royal Daughter a Sacrifice to the Manes of him that occasion'd it. She is forc'd from the Arms of her unhappy Friends, and hurry'd to the Altar, where she behaves her self with a Decency becoming her Sex, and a Magnanimity equal to her Bloody, and so very affecting, that even the Priest wept.
———Ipse etiam flens, invitusque sacerdos, &c.
She shows no Concern at approaching Death, but on the Account of her old, unfortunate Mother,
Mors tantum vellum matrem mea fallere possit.
Mater obest, minuitque necis mea gaudia; quamvis
Non mea mors illi: verum sua vita gemenda est.
Then begs her Body may be deliver'd to her without Ransom,
——— Genetrici corpus inemptum
Reddite; néve, auro redimat jus triste sepulchri,
Sed lacrymis: tunc, cum poterat, redimebat & auro.
Namque erit ista mihi genitrix, nomenque Creüsæ Solum defuerit———
Venus is importunate in her Sollicitations to Vulcan, to make Armour for her Son: He answers,
———Absiste precando Viribus indubitare tuis ——— Æn. B. 7.
At the first kindling of Dido's Passion, he has this most natural Thought,
———Illum absens absentem auditque, videtque.
But to return to Ovid; tho' I cannot vindicate him for his Points, I shall endeavour to mollify his Criticks, when they give him no Quarter for his Diction, and attack him so inflexibly for ending his Lines with Monosyllables, as si quis – si non, &c. and as I think he cannot be excus'd more advantagiously than by affirming, that where he has done it once, Virgil has twenty times
——— & cum G. I. ——— si quis G. 2. ——— nec dum G. 2. ——— si quam Æn. i. ——— si quis Æn. 7. ——— jam bos Æn. 12. ——— nunc nunc &c.
There are a great many Endings of Lines in this manner, and more indeed than seems consistent with the Majesty of Heroick Verfe. When Lines are design'd to be sermoni propiores, this Liberty may be allowable, but not so when the Subject requires more sonorous Numbers. Virgil seems to endeavour to keep up his Versification to an harmonious Dignity; and therefore, when fit Words do not offer with some Ease, he'll rather break off in an Hemistick, than that the Line shou'd be lazy and languid. He well knew, how essential it was in Poetry to flatter the Ear; and at same same time was sensible, that this Organ grows tir'd by a constant Attention to the same Harmony; and therefore he endeavour'd now and then to relieve it by a Cadence of Pauses, and a Variation of Measures.
Amphion Dircæus in Actæo Aracyntho. Ecl. 2.
This Line seems not tuneful at the first hearing; but by Repetition, it reconciles it self, and has the same Effect with some Compositions of Musick, which are at the first Performance tiresome, and afterward entertaining.
The Commentators and Criticks are of Opinion, that whenever Virgil is less musical, it is where he endeavours at an Agreement of the Sound with the Sense, as,
———Procumbit humi bos.
It wou'd show as much Singularity to deny this, as it does a fanciful Facility to affirm it, because it is obvious, in many Places he had no such View.
—Invents sub ilicibus sus. Æn. 3. l. 390.
—Dentesque sabellicus exacuit sus. G. 3. l. 255.
—Jam setis obsita, jam bos. Æn.7.l. 790.
—Furor additus, inde Lupi cePi ceu, &c. Æn. 11. l. 355.