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453
VIRGIL'S ETNA.

being found in lib. xvii., cap. x., of that work.[1] Owing to its interest to modern readers, we venture to reproduce the entire passage, as follows:

I remember that the philosopher Favorinus, when in the heat of the year he had retired to his host's villa at Antium, and we had come from Rome to see him, discussed Pindar and Virgil somewhat in this way: "Virgil's friends and associates," said he, "in their memorials of his genius and character, say that he was wont to observe that he produced verses after the manner and fashion of a she-bear. For, as this beast produces its cub unformed and unfinished, and afterwards licks the product into shape and figure; so the results of his wits were at first rough-hewn and uncompleted, but afterwards, by rehandling and fashioning them, he gave them lineaments and countenance.

"Now," said he, "the facts prove that this quick-witted poet spoke with as much truth as frankness. For those things which he left polished and perfected—those on which he put the last touch of his censorship and his choice—rejoice in the full praise of poetical loveliness; but those of which he postponed the recension, and which could not be finished owing to the interposition of death, are by no means worthy of the name and judgment of this most elegant of poets. And so, when he was in the grasp of sickness, and felt the approach of death, he earnestly begged and prayed of his dearest friends that they would burn the Æneid, to which he had not yet sufficiently put the file.

"Now among those passages which seem to have been most in need of rehandling and correction, that on Mount Etna holds the chief place. For, while he wished to vie with the verses of the old poet Pindar on the nature and eruptions of this mountain, he wrought such conceits and such phrases that in this place he has out-Pindared Pindar himself, who is generally thought to indulge in too exuberant and luxuriant rhetoric. To put you yourselves" (he continued) "in the position of judges, I will repeat, to the best of my memory, Pindar's verses on Etna."

Now under sulph'r'ous Cuma's sea-bound coast,
And vast Sicilia, lies his shaggy breast
By snowy Aetna, nurse of endless frost,
The pillared prop of heaven, forever press'd;
Forth from whose nitrous caverns issuing rise
Pure liquid fountains of tempestuous fire,
And veil in ruddy mists the noon-day skies,
While, rapt in smoke, the eddying flames expire,
Or, gleaming thro' the night with hideous roar,
Far o'er the red'ning main huge rocky fragments pour.

"Now listen to Virgil's verses, which I would rather call begun than made."

Ample the port, and fenced to every blast;
But night and day grim Aetna thunders nigh
In frightful peals, and now and then doth belch
Black clouds of rolling smoke in pitchy whirls,


  1. The only complete translation of the 'Attic Nights' in English is that of W. Beloe, in three volumes, London, 1795. The passage on Etna, newly translated by Professor Saintsbury, is included in the Loci Critici of that author, pp. 74-75, his being the rendering we have made use of. It is necessary to add that the translation of Pindar given below is taken from West, that of Virgil from Thornhill (Æneid, iii., 570 sqq.).