Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/458

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
454
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

With embers glowing white, and flings aloft
Great globes of fire, and licks the stars with flame;
Anon with large discharge out-hurls in air
The shattered entrails of the mountain's maw,
Disploded rocks, and jets of molten stone
Sluiced from its burning core, and brimming now,
O'er all its blazing sides infuriate boils.
'Tis said Encheladus' vast bulk is pressed,
All scorched and scarred, with thunderbolts intrenched,
This mighty mass beneath; and so o'erlaid,
The riven hill, in furnace mouths agape,
Forth spouts his fiery gaspings for the air;
And oft as shifts that weary, tortured side
Trinacria still from base to surface quakes
With inward throes, and shrouds the heaven in smoke.

"Now, in the first place," said he, "Pindar, paying more attention to truth, says what is the fact—what usually happens there and what is seen with the eyes—that Etna smokes by day and flames by night; but Virgil, while laboring for grand and sonorous words, confuses the seasons without any distinction. The Greek said clearly enough that fountains of fire belched from the bottom, and rivers of smoke flowed, and twisted yellow volumes of flame rolled to the shore of the sea, like fiery snakes. But Virgil, by choosing to interpret 'a burning stream of smoke' as 'a black cloud smoking with pitchy gusts and [glowing] ashes,' has heaped things together coarsely and without moderation, and has harshly and inaccurately translated what the other called 'fountains' into 'globes' of flame. Again, when he says that it 'licks the stars,' he has made an empty and idle exaggeration. Moreover, what he says about the black cloud, etc., is inexplicable, and almost incomprehensible. For things which glow are not usually black or smoking—unless he has very vulgarly and improperly used the word candente of ash merely hot, not fiery and shining. For candens is said of the brightness, not the heat.[1] But as for the stones and the rocks being belched and flung up, and the very same ones anon being 'liquefied,' and groaning, and being 'conglomerated in air'—all this is what Pindar never wrote, nor any man heard of, and is of all absurdities the most monstrous."

With respect to the anecdote related above that Virgil ordered his MS. to be burned, the same fact is mentioned by Servius in his introduction to the Æneid, and confirmed also by Pliny (lib. vii., cap. 30). Virgil died in 19 B. C, and the Æneid must have been published soon after. Just as Pindar's verse was imitated by Æschylus, so Virgil served as a model for the unknown author of 'Ætna' a poetical description of more than 600 lines which abounds in scientific details. Although the authorship of this poem has been variously ascribed, the prevailing view of modern scholarship is that it is the work of Lucilius Junior, the philosophical friend and correspondent of the


  1. Strongly as Favorinus condemns Virgil's indulgence in poetic license, later usage would seem to sanction and uphold him in it. Dante's fondness for incongruous color associations, especially the more sombre shades, is proverbial, and even Milton did not disdain to put into the mouth of Moloch, when uttering his famous speech, the identical expression of 'black fire' (Paradise Lost, ii., 51-100).