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composed of two parts, the head which commands
most infallibly attend these particular notions, which are entirely different from the general idea of him who ought to govern. But as it was necessary that the princes in the Iliad should be choleric and quarrelsome, so it is necessary in the fable of the Odyssey that the chief person should be sage and prudent. This raises a difficulty in the fiction; because this person ought to be absent for the two reasons aforementioned, which are essential to the fable, and which constitute the principal aim of it: but he cannot absent himself, without offending against another maxim of equal importance, viz. That a king should upon no account leave his country. It is true, there are sometimes such necessities as sufficiently excuse the prudence of a politician in this point. But such a necessity is a thing important enough of itself to supply matter for another poem, and this multiplication of the action would be vicious. To prevent which, in the first place, this necessity and the departure of the hero must be disjoined from the poem ; and, in the second place, the hero having been obliged to absent himself, for a reason antecedent to the action, and placed distinct from the fable, he ought not so far to embrace this opportunity of instructing himself, as to absent himself voluntarily from his own government. For at this rate, his absence would be merely voluntary, and one might with reason lay to his charge all the disorders which might arise. Thus in the constitution of the fable he ought not to take for his action, and for the foundation of his poem, the departure of a prince from his own country, nor his voluntary stay in any other place; but his return, and this return retarded against his will. This is the first idea Homer gives us of it. His hero 5 * Odyssey, v.
appears at first in a desolate island, sitting upon the side of the sea, which with tears in his eyes he looks upon as the obstacle that had so long opposed his return, and detained him from revisiting his own dear country.
And lastly, since this forced delay might more naturally and usually happen to such as make voyages by sea, Homer has judiciously made choice of a prince whose kingdom was in an island.
Let us see then how he has feigned all this action, making his hero a person in years, because years are requisite to instruct a man in prudence and policy.
“A prince had been obliged to forsake his native country, and to head an army of his subjects in a foreign expedition. Having gloriously performed this enterprise, he was marching home again, and conducting his subjects to his own state; but, spite of all the attempts with which the eagerness to return had inspired him, he was stopped by the way by tempests for several years, and cast upon several countries differing from each other in manners and government. In these dangers, his companions, not always following his orders, perished through their own fault. The grandees of his country strangely abuse his absence, and raise no small disorders at home. They consume his estate, conspire to destroy his son, would constrain his queen to accept of one of them for her husband; and indulge themselves in all violence, so much the more, because they were persuaded he would never return. But at last he returns, and discovering himself only to his son and some others, who had continued firm to him, he is an eyewitness of the insolence of his enemies, punishes them according to their deserts, and restores to his island that tranquillity and repose to which they had been strangers during his absence.’
As the truth, which serves for foundation to this fiction, is, that the absence of a person from his own home, or his neglect of his own affairs, is the cause of great disorders; so the principal point of the action, and the most essential one, is the absence of the hero. This fills almost all the poem; for not only this real absence lasted several years, but even when the hero returned he does not discover himself: and this prudent disguise, from whence he reaped so much advantage, has the same effect upon the authors of the disorders, and all others who knew him not, as his real absence had before; so that he is absent as to them till the very moment of their punishment.
After the poet had thus composed his fable, and joined the fiction to the truth, he then made choice of Ulysses, the king of the isle of Ithaca, to maintain the character of his chief personage, and bestowed the rest upon Telemachus, Penelope, Antinotis, and others, whom he calls by what names he pleases.
I shall not here insist upon the many excellent advices, which are so many parts and natural consequences of the fundamental truth; and which the poet very dexterously lays down in those fictions which are the episodes and members of the entire action. Such for instance are these advices;–Not to intrude oneself into the mysteries of government, which the prince keeps secret: this is represented to us by the winds shut up in a bull's hide, which the miserable companions of Ulysses would needs be so foolish as to pry into. Not to suffer oneself to be led away by the seeming charms of an idle and inactive life, to which the Sirens’ song * invited. Not to suffer oneself to be sensualized by pleasures, like those who were changed into brutes by Circe:
* Improba Siren desidia. HoR.
and a great many other points of morality necessary for all sorts of people.
This poem is more useful to the people than the Iliad, where the subjects suffer rather by the ill conduct of their princes than through their own miscarriages. But in the Odyssey it is not the fault of Ulysses that is the ruin of his subjects. This wise prince leaves untried no method to make them partakers of the benefit of his return. Thus the poet in the Iliad says, “He sings the anger of Achilles, which had caused the death of so many Grecians;’ and, on the contrary, in the Odyssey 7 he tells his readers, “That the subjects perished through their own fault.”
OF THE UNITY OF THE FABLE.
ARistotle bestows great encomiums upon Homer for the simplicity of his design, because he has included in one single part all that happened at the siege of Troy. And to this he opposes the ignorance of some poets, who imagined that the unity of the fable or action was sufficiently preserved by the unity of the hero; and who composed their Theseids, Heracleids, and the like, wherein they only heaped up in one poem every thing that happened to one personage. He finds fault with those poets who were for reducing the unity of the fable into the unity of the hero, because one man may have performed several adventures which it is impossible to reduce under any one general and simple head. This reducing of all things to unity and simplicity is what Horace likewise makes his first rule: 7 Avray yog apoleonary wraağaxingwooyoo. ODYSS. i.