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Denique sit quodvis simplex duntaxat, et unum.
According to these rules, it will be allowable to make use of several fables, or, to speak more correctly, of several incidents which may be divided into several fables; provided they are so ordered that the unity of the fable be not spoiled. This liberty is still greater in the epic poem, because it is of a larger extent, and ought to be entire and complete.
I will explain myself more distinctly by the practice of Homer.
No doubt but one might make four distinct fables out of these four following instructions:
1. Division between those of the same party exposes tbem entirely to their enemies.
2. Conceal your weakness, and you will be dreaded as much as if you had none of those imperfections of which they are ignorant.
3. When your strength is only feigned, and founded only in the opinion of others, never venture so far as if your strength was real.
4. The more you agree together, the less hurt can your enemies do you.
It is plain, I say, that each of these particular maxims might serve for the groundwork of a fiction, and one might make four distinct fables out of them. May not one then put all these into one single epopea? Not unless one single fable can be made out of all. The poet indeed may have so mucb skill as to unite all into one body as members and parts, each of which taken asunder would be imperfect; and if he joins them so, this conjunction shall be no hinderance at all to the unity, and the regular simplicity of the fable. This is what Homer
has done with such success in the composition of the Iliad.
1. The division between Achilles and his allies tended to the ruin of their designs.—2. Patroclus comes to their relief in the armour of this hero, and Hector retreats.--3. But this young man, pushing the advantage which his disguise gave bim too far, ventures to engage with Hector himself; but not being master of Achilles' strength (whom he only represented in outward appearance) he is killed, and by this means leaves the Grecian affairs in the same disorder, from which in that disguise he came to free them.-4. Achilles, provoked at the death of bis friend, is reconciled, and revenges his loss by the death of Hector.—These various incidents being thus united, do not make different actions and fables, but are only the incomplete and unfinished parts of one and the same action and fable, which alone, when taken thus complexly, can be said to be complete and entire: and all these maxims of the moral are easily reduced into these two parts, which in my opinion cannot be separated without enervating the force of both, The two parts are these 8, That a right understanding is the preservation, and discord the destruction, of states.
Though then the poet has made use of two parts in his poems, each of which might have served for a fable, as we have observed, yet this multiplication cannot be called a vicious and irregular polymythia, contrary to the necessary unity and simplicity of the fable; but it gives the fable another qualification, altogether necessary and regular, namely, its perfection and finishing stroke.
8 Concordiâ res parvæ crescunt: discordia magnæ dilabuntur. SALLUST. de Bello Jag.
OF THE ACTION OF THE EPIC poem. The action of a poem is the subject which the poet undertakes, proposes, and builds upon. So that the moral and the instructions which are the end of the epic poem are not the matter of it. Those the poets leave in their allegorical and figurative obscurity. They only give notice at the exordium, that they sing some action: the revenge of Achilles, the return of Ulysses, &c.
Since then the action is the matter of a fable, it is evident that whatever incidents are essential to the fable, or constitute a part of it, are necessary also to the action, and are parts of the epic matter, none of which ought to be omitted. Such, for instance, are the contention of Agamemnon and Achilles, the slaughter Hector makes in the Grecian army, the reunion of the Greek princes; and, lastly, the resettlement and victory which was the consequence of that reunion.
There are four qualifications in the epic action; the first is its unity, the second its integrity, the third its importance, the fourth its duration.
The unity of the epic action, as well as the unity of the fable, does not consist either in the unity of the bero, or in the unity of time: three things I suppose are necessary to it. The first is, to make use of no episode but what arises from the very platform and foundation of the action, and is as it were a natural member of the body. The second is, exactly to unite these episodes and these members with one another. And the third is, never to finish any episode so as it may seem to be an entire action; but to let each episode still appear, in its own particular nature, as the member of a body, and as a part of itself not complete.
OF THE BEGINNING, MIDDLE, AND END OF THE
ACTION. Aristotle not only says that the epic action should be one, but adds, that it should be entire, perfect, and complete; and for this purpose ought to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. These three parts of a whole are too generally and universally denoted by the words, beginning, middle, and end; we may interpret them more precisely, and say, that the causes and designs of an action are the beginning; that the effects of these causes, and the difficulties that are met with in the execution of these designs, are the middle; and that the unraveling and resolution of these difficulties are the end.
THE ACTION OF THE ILIAD, Homer's design in the Iliad is to relate the anger and revenge of Achilles. The beginning of this action is the change of Achilles from a calm to a passionate temper. The middle is the effects of his passion, and all the illustrious deaths it is the cause of. The end of this same action is the return of Achilles to his calmness of temper again. All was quiet in the Grecian camp, when Agamemnon their general provokes Apollo against them, whom he was willing to appease afterwards at the cost and prejudice of Achilles, who had no part in his fault. This then is an exact beginning; it supposes nothing before, and requires after it the effects of this anger. Achilles revenges himself, and that is an exact middle; it supposes before it the anger of Achilles, this revenge is the effect of it. Then this middle requires after it the effects of this revenge, which is the satisfaction of Achilles: for the revenge had not been complete, unless Achilles had been satisfied. By this means the poet makes his hero, after he was glatted by the mischief he had done to
Agamemnon, by the death of Hector, and the honour he did his friend, by insulting over his murderer; he makes him, I say, to be moved by the tears and misfortunes of king Priam. We see him as calm at the end of the poem, during the funeral of Hector, as he was at the beginning of the poem, whilst the plague raged among the Grecians. This end is just, since the calmness of temper Achilles reenjoyed, is only an effect of the revenge which ought to have preceded: and after this nobody expects any more of his anger. Thus has Homer been very exact in the beginning, middle, and end, of the action he made choice of for the subject of bis Iliad.
THE ACTION OF THE ODYSSEY. His design in the Odyssey was to describe the return of Ulysses from the siege of Troy, and his arrival at Ithaca. He opens this poem with the complaints of Minerva against Neptune, who opposed the return of this hero, and against Calypso, who detained him in an island from Itbaca. Is this a beginning? No; doubtless, the reader would know why Neptune is displeased with Ulysses, and how this prince came to be with Calypso? He would know how he came from Troy thither? The poet answers his demands out of the mouth of Ulysses himself, who relates these things, and begins the action by the recital of bis travels from the city of Troy. It signifies little whether the beginning of the action be the beginning of the poem. The beginning of this action is that which happens to Ulysses, when upon bis leaving Troy he bends his course for Ithaca. The middle comprehends all the misfortunes he endured, and all the disorders of his own government. The end is the reinstating of the hero in the peaceable possession of his kingdom, where he was acknowledged by his son, his wife,