« הקודםהמשך »
liis indefatigable patience, and other virtues, were such as these islanders were not used to. All their talent lay in singing and dancing, and whatsoever was charming in a quiet life. And here we see how dexterously Homer prepares the incidents he makes use of. These people could do no less, for the account with which Ulysses had so much entertained them, than afford him a ship and a safe convoy, which was of little expense or trouble to them.
When he arrived, his long absence, and the travels which had disfigured him, made him altogether unknown; and the danger he would have incurred, had he discovered himself too soon, forced him to a disguise: lastly, this disguise gave him an opportunity of surprising those young suitors, who for several years together had been accustomed to nothing but to sleep well, and fare daintily.
It was from these examples that Aristotle drew this rule, that “Whatever concludes the poem should so spring from the very constitution of the fable, as if it were a necessary, or at least a probable, consequence.”
THE TIME OF THE ACTION.
The time of the epic action is not fixed, like that of the dramatic poem: it is much longer; for an uninterrupted duration is much more necessary in an action which one sees and is present at, than in one which we only read or hear repeated. Besides, tragedy is fuller of passion, and consequently of such a violence as cannot admit of so long a duration. The Iliad, containing an action of anger and violence, the poet allows it but a short time, about forty days. The design of the Odyssey required another conduct; the character of the hero is prudence and longsuffering ; therefore the time of its duration is much longer, above eight years.
e THE PASSIONS OF THE EPIC PoleM.
The passions of tragedy are different from those of the epic poem. In the former, terror and pity have the chief place; the passion that seems most peculiar to epic poetry, is admiration.
Besides this admiration, which in general distinguishes the epic poem from the dramatic, each epic poem has likewise some peculiar passion, which distinguishes it in particular from other epic poems, and constitutes a kind of singular and individual difference between these poems of the same species. These singular passions correspond to the character of the hero. Anger and terror reign throughout the Iliad, because Achilles is angry, and the most terrible of all men. The AEneid has all the soft and tender passions, because that is the character of AEneas. The prudence, wisdom, and constancy of Ulysses do not allow him either of these extremes, therefore the poet does not permit one of them to be predominant in the Odyssey. He confines himself to admiration only, which he carries to an higher pitch than in the Iliad: and it is upon this account that he introduces a great many more machines in the Odyssey, into the body of the action, than are to be seen in the actions of the other two poems.
The manners of the epic poem ought to be poetically good, but it is not necessary they be always morally so. They are poetically good, when one may discover the virtue or vice, the good or ill incli– nations, of every one who speaks or acts: they are poetically bad, when persons are made to speak or act out of character, or inconsistently, or unequally. The manners of Æneas and of Mezentius are equally good, considered poetically, because they equally demonstrate the piety of the one, and the impiety of the other.
CHARACTER OF THE HERO.
It is requisite to make the same distinction between a hero in morality, and a hero in poetry, as between moral and poetical goodness. Achilles had as much right to the latter as AEneas. Aristotle says, that the hero of a poem should be neither good nor bad: neither advanced above the rest of mankind by his virtues, nor sunk beneath them by his vices; that he may be the proper and fuller example to others, both what to imitate and what to decline.
The other qualifications of the manners are, that they be suitable to the causes which either raise or discover them in the persons; that they have an exact resemblance to what history, or sable, have delivered of those persons to whom they are ascribed; and that there be an equality in them, so that no man is made to act, or speak, out of his character.
UNITY OF the CHARACTER.
But this equality is not sufficient for the unity of the character; it is further necessary, that the same spirit appear in all sorts of encounters. Thus AEneas acting with great piety and mildness in the first part of the AEmeid, which requires no other character; and afterwards appearing illustrious in heroic valour, in the wars of the second part; but there, without any appearance either of a hard or a soft disposition; would, doubtless, be far from offending against the equality of the manners: but yet there would be no simplicity or unity in the character. So that, besides the qualities that claim their particular place upon different occasions, there must be one appearing throughout, which commands over all the rest; and without this, we may affirm, it is no character. One may indeed make a hero as valiant as Achilles, as pious as AEneas, and as prudent as Ulysses. But it is a mere chimera to imagine a hero that has the valour of Achilles, the piety of AEneas, and the prudence of Ulysses, at one and the same time. This vision might happen to an author, who would suit the character of a hero to whatever each part of the action might naturally require, without regarding the essence of the fable, or the unity of the character in the same person upon all sorts of occasions: this hero would be the mildest, best-natured, prince in the world, and also the most choleric, hardhearted, and implacable creature imaginable; he would be extremely tender like AEneas, extremely violent like Achilles, and yet have the indifference of Ulysses, that is incapable of the two extremes. Would it not be in vain for the poet to call this person by the same name throughout? Let us reflect on the effects it would produce in several poems, whose authors were of opinion, that the chief character of a hero is that of an accomplished man. They would be all alike; all valiant in battle, prudent in council, pious in the acts of religion, courteous, civil, magnificent, and, lastly, endued with all the prodigious virtues any poet could invent. All this would be independent of the action and the subject of the poem; and, upon seeing each hero separated from the rest of the work, we should not easily guess, to what action, and to what poem, the hero belonged. So that we should see, that none of those would have a character, since the character is that which makes a person discernible, and which distinguishes him from all others.
This commanding quality in Achilles is his anger, in Ulysses the art of dissimulation, in AEneas meekness. Each of these may be styled, by way of eminence, the character in these heroes.
But these characters cannot be alone. It is absolutely necessary that some other should give them a lustre, and embellish them as far as they are capable: either by hiding the defects that are in each, by some noble and shining qualities, as the poet has done the anger of Achilles, by shading it with extraordinary valour; or by making them of the nature of a true and solid virtue, as is to be observed in the two others. The dissimulation of Ulysses is a part of his prudence; and the meekness of AEneas is wholly employed in submitting his will to the gods. For the making up this union, our poets have joined together such qualities as are by nature the most compatible; valour with anger, meekness with piety, and prudence with dissimulation. This last union was necessary for the goodness of Ulysses; for without that, his dissimulation might have degenerated into wickedness and doubledealing.
OF THE MACHINERY.
We come now to the machines of the epic poem. The chief passion which it aims to excite being admiration, nothing is so conducive to that as the marvellous; and the importance and dignity of the action is by nothing so greatly elevated as by the care and interposition of Heaven. The machines are of three sorts. Some are theological, and were invented to explain the nature of the gods. Others are physical, and represent the