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things of nature. The last are moral, and are the images of virtues and vices. Homer and the ancients have given to their deities the manners, passions, and vices of men. Their poems are wholly allegorical; and in this view it is easier to defend Homer, than to blame him. We cannot accuse him for makfng mention of many gods, for his bestowing passions upon them, or even introducing them fighting against men. The Scripture uses the like figures and expressions. If it be allowable to speak thus of the gods in theo
logy, much more in the fictions of natural philosophy,
where, if a poet describes the deities, he must give them such manners, speeches, and actions, as are conformable to the nature of the things they represent under those divinities. The case is the same in the morals of the deities: Minerva is wise because she represents prudence; Venus is both good or bad, because the passion of love is capable of these contrary qualities. Since among the gods of a poem some are good, some bad, and some indifferently either; and since of our passions we make so many allegorical deities; we may attribute to the gods all that is done in the poem, whether good or evil. But these deities do not act constantly in one and the same manner. Sometimes they act invisibly, and by mere inspiration; which has nothing in it extraordinary or miraculous: being no more than what we say every day, ‘That some god has assisted us, or some demon has instigated us.” At other times they appear visibly, and manifest themselves to men, in a manner altogether miraculous and preternatural. The third way has something of both the others; it is in truth a miracle, but is not commonly so accounted: this includes dreams, oracles, &c.
All these ways must be probable; for, however necessary the marvellous is to the epic action, as nothing is so conducive to admiration; yet we can, on the other hand, admire nothing that we think impossible. Though the probability of these machines be of a very large extent (since it is founded upon divine power), it is not without limitations. There are numerous instances of allowable and probable machines in the epic poem, where the gods are no less actors than the men. But the less credible sort, such as metamorphoses, &c. are far more rare.
This suggests a reflection on the method of rendering those machines probable, which in their own nature are hardly so. Those which require only dir vine probability should be so disengaged from the action, that one might subtract them from it, without destroying the action. But those which are essential and necessary should be grounded upon human probability, and not on the sole power of God. Thus the episodes of Circe, the Syrens, Polyphemus, &c. are necessary to the action of the Odyssey, and yet not humanly probable: yet Homer has artificially reduced them to human probability, by the simplicity and ignorance of the Phaeacians, before whom he causes those recitals to be made.
The next question is, Where, and on what occasions, machines may be used ? It is certain Homer and Virgil make use of them every where, and scarce suffer any action to be performed without them. Petronius makes this a precept: “Per ambages, deorumoue ministeria,’ &c. The gods are mentioned in the very proposition of their works, the invocation is addressed to them, and the whole narration is full of them. The gods are the causes of the action, they form the intrigue, and bring about the solution. The precept of Aristotle and Horace, that the unraveling of the plot should not proceed from a miracle, or the ,
appearance of a god, has place only in dramatic poetry, not in the epic. For it is plain, that both in the solution of the Iliad and Odyssey, the gods are concerned : in the former, the deities meet to appease the anger of Achilles: Iris and Mercury are sent to that purpose, and Minerva eminently assists Achilles in the decisive combat with Hector. In the Odyssey, the same goddess fights close by Ulysses against the suitors, and concludes that peace betwixt him and the Ithacensians, which completes the poem. We may therefore determine, that a machine is not an invention to extricate the poet out of any difficulty which embarrasses him; but that the presence of a divinity, and some action surprising and extraordinary, are inserted into almost all the parts of his work, in order to render it more majestic and more admirable. But this mixture ought to be so made, that the machines might be retrenched, without taking any thing from the action: at the same time that it gives the readers a lesson of piety and virtue; and teaches them, that the most brave and the most wise can do nothing, and attain nothing great and glorious, without the assistance of Heaven. Thus the machinery crowns the whole work, and renders it at once marvellous, probable, and moral.
The poem opens within forty-eight days of the arrival of Ulysses in his dominions. He had now remained seven years in the island of Calypso, when the gods assembled in council proposed the method of his departure from thence, and his return to his native country. For this purpose it is concluded to send Mercury to Calypso, and Pallas immediately descends to Ithaca. She holds a conference with Telemachus, in the shape of Mentes, king of the Taphians; in which she advises him to take a journey, in quest of his father Ulysses, to Pylos and Sparta, where Nestor and Menelaús yet reigned ; then, after having visibly displayed her divinity, disappears. The suitors of Penelope make great entertainments, and riot in her palace till night. Phemius sings to them the return of the Grecians, till Penelope puts a stop to the song. Some words arise between the suitors and Telemachus, who summons the council to meet the day following.
The man for wisdom's various arts renown'd, Long exercised in woes, O Muse! resound; Who, when his arms had wrought the destined fall Of sacred Troy, and razed her Heaven-built wall, Wandering from clime to clime, observantstray'd, Their manners noted, and their states survey'd,
On stormy seas unnumber'd toils he bore, Safe with his friends to gain his natal shore: Vain toils! their impious folly dared to prey On herds devoted to the god of day; The god vindictive doom'd them never more (Ah, men unbless'd ') to touch that matal shore. O snatch some portion of these acts from Fate, Celestial Muse! and to our world relate. Now at their native realms the Greeks arrived; All who the war of ten long years survived, And scaped the perils of the gulfy main. Ulysses, sole of all the victor train, An exile from his dear paternal coast, Deplored his absent queen, and empire lost. Calypso in her caves constrain’d his stay, With sweet, reluctant, amorous delay: In vain—for now the circling years disclose The day predestined to reward his woes. At length his Ithaca is given by Fate, Where yet new labours his arrival wait; At length their rage the hostile powers restrain, All but the ruthless monarch of the main. But now the god, remote, a heavenly guest, In Ethiopia graced the genial feast (A race divided, whom with sloping rays The rising and descending sun surveys); There on the world's extremest verge, revered With hecatombs and prayer in pomp preferr'd, Distant he lay; while in the bright abodes Of high Olympus Jove convened the gods: ‘The’ assembly thus the sire supreme address'd, Egysthus’ fate revolving in his breast, When young Orestes to the dreary coast Of Pluto sent, a blood-polluted ghost—