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GENERAL VIEW OF THE EPIC POEM,
EXTRACTED FROM BOSS Us
THE NATURE OF EPIC POETRY.
The fables of poets were originally employed in representing the Divine Nature, according to the notion then conceived of it. This sublime subject occasioned the first poets to be called divines, and poetry the language of the gods. They divided the divine attributes into so many persons, because the infirmity of a human mind cannot sufficiently conceive, or explain, so much power and action in a simplicity so great and indivisible as that of God. And perhaps they were also jealous of the advantages they reaped from such excellent and exalted learning, and of which they thought the vulgar part of mankind was not worthy. They could not describe the operations of this almighty cause, without speaking at the same time of its effects: so that to divinity they added physiology, and treated of both, without quitting the umbrages of their allegorical expressions.
But man being the chief and most noble of all that God produced, and nothing being so proper, or more useful, to poets than this subject, they added it to the former, and treated of the doctrine of morality after the same manner as they did that of divinity and physiology: and from morality thus treated, is formed that kind of poem and fable which we call epic. The poets did the same in morality, that the divines had done in divinity. But that infinite variety of the actions and operations of the Divine Nature (to which our understanding bears so small a proportion) did as it were force them upon dividing the single idea of the only one God into several persons, under the different names of Jupiter, Juno, Neptune, and the rest. And, on the other hand, the nature of moral philosophy being such, as never to treat of things in particular, but in general, the epic poets were obliged to unite in one single idea, in one and the same person, and in an action which appeared singular, all that looked like it in different persons, and in various actions; which might be thus contained as so many species under their genus. The presence of the Deity, and the care such an august cause is to be supposed to take about any action, obliges the poet to represent this action as great, important, and managed by kings and princes". It obliges him likewise to think and speak in an elevated way, above the vulgar, and in a style that may in some sort keep up the character of the divine persons he introduces. *To this end serve the poetical
* Res gestae regumque ducumque. HoR. Art, Poet.
* —— Cui mens divinior atque os Magna sonaturum, des Nominis hujus honorem. HORAT.