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Quinti Smyrnæi Posthomericum Libri XIV.
(We understand that an American gentleman, who has already given proof of fair
literary talent, proposes to give a translation into English blank verse, of the poem of Quintus Calaber. As this curious work, though possessing celebrity among the learned, is but little known in this country, we subjoin the following extractes explaining its nature and character, from the British Review.]
The argument of Quintus Smyrnæus is sufficiently indicated by the title of Posthomerica, which his poem usually bears. He seems to have regarded the Iliad of Homer (we may be allowed to conjecture) as a detached fragment of the Trojan story, which he probably considered as executed with spirit and genius; but regretted that so noble a composition should be brought, as he conceived, to no regular and perfect conclusion. He therefore resolved to perform the same service for it, which at a subsequent period was undertaken by Maphæus Vegius, with similar views, for the Æneid. This supposition is at least suggested by the form of his work, which takes up the incidents of the Trojan war at the conclusion of the Iliad, and pursues them in a regular narrative to the capture of the city, and the departure of the Grecran fleet. If such were the design of the poet, it is evident that he had little comprehension of the nature of epic unity, and little perception of that excellence of plan which distinguishes the Iliad, and is not one of the least remarkable circumstances of that ex. traordinary composition.
As the poem of Quintus has been little read, a brief account of the incidents which it comprises will not be useless, especially as they possess a close connexion with an important and curious subject of Greek literary history. The work consists of fourteen books. The business of the poem occupies about thirty-two days, independently of a few scattered pages which contain no distinct calculation of time; so that the interval which it supposes to have elasped between the concluding events of the Iliad, and the catas. trophe of the Trojan war, consists of about forty days. The following are the principal events.
A few days after the performance of the funeral rites of Hector, the Amazon Penthesilea, with a train of her attendants, arrives to the aid of the Trojans, and having signalized her valour, falls, in a combat with Achilles. Thersites reviles Achilles for his expres. sions of regret at the fate of Penthesilea, and is slain by him. This occasions a contention between Diomede and Achilles, which is appeased by the intervention of the Greeks. The Trojans, reduced to despondency by their successive defeats, summon a
council to deliberate concerning the affairs. Memnon, the son of Aurora, arrives with a band of Æthiopians, and on the following day contends with Achilles, and is slain. The principal event of the subsequent battle is the death of Achilles, who is wounded in the heel by Apollo. Funeral games are performed in honour of the hero, and his arms are proposed as the reward of superior merit. The competitors are Ajax and Ulysses, who plead their cause before a singular tribunal of judges, an assembly of the Trojan captives. The award is given in favour of Ulysses. The disappointment of Ajax is converted into madness, and in this distemper of bis imagination, he assails the flocks of the Greeks, supposing that he is inflicting vengeance on his enemies, especially the Atridæ and Ulysses, and finally falls by his own hand.
It is observable, that Quintus on various occasions imitates, with a servile closeness, the remarkable incidents of the Iliad. As in the second book of that poem, Agamemnon, after the secession of Achilles, thinks it prudent to make an experiment of the disposition of the Greeks; so Menelaus is here represented as addressing the army with a feigned speech, exhorting them to desist from the calamitous and hopeless enterprise in which they were engaged. Calchas, who maintains the same office in Quintus as in Homer, exhorts the Greeks to seek the aid of Neoptolemus, the son of Achilles, and they send an embassy to Scyros for that purpose. In the mean time a third auxiliary, Eurypylus, a descendant of Hercules, arrives at Troy with an army of Mysians, and the fortune of war is turned against the Greeks, who (in conformity again with Homer) are driven to their ships, to which the victorious Trojans threaten to set fire. Ulysses and Diomede return from Scyros, bringing with them Neoptolemus to the Grecian camp. In the battle which ensues, Eurypylus is slain by Neoptolemus. Philoctetes, who had been abandoned in the island of Lemnos by the Greeks, is prevailed on by Diomede and Ulysses to join the camp, and his wound is healed by the sons of Æsculapius. Paris, being wounded by the arrows of Philoctetes, is destined by the fates to be saved only by the intervention of Enone, whom he had deserted. She refuses her aid, and the destination of the fates is fulfilled in his death. Enone, relenting too late, throws herself in despair upon his funeral pile, and is consumed. The Greeks make an assault upon the city, but are repelled by the valour of Æneas. Calchas and Ulysses suggest the stratagem of the wooden horse, which Minerva inspires, and assists Epens to construct. At this passage of the poem a combat of the gods intervenes, evidently imitated from Homer, and not deficient in spirit. The poet proceeds to relate the caparture of the Greeks for Tenedos, the fraud of Sinon, the fate of Laocoon, told somewhat differently from the description of the same event in Virgil, the joy of the
Trojans at their supposed deliverance, their fatal insecurity, and the devastation of the city. The shade of Achilles appears to his son, demanding the sacrifice of Polyxena, which is yielded to him. The captives are divided, and the fleet departs. On the return, Ajax, the Locrian, perishes by shipwreck, in a tempest raised by Minerva, in revenge for the violation of her terople.
It is not easy to ascertain with any considerable degree of accuracy the age of the poem, the chief incidents of which we have here briefly described.
The first indication of time may be derived from the style. The general character of the language does not resemble that of the pure and flourishing ages of Greek poetry. It has a scholastic air, which seems to refer it to the age of imitators; it is often loaded with useless epitheis, and interspersed with fragments of Homeric diction, not always aptly introduced; the sentiments and descriptions are usually trivial, the expression of them often pompous and inflated. Rhodomannus thinks that the language of Quintus bears a considerable resemblance to that of Coluthus, Tryphiodorus, Musæus, and Nonnus, a class of recent writers, who may be termed the grammatical poets; and who seem, in general, to have flourished about the fourth or fifth century after the christian era.
Some marks of time may also be deduced from allusions and descriptions which occur in the poem. That it was written after the Roman power had risen to a great height, is apparent from the prophecy put into the mouth of Calchas, which describes the future dominion of the posterity of Eneas, seated on the banks of the Tiber, and extending iheir empire to the utmost limits of the east and west.
A simile which describes the games of the circus, and the combats with beasts, peculiar to the customs of the Romans, affords another general ground of conjecture respecting the age of the poem. The term aucures, which is employed in this description, is that by which the Greeks were accustomed to denote the Roman emperors; and there can be little doubt, from this circumstance, that Quintus flourished under the imperial dominion.
To these evidences it may be added, that Quintus is quoted and menüoned only by authors of a late age, and rarely indeed by them. It is the opinion of M. Tychsen, that he probably flourished about the time of the Emperor Julian. Earlier than this, from his style, and the general analogy of the Greek literary history, he cannot well be placed.
The personal history of the author is involved in still greater obscurity than the period of time in which he flourished. The few grammarians by whom he is cited simply call him Quintus, which is also his appellation in the most ancient manuscripts, with
out the epithet of Calaber, added in the Aldine and subsequent editions, and by common usage attached to his name. For this title no better reason is given than that a manuscript of his work, till then unknown, was discovered by Cardinal Bessarion at Otranto, a town of Calabria. To this supposition the editors of the Journal des Sçavans hare objected, that Otranto is not situated in Calabria, but in Apulia. It is, however, by many geographers of reputation, assigned to the former province, and was, in fact, situated within its ancient limits.
The poet himself, in a single place, has left us a sufficiently clear intimation of his country. The passage is addressed to the muses.
εμείς γαρ πάσάν μοι ένι φρεοί και κατ' αοιδην,
As these words leave little doubt respecting the country of the poet, the appellation of Smyrnæus, expressive of the place of his birth or residence, has been of late more usually added to his name than the former, but erroneous, title of Calaber. The meaning of the passage has, however, been differently expounded by critics. Some learned men have constructed a fanciful hypo. thesis for the allegorical interpretation of it, and have imagined that, under the figure of a shepherd attending his flock, the poet meant to allude to his own profession, which they suppose to have been that of a grammarian, or instructor of youth. "Quid enim aliud," says Rhodomannus, the best of the commentators on Quintus, “per musarum hortum et oves, præter quam scholam, et discipulos in eâ doctrinæ et eloquentiæ studiis addictos intelligi existimemus ?” This notion, besides the utter uncertainty of all such allegorical hypotheses, appears to be sufficiently refuted by the age which the poet ascribes to himself while engaged in this pastoral occupation, and which seems scarcely consistent with that celebrity in his scholastic profession which the advocates of this interpretation suppose him to have attained. The passage is, therefore, to be literally understood; and it is possible, as Bayle conjectures, that the writer intended to allude to the poetical fiction of Hesiod, who represented himself as visited by the inspiration of the muses while feeding his sheep in llelicon. The sole conclusion of fact which can be deduced from it is, that the poet was a native, or an early resident, of Smyrna, or its vicinity.
We must, therefore, be content with the scanty information which time has spared, that there flourished at Smyrna in some recent, but not very certain age, a poet named Quintus, of whom
history has transmitted no other knowledge, and of whom the work before us seems to be the only remaining monument.
With respect to the merit of this poem, we have already intimated that our opinion of it is by no means so exalted as that of those critics who have represented it as little inferior to the immortal work of which it professes to be the continuation. In the invention of circumstances and arrangement of incidents, it is not entitled to any distinguished praise. There was probably, indeed, but little demand in this respect on the invention of the poet, his subject having been largely treated, in the same order, by preceding writers. No skill of epic arrangement has been practised by him, unless we may refer to this head a species of artifice, which, in imitation of Homer, he has adopted, of making the exploits of different heroes in succession the principal objects of his narrative, and thus concentrating and varying the interest. In the characters we find little of that strength and discrimination which distinguish those of the Iliad. A general poverty and triteness of sentiment and description pervade the work, very different from the richness, spirit, and originality of Homer. The similes are abundant; many of them are mean and coarse, although some appear not deficient either in propriety or invention. The chief merit of the poem appears to us to consist in the free and copious use which the writer possesses of the diction of Homer. He is styled, however, by Rhodomannus, Iliados continuator, Homeri similimus, and poeta longe præstantissimus; while another of his editors observes, adeo verbosus est Quintus, ut si otiosa et superfiua tollas, pars tertia fere operi decedet.