Alexander Pope.

The works of Alexander Pope Esq. : In nine volumes, complete. With his last corrections, additions, and improvements; as they were delivered to the editor, a little before his death. Together with the commentary and notes of Mr. Warburton (Volume 6) online

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Online LibraryAlexander PopeThe works of Alexander Pope Esq. : In nine volumes, complete. With his last corrections, additions, and improvements; as they were delivered to the editor, a little before his death. Together with the commentary and notes of Mr. Warburton (Volume 6) → online text (page 18 of 20)
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H O M E R'S I L I A D. 313

for his manner of heaping a number of compari-
fons together in one breath, when his fancy fug.
gdtcd to him at once fo many various and corref-
pondent images. The reader will eafily extend
this obfervation to more obje&ions of the fame

If there are others which feem rather to charge
him with a defect or narrownefs of genius, than
an excefs of it ; thofe feeming defects will be found
upon examination to proceed wholly from the na-
ture of the times he lived in. Such are his grof-
ftr rtprcfentations of the GWj, and the vicious and
intycrfefl manners of his Herots^ which will be
treated of in the following* Effay : But I muft here
Jjpeak a word of the latter, as it is a point general-
ly carried unto extremes, both by the cenfurers
and defenders of Homer. It muft be a llrange
partiality to antiquity, to think with Madam i )..-
cier, " that f thofe times and manners are fo much
" the more excellent, as they are more contraty
*' to ours." Who can be fo prejudiced in their fa-
vour as to magnify the felicity of thofe ages, when
a fpirit of revenge and cruelty, joined with the
practice of rapine and robbery, reign'd thro' the
world ; when no mercy was mown but for the
fake of lucre, when the greateft Princes were put
to the fword, and their wives and daughters made
flaves and concubines ? On the other fide, I would
not be fo delicate as thofe modern critics, who
are fhock'd at thcfervUe offices and mean employ-
ments in which we fometinics fee theli :
Homer engaged. There is a plrafure in la 1 .
view of that (implicity in opnofition to the luxury
of Cue*, ceding ages, in beholding Monarchs with-
out their guards, Princes tending their flocks, and

* See the Articles of Theology and Morality, in the

| V. J .1, : to her Homer.



Princefics drawing water from the fprings. When
we read Homer, we ought to reflect that we ar
reading the moft ancient author in the heathen
world ; and thofe who confider him in this light,
will double their plcafure in the perufal of him.
Let them think they are growing acquainted with
nations and people that are now no more ; that
they are ftepping almoft three thoufand years back
into the remoteft Antiquity, and entertaining
themfelves with a clear and furprifing vifion of
tilings no where elfe to be found, the only true
jnirrour of that ancient world. By this means alone
their greateft obftacles will vanim ; and what ufu-
ally creates their diflike, will become a fatisfaction.
This confideration may further ferve to anfwer
for the conftant ufe of the fame epithets to his Gods
and Heroes, fuch as the far-darting Phoebus, the
llue-eyd Pallas, the fwlft-footed Achilles, etc.
which fome have cenfured as impertinent and te-
dioufly repeated. Thofc of the Gods depended
upon the powers and offices then believ'd to be-
long to them, and had contracted a weight and
veneration from the rites and folemn devotions in
which they were ufed : they were a fort of attri-
butes with which it was a matter of religion to fa-
lute them on all occafions, and which it was an
irreverence to omit. As for the epithets of great
men, Monf. Boileau is of opinion, that they were
in the nature of Surnames, and repeated as fuch ;
for the Greeks having no names derived from their
fathers, were obliged to add fome other diftinc-
tion of each perfon ; either naming his parents
exprefly, or his place of birth, profefiion, or the
like: As Alexander the fon of Philip, Herodotus
pf Halicarnaflus, Diogenes the Cynic, etc. Ho-
picr therefore complying with the cuftom of his
country, ufed fuch diftin&ive additions as better
Agreed with poetry, And indeed we have fome-

H O M E R'S I L I A D. 315

thing parallel to thefc in modern times, fuch as the
names or Harold Harefoot, Edmund Ironfide, Ed-
ward Long-fhanks, Edward the black Prince, etc.
If yet this be thought to account better for the pro-
priety than for the repetition, I fliall add a further
conjecture. Hefiod, dividing the world into its
different ages, has placed a fourth age between the
brazen and the iron one, of Heroes diflintt from
other men, a divine race, who fought at Thebes and
Troy, are called Demi-Gods, and live by the can
of jupiter in the i/Iands of the blcjfcd *. Now
among the divine honours which were paid them,
they might have this alfo in common with the
Gods, not to be mentioned without the folemnity
of an epithet, and fuch as might be acceptable to
them by its celebrating their families, actions, or

What other cavils have been raifed againft Ho-
mer, are fuch as hardly deferve a reply, but will
yet be taken notice of as they occur in the courfc
of the work. Many have been occafioned by an
injudicious endeavour to exalt Virgil ; which is
much the fame, as if one ftiould think to raife the
fupcrftructure by undermining the foundation :
One would imagine by the whole courfe of their
parallels, that thefe Criticks never fo much as
heard of Homer's having written firft ; a confide-
ration which whoever compares thefe two Poets,
ought to have always in his eye. Some accufe him
for the fame things which they overlook or praifc
in the other ; as when they prefer the fable and
moral of the JEncis to thofe of the Iliad, for the
fame reafons which might fet the Odyflcy above
the ./Eneis : as that the Hero is a wifer man ; and
hte adtion of the one more beneficial to his coun-
try than that of the other : Orelfe they blame him

Hcflod, Op. ct Dicr. lib. i. v. 155, etc.



for not doing what he never defigned ; as becaufe
Achilles is not as good and perfect a prince as
^Eneas, when the very moral of his poem requir-
ed a contrary character : It is thus that Rapin
judges in his comparifon of Homer and Virgil.
Others felecl thofe particular pafTages of Homer,
which are not fo laboured as fome that Virgil drew
out of them : This is the whole management of
Scaliger in his Poetice. Others quarrel with what
they take for low and mean expreflions, fometimes
thro' a falfe delicacy and refinement, oftner from
an ignorance of the graces of the original ; and
then triumph in the aukwardnefs of their own
tranilations : This is the conduct of Pcrault in his
Parallels. Laftly, there are others, who, pretend-
ing to a fairer proceeding, diftinguifh between the
perfonal merit of Homer, and that of his work \
but when they come to aflign the caufes of the
great reputation of the Iliad, they found it upon
the ignorance of his times, and the prejudice of
thofe that followed : And in purfuance of this prin-
ciple, they make thofe accidents (fuch as the con-
tention of the cities, etc.) to be the caufes of his
fame, which were in reality the confequences of
his meiit. The fame might as well be faid of Vir-
gil, or any great author, whofe general character
will infallibly raile many cafual additions to their
reputation. This is the method of JMonf. de la
Motte j who yet confeiles upon the whole, that in
whatever age Homer had lived, he mufl have been
the greateltpoet of his nation, and that he maybe
faid in this fenfe to be the mailer even of thole
who furpafs'd him.

In all thcfc objections we fee nothing that con-
twdicls his title to the honour of the chief Inven-
tion ; and as long as thi* (which is indeed the cha-
ra&errftic of Poetry itftlf) remains uncqual'd by
his followers, he liili continues fupcrior to them.


H O M E R'S ILIAD. 317

A cooler judgment may commit fewer faults, and
be more approved in the eyes of 'one fort of Criticks j
but that warmth of fancy will carry the loudeit
and moft univcrfal applaufes, which holds the
heart of a reader under the ftrongeft enchantment.
Homer not only appears the Inventor of poetry,
but excclJs all the inventors of other arts in this,
that he has fwallow'd up the honour of thofe who
fuccecded him. What he has done admitted no
increafe, it only left room for contraction or regu-
lation. He mewed all the ftretch of fancy at once ;
and if he has failed in feme of his flights, it was
but becaufe he attempted every thing. A work of
this kind Teems like a mighty Tree which rifes
from the moft vigorous feed, is improved with in-
duftry, flourishes, and produces the fineft fruit ;
nature and art confpire to raife it ; pleafure and
profit join to make it valuable : and they who find
the jufteft faults, have only faid, that a few branches
(which run luxuriant thro' a richnefs of nature)
might be lopp'd into form to give it a more regu-
lar appearance.

Having now fpoken of the beauties and defecls
of the orginal, it remains to treat of the tranfla-
tion, with the fame view to the chief characlerif-
tic. As far as that is feen in the main parts of the
Poem, fuch as the fable, manners, and icntiments,
no tranflator can prejudice it but by wilful omif-
fions or contractions. As it alfo breaks out in
every particular image, defcription, and fimile ;
whoever IcfTcns or too muchfoftens thofe, takes oft"
from this chief character. It is the firft grand duty
of an interpreter to give his author entire and un-
maim'd ; and for the reft, the diction and verfifi-
cation only are his proper province ; fmce thefe
muft be his own, but the others he is to take as
he find., them.



It fhould then be confider'd what methods may
afford fome equivalent in our language for the
graces of thefe in the Greek. It is certain no lite-
ral tranflation can be juft to an excellent original
in a fupeiior language : but it is a great miftake to
imagine (as many have done) that a rafh para-
ph rafe can make amends for this general defect ;
which is no lefs in danger to lofe the fpirit of an
ancient, by deviating into the modern manners of
expreflion. If there be fometimes a darknefs, there
is often a light in antiquity, which nothing better
preferves than a verfion almoft literal. I know
no liberties one ought to take, but thofe which
are neceflary for transfufmg the fpirit of the origi-
nal, and fupporting the poetical ftyle of the tranfla-
tion : And I will venture to fay, there have not been
more men mifled in former times by a fervile dull
adherence, to the letter, than have been deluded in
ours by a chimerical infolent hope of raifmg and
improving their author. It is not to be doubted
that the fire of the poem is what a tranflator mould
principally regard, as it is moll likely to expire in
Lis managing : However, it is his fafeft way to be
content with preferving this to his utmoft in the
\vhole, without endeavouring to be more than he
finds his author is, in any particular place. 'Tis a
great fecret in writing to know when to be plain,
and when poetical and figurative ; and it is what
Homer will teach us, if we will but follow mo-
deftly in his footfteps. Where his diciion is bold
and lofty, let us raile ours as high as we can ; but
where his is plain and humble, we ought not to
be deterr'd from imitating him by the fear of in-
curring the cenfure of a mere Englifh Critick.
Nothing that belongs to Homer feems to have been
more commonly miilaken than the juft pitch of
Jc : Some of his translators having fwelled
into fufhan in a proud confidence of \.\\c fublitne j
j others

H O M E R'S ILIAD. 319

ethers funk into flatnefs in a cold and timorous
notion of fimplicity. Methinks I fee thefe different
followers of Homer, fome fweating and (training
after him by violent leaps and bounds (the certain
ftgns of falfe mettle) others flowly and fervilelv
creeping in his train, while the Poet himfclf is all
the time proceeding with an unaffccled and equal
majefty before them. However, of the two ex-
treams one could fooner pardon frenfy than frigi-
dity : No author is to be envied for fuch commen-
dations as he may gain by that character of ftyle,
which his friends muft agree together to callyf/w-
plicity y and the reft of the world will call dulnefs.
There is a graceful and dignify 'd fimplicity, as well
as a bald and fordid one, which differ as much
from each other as the air of a plain man from that
of a flovcn : 'Tis one thing to be tricked up, and
another not to be drefled at all. Simplicity is the
mean between oftentation and rufticity.

This pure and noble fimplicity is no where in
fuch perfection as in the Scripture and our Author.
One may affirm, with all refpecl: to the infpired
writings, that the divine Spirit made ufe of no
other words but what were intelligible and com-
mon to men at that time, and in that part of the
world ; and as Homer is the author neareft to
thofe, his ftyle muft of courfe bear a greater rc-
femblance to the facred books than that of any
other writer. This confideration (together with
what has been obferved of the parity of fome of his
thoughts) may methinks induce a tranflator on the
one hand, to give into feveral of thofe general
phrales and manners of expreflion, which have at-
tain'd a veneration even in our language from be-
ing ufed in the Old Teftament ; as on the other,
to avoid thofe which have been appropriated to the
Divinity, and in a manner conlign'd to myftery
and religion.



For a further .prefervati on of this air of llmpli-
city, a particular care fhould be taken to exprefs
with all plainnefs thofe moral fentences and pr
bial fpetihes which are fo numerous in this Poet.
They have fomething venerable, and as I may fay
oracular, in that unadorn'd gravity and ihortnefs
with which they are delivered : a grace which
would be utterly loft by endeavouring to give them
what we call a more ingenious (that is, a more
modern) turn in the paraphrafe.

Perhaps the mixture of fome Grecifms and old
words after the manner of Milton, if done without
too much affectation, might not have an ill effect
ina verfionof this particular work, which moft of
any other fcems to require a venerable antique caft.
But certainly the ufe of modern terms of war and
government, fuch as platoon^ campagne, junti, or
the like (into which fomc of his tranflators have
fallen) cannot be allowable ; thofe only exceptcd,
without which it is impoflible to treat the fubjecls
in any living language.

There are two peculiarities in Homer's dicYion
which arc ;i fort of marks or moles by which evcrv
common eye diftinguifhes him at firft fight : Thofe
who arc not his greateft admirers look upon them
:ii defects ; and thofe who are, fecm pleafed with
them as beauties. I fpeak of his compound epithets,
and of his repetitions. Many of the former can-
jiot be done literally into Englifh without deftroy-
un. the purity of our language. I believe fucii
Should be retained as flide eafily of themfelves into
an Englifh compound, without violence to the ear
or to the received rules of compofition ; as well as
thole which have received a fanclion from the au-
thority of our bcft Poets, and are become fami-
liar thro' their ufe of them ; fuch as the cloud-com-
pelling Jove, etc. As for the reft, whenever any
can be as fully and fignificantly exprcit in a

H O M E R'S I L I A D. 321

Word as in a compounded one, the courfe to b
taken is obvious.

Some that cannot be fo turned as to preferve
their full image by one or two words, may have
juftice done them by circumlocution ; as the epi-
thet i.Vxr.piAA-a. to a mountain, would appear lit-
tle or ridiculous tranflated literally leaf-jhaking^ but
affords a majeftic idea in the periphra/ii : The lofty
mountain frames his waving woods. Others that ad-
mit of differing fignifications, may receive an ad-
vantage by a judicious variation, according to the
occafions on which they are introduced. For ex-
ample, the epithet of Apollo, J*y,CiX^, or far-
Jhooting^ is capable of two explications ; one lite-
ral in reipect of the darts and bow, the enfign of
that God ; the other allegorical with regard to the
rays of the fun : Therefore in fuch places where
Apollo is reprefented as a God in perfon, I would
ufe the former interpretation ; and where the ef-
fecls of the fun are defcribed, I would make choice
of the latter. Upon the whole, it will be necef-
fary to avoid that perpetual repetition of the fame
epithets which we find in Homer, and which, tho*
it might be accommodated (as has been already
(hewn) to the ear of thofe times, is by no means
fo to ours : But one may wait for opportunities of
placing them, where they derive an additional
beauty from the occafions on which they are em-
ploy'd j and in doing this properly, a translator
may at once mew his fancy and his judgment.

As for Homer's Repetitions, we may divide them
into three forts ; of whole narrations and fpecches,
of fingle fcntences, and of one verfe or hemiftich.
I hope it is not impoftible to have fuch a regard to
thefe, as neither to lofe fo known a mark of the
author on the one hand, nor to offend the rAder
too much on the other. Th repetition is not un-

Voi. VI. Y graceful


graceful in thofe fpeeches where the dignity of the
Ipeaker renders it a fort of infolence to alter his
words ; as in the meflages from Gods to men, or
from higher powers to inferiors in concerns of
ftate, or where the ceremonial of religion feems to
require it, in the folemn forms of prayers, oaths,
or the like. In other cafes, I believe the beft rule
is to be guided by the nearnefs, or diftance, at
which the repetitions are placed in the original :
When they follow too clofe, one may vary the ex-
preflion, but it is a queftion whether a profefTed
tranflator be authorized to omit any : If they be te-
dious, the author is to anfwer for it.

It only remains to fpeak of the Verification.
Homer (as has been faid) is perpetually applying
the found to the fenfe, and varying it on every
new fubjecl:. This is indeed one of the moft ex-
quifite beauties of poetry, and attainable by very
few : I know only of Homer eminent for it in the
Greek, and Virgil in Latin. I am fenfible it is
what may fometimes happen by chance, when a
writer is warm, and fully pofleft of his image :
however it may be reafonably believed they defign-
ed this, in whofe verfe it fo manifeftly appears in
a fuperior degree to all others. Few readers have
the ear to be judges of it ; but thofe whe have,
will fee I have endeavour'd at this beauty.

Upon the whole, I muft confefs myfelf utterly
incapable of doing juftice to Homer. I attempt
him in no other hope but that which one may en-
tertain without much vanity, of giving a more to-
lerable copy of him than any entire tranflation in
verfe has yet done. We have only thofe of Chap-
man, Hobbes, and Ogilby. Chapman has taken
the advantage of an immeafurable length of verfe,
notwithstanding which, there is fcarce any para-
phrafe more loofe and rambling than his. He has


H O M E R'S I L I A D. 323

frequent interpolations of four or fix lines, an .! J
remember oe in the thirteenth book of the
Odyfley, v. 312. where he has fpun twenty verfes
out of two. He is often miftaken in Ib bold a
manner, that one might think he deviated on pur-
pofe, if he did not in other places of his notes in*
fift fo much upon verbal trifles. He appears to
have had a ftrong affectation of extracting new
meanings out of his author, infomuch as to pro-
mile in his rhyming preface, a poem of the myf-
teries he had revealed in Homer : and perhaps he
endeavoured to ftrain the obvious fenfe to this end.
His expreflion is involved in fuftian, a fault for
which he was remarkable in his original writings,
as in the tragedy of Bufly d'Amboife, etc. In a
word, the nature of the man may account for his
whole performance ; for he appears from his pre-
face and remarks to have been of an arrogant-turn,
and an enthufiaft in poetry. His own boaft of
having finimed half the Iliad in lefs than fifteen
weeks, (hews with what negligence his verfion was
performed. But that which is to be allowed him,
and which very much contributed to cover his de-
fects, is a daring fiery fpirit that animates his tranf-
latign, which is fomething like what one might
imagine Homer himfelf would have writ before he
arrived at years of difcretion.

Hobbes has given us a correct explanation of the
fenfe in general, but for particulars and circum-
ftances he continually lops them, and often omits
the moft beautiful. As for its being eftccmed a
clofe tranflation, I doubt not many have been led
into that error by the fhortnefs of it, which pro-
ceeds not from his following the original line by
line, but from the contractions above-mentioned.
He fometimcs omits whole fimiles and fentences,
and is now arid then guilty of miftakes, into which
no writer of his learning could have fallen, but*
Y i cart-


careleflhefs. His poetry, as well as Ogilby's, is
too mean for criticifm.

It is a great lofs to the poetical world that Mr.
Pryden did not live to translate the Iliad. He has
left us only the firft book, and a fmall part of the
fixthj in which if he has in fome places not truly
interpreted the fenfe, or preferred the antiquities,
it ought to be excufcd on account of the hafte he
was obliged to write in. He fecms to have had
too much regard to Chapman, whofe words he
fometimes copies, and has unhappily followed him
in paflages where he wanders from the original.
However, had he translated the whole work, I
would no more have attempted Homer after him
than Virgil, his verfion of whom (notwithftaml-
ing fome human errors) is the moft noble and fpi-
rited translation I know in any language. But the
fate of great genius's is like that of great minifters,
tho' they arc confefledly the firft in the common-
wealth of letters, they muft be envy'd and calum-
niated only for being at the head of it.

That which in my opinion ought to be the en-
deavour of any one who translates Homer, is above
all things to keep alive that fpirit and fire which
makes his chief character : In particular places,
where the fenfe can bear any doubt, to follow the
ftrongeft and moft poetical, as moft agreeing with
that character ; to copy him in all the variations
of his ftyle, and the different modulations of his
numbers ; to preferve, in the more active or de-
fcriptive parts, a warmth and elevation ; in the more
fedate or narrative, a plainnefs and folemnity ; in
the fpeeches, a fullnefs and perfpicuity ; in the fen-
tences, a fhortnefs and gravity : Not to neglect
even the little figures and turns on the words, nor
fometimes the very call of the periods ; neither to
omit nor confound any rites or cuftoins of anti-
quity :

H O M R'S ILIAD. 325

<quity : Perhaps too he ought to include the whole
in a morter compafs, than has hitherto been done
by any translator, who has tolerably preferved ei-
ther the fenfe or poetry. What I would further
recommend to him, is to ftudy his author rather
from his own text, than from any commentaries,
how learned foever, or whatever figure they may
make in the eftimation of the world ; to confider
him attentively in comparifon with Virgil above all
the ancients, and with Milton above all the mo-
derns. Next thefe, the Archbifhop of Cambray's
Telemachus may give him the trueft idea of the
fpirit and turn of our author, and Boflu's admira-
ble treatife of the Epic poem the juftcft notion of
his defign and conduct. But after all, with what-
ever judgment and ftudy a man may proceed, or
with whatever happinefs he may perform fuch a
work, he muft hope to pleafe but a few ; thofe
only who have at once a tafte of poetry, and com-
petent learning. For to fatisfy fuch as want either,
is not in the nature of this undertaking ; fince a
mere modern wit can like nothing that is not mo-
dern, and a pedant nothing that is not Greek.

What I have done is Submitted to the publiclc,
from whofe opinions I am prepared to learn ; tho*
I fear no judges fo little as our beft poets, who are
moft fenfible of the weight of this taflc. As for
the worft, whatever they fhall pleafe to fay, they
may give me fome concern as they are unhappy
men, but none as they are malignant writers. I
was guided in this tranflation by judgments very
different from theirs, and by perfons for whom
they can have no kindnefs, if an old obfervation
be true, that the ftrongeft antipathy in the world
is that of fools to men of wit, Mr. Addifon was
the fuft whofe advice determined me to undertake
ibis tartc, who was pleafed to write to me upon
Y 3 that


that occafion in fuch terms, as I cannot repeat

without vanity. I was obliged to Sir Richard

Steele for a very early recommendation of my un-

dertaking to the publick. Dr. Swift promoted my

intereft with that warmth with which he always

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Online LibraryAlexander PopeThe works of Alexander Pope Esq. : In nine volumes, complete. With his last corrections, additions, and improvements; as they were delivered to the editor, a little before his death. Together with the commentary and notes of Mr. Warburton (Volume 6) → online text (page 18 of 20)