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The Iliad of Homer online

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PREFACE.

HOMER is universally allowed to have had the
greatest Invention of any writer whatever. The
praise of judgment Virgil has justly contested with
him, and others may have their pretentions as to
particular excellencies ; but his Invention remains
yet unrivalled. Nor is it a wonder if he has ever
been acknowledged the greatest of poets, who most
excelled in that which is the very foundation of
poetry. It is the Invention that in different degrees
distinguishes all great geniuses : the utmost stretch
of human study, learning, and industry, which
masters every thmg besides, can never attain to
this. It furnishes Art with all her materials, and
without it. Judgment itself can at best but steal
wisely : for Art is only like a prudent steward that
lives on managing the riches of Nature. Whatever
praises may be given to works of judgment, there is
not even a single beauty in them to which tlie In-
vention must not contribute : as in the most regular
gardens, Art can only reduce the beauties of Nature
to more regularity, and such a figure, wliich the
common eye may better take in, and is therefore
more entertained with. And perhaps the reason why
common critics are inclined to prefer a judicious and
methodical genius to a great and fruitful one, is, be-
cause they find it easier for themselves to pursue
their observations through an uniform and bounded
walk of Art, than to comprehend the vast and va-
rious extent of Nature.

Our author's work is a wild paradise, where if we
cannot see all tlie beauties so distinctly as in an
ordered garden, it is only because the number of
them is infinitely greater. It is like a copious nur-
sery, which contains the seeds and first productions
of e-^er/ kind, out of which those who followed hira
A



>i ^ PREFACE,

have biit selected some particular plants, each ac-
cording to his f;incy, to cultivate and beautify. If
some things are too luxuriant, it is owing to the
richness of the soil ; and if others are not arrived
to perfection or maturity, it is only because they
are over-run and oppressed by those of a stronger
nature.

It is to tlie strength of this amazing Invention we
are to attribute that unequalled fire and rapture,
which is so forcible in Homer, that no man of a
true pottical spirit is master of himself while he
reads him. What he writes, is of the most animated
nature imaginable; every thing moves, every thing
lives, and is put in action. If a council be called,
or a battle fought, you are not coldly informed of
wliat was said or done as from a third person ; the
reader is hurried out of himself by the force of the
Poet's imagination, and turns in one place to a
hearer, in another to a spectator. The course of his
verses resembles that of the army he describes,

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" They pour along like a fire that sweeps the whole
" earth before it." It is however remarkable that
his fancy, which is every where vigorous, is not dis-
covered immediately at the beginning of his poem
in its fullest splendor : it grows in the progress both
upon himself and others, and becomes on fire, like
a chariot-wheel, by its own rapidity. Exact dispo-
sition, just thought, correct elocution, polished num-
bers, may have been found in a thousand ; but this
poetic fire, this " xnvida vis auimi," in a very few.
Even in works where all those are imperfect or ne«
glected, this can overpower criticism, and make us
admire even while we disapprove. Nay, where this
appears, though attended with absurdities, itbrightens
all tlie rubbish about it, till we see nothing but its
own splendor. This Fire is discerned in Virgil, but
discerned as through a glass, reflected from Homer,



PREFACE. iU

more shining than fierce, but every where equal and
i constant : in Lucan and Statins, it bursts out in
sudden, short, and interrupted flashes : in Milton it
glows like a furnace kept up to an uncommon ardor
by the force of art: in Shakespeare, it strikes before
•we are aware, like an accidental fire from heaven :
but in Homer, and in him only, it burns every
where clearly, and every where irresistibly.

I shall here endeavour to shew, how this vast In-
vention exerts itself in a manner superior to that of
any poet, through all the main constituent parts of
his work, as it is the great and peculiar character-
istic which distinguishes him from all other authors.

This strong and ruling faculty was like a powerful
star, which, in the violence of its course, drew all
things within its vortex. It seemed not enough to
have taken in the whole circle of arts, and the
whole compass of nature, to supply his maxims and
reflections ; all the inward passions and affectioDS of
mankind, to furnish his characters ; and all the out-
ward forms and images of things for iiis description ;
but wanting yet an ampler sphere to expatiate in, he
opened a new and boundless walk for his imagina-
tion, and created a world for himself in the invention
of Fable. That which Aristotle calls " the Soul of
poetry," was first breathed into it by Homer. I
shall begin with considering him in this part, as it is
naturally the first, and I speak of it both as it means
the design of a poem, and as it is taken for fiction.

Fable may be divided into the Probable, the Alle-
gorical, and the Marvellous. The Probable Fable is
the recital of such actions as though they did not
happen, yet might, in the common course of nature :
or of such as, though the3' did, become fables by the
additional episodes and manner of telling them. Of
this sort is the main story of an Epic poem, the
Return of Ulysses, the Settlement of the Trojans in
Italy, or the like. That of the Iliad is the Anger of
Achilles, the most sliort and single subject that ever
was chosen by any Poet. Yet tliis he has supplied



iv PREFACE,

with a vaster variety of incidents and events, and
crowded with a greater number of councils, speeches,
battles, and episodes of all kinds, than are to be
found even in those poems whose schemes are of
the utmost latitude and irregularity. The action is
hurried on with the most vehement spirit, and its
whole duration emploj'S not so much as fifty days.
Virgil, for want of so warm a genius, aided himself
by taking in a more extensive subject, as well as a
greater length of time, and contracting the design of
both Homer's poems into one, wliich is yet but a
fourth part as large as his. The other Epic Poets
have used the same practice, but generally carried
it so far as to superinduce a multiplicity of fables,
destroy the unity of action, and lose their readers
in an unreasonable length of time. Kor is it only
in the main design that they have been unable to
add to his Invention, but they have followed him in
every episode and part of stoo*. If he has given a
regular Catalogue of an Army, they all draw up their
forces in the same order. If he has Funeral Games
for Patroclus, Virgil has the same for Anchises ; and
Statins (rather than omit them) destroj's the unity
of his actions for tliose of Archemoras. If Ulysses
visits the shades, the .ilneas of Virgil, and Scipio of
Silius, are sent after him. If he be detained from his
return by the allurements of Calypso, so is jEneas
by Dido, and Rinaldo by Armida. If Achilles be ab-
sent from the army on the score of a quarrel through
lialf the poem, Rinaldo must absent himself just as
long, on the like account. If he gives his hero a suit
of Celestial Armour, Virgil and Tasso make tlie same
present to theirs. Virgil has not only observed this
close imitation of Homer, but, where he had not led
the way, supplied the want from other Greek authors.
Thus the story of Sinon and tlie taking of Troy was
copied (says Macrobius) almost word for word from
Pisander, as the loves of Dido and iEneas are taken
from those of Medea and Jason in Apollinus, and
several others in the same manner.



PREFACE. V

To proceed to the Allegorical Fable: if we reflect
upon those innumerable knowledges, those secrets of
nature and physical pliilosophy, which Homer is
generally supposed to have wrapped up in his Alle-
gories, wliat anew and ample scene of wonder may
this consideration afl'ord gs ! bow fertile will that
imagination appear, which was able to clothe all the
properties of elements, the qualifications of the mind,
the virtues and vices, in forms and persons ; and to
introduce them into actions agreeable to the nature
of the things they shadowed ! This is a field in which
no succeeding poets could dispute with Homer; and
whatever commendations have been allowed them
on this liead, are by no means for tl:ieir invention in
having enlarged his circle, but for their judgment in
having contracted it. For when the mode of learn-
ing changed in following ages, and science was de-
livered in a plainer manner; it then became as rea-
sonable in the more modern poets to lay it aside, as
it was in Homer to make use of it. And perhaps it
was no unhappy circumstance for Virgil, that there
was not in his time that demand upon him of so
great an invention, as might be capable of furnishing
all those allegorical parts of a poem.

The Marvellous Fable includes whatever is super-
natural, and especially the machines of the Gods.
He seems the first who brought tliem into a system
of machinery for poetry, and such a one as meikes
its greatest importance and dignity. For we find
those authors who have been offended at the literal
notion of the Gods, constantli' laying their accusa-
tion against Homer as the chief support of it. But
whatever cause there might be to blame his machines
in a philosophical or religious view, they are so per-
fect in the poetic, that mankind have been ever since
contented to follow them : none have been able to
enlarge the sphere of poetry beyond the limits he
has set : every attempt of this nature has proved
ttasucces^ful i aud after all tbe various cbaoges ef



vi PREFACE.

times and religions, his Gods continue to thisrday
the Gods of poetry.

We come now to the Characters of his Persons;
and liere we shall find no author has ever drawn so
manj', with so visible and surprising a variety, or
given us such livelj- avi affecting impressions of
them. Everj' one has something- so singularly his
own, that no painter could have distinguished them
more by their features, than the poet has by their
manners. Nothing can be more exact than the dis-
tinctions he has observed in the different degrees of
virtues and vices. The single quality of courage is
■wonderfully diversified in the several characters of
the Iliad. That of Achilles is furious and intractable ;
tliat of Diomed forward, yet listening to advice
and subject to command : that of Ajax is heavy, and
self-confiding ; of Hector, active and valiant: the
courage of Agamemnon is inspired by love of em-
pire and ambition ; that of Menelaus mixed with
softness and tenderness for his people : wc find in
Idomeneus a plain direct soldier, in Sarpedon a
gallant and generous one. Nor is this judicious and
astonishing diversity to be found only in the princi-
pal quality which constitutes the main of each cha-
racter, but even in the under-parts of it, to which he
takes care to give a tincture of that principal one.
For example, the main characters of Ulysses and
Kestor consist in wisdom ; and they are distinct in
this, that the wisdom of one is artificial and various,
of the other natural, open, and regular. But they
have, besides, characters of courage ; and this quality
also takes a different turn in each from the difference
of his prudence : for one in the war depends still
upon caution, the other upon experience. It would
be endless to produce instances of these kinds. The
characters of Virgil are far from striking us in this
open manner ; thej' lie in a great degree hidden and
undistinguished, and where they are marked most
^N'idently, affect us not in proportion to those of



PREFACE. vii

Homer. His characters of valour are mucli alike ;
even that of Turnus seems no way peculiar but as it
is in a superior degree ; and we see nothing that
differences the courage of Menestheus from that of
Sergesthus, Cloantiius, or the rest. In like manner
it may be remarked of Statius's heroes, that an air of
impetuosity runs through them all ; the same horrid
and savage courage appears in his Capaneus, Tydeus,
Hippomedon, &c. They have a parity of cliaracter,
which makes them seem brothers of one family. I
believe when the reader is led into this track of re-
flection, if he will pursue it through the Epic and
Tragic writers, he will be convinced how infinitely
superior in this point the Invention of Homer was
to that of all others.

The speeches are to be considered as they flow
from the characters, being perfect or defective as
they agree or disagree with the manners of those
who utter them. As there is more variety of clia-
racters in the Iliad, so there is of speeches, than in
any other poem. Everj' thing in it has manners (as
Aristotle expresses it) that is, every thing is acted
or spoken. It is hardly credible in a work of such
length, how small a number of lines are employed
in narration. In Virgil the dramatic part is less in
proportion to the narrative ; and the speeches often
consist of general reflections or thoughts, which
might be equally just in any person's mouth upon
the same occasion. As many of his persons have no
apparent characters, so many of his speeches escape
being applied and judged by the rule of propriety.
We ofiener think of the author himself when we
read Virgil, than when we are engaged in Homer:
all which are the effects of a colder invention, that
interests us less in the action described : Homer
makes us hearers, and Virgil leaves us readers.

If in the next place we take a view of the senti-
ments, the same presiding faculty is eminent in the
sublimity and spirit of his thoughts. Longinus has
given his opinion, that it vras in this part Homer



vui PREFACE,

principally excelled. What were alone sufficient to
prove the grandeur and excellence of his sentiments
in general, is, that they have so remarkable a parity
with those of the scripture: Duport in his Gnomo-
logia Homerica, has collected innumerable instances
of this sort. And it is with justice an excellent
modern writer allows, that if Virgil has not so many
thoughts that are low and vulgar, he has not so
many that are sublime and noble ; and that the
Roman author seldom rises into very astonishing
sentiments, where he is not fired by the Iliad.

If we observe his descriptions, images, and similes,
we shall find tlie Invention still predominant. To
what else can we ascribe that vast comprehension of
images of every sort, where we see each circum-
stance of art, and individual of nature summoned
together, by the extent and fecundity of his ima-
gmation ; to which all things, iu their various Niews,
presented thenisel-ves in an instant, and had their
impressions taken off to perfection, at a heat? Nay,
he not only gives us the full prospects of things,
but several unexpected peculiarities and side-views,
unobserved by any painter but Homer. Nothing is
so surprising as the descriptions of his battles, which
take up no less than half the Iliad, and are supplied
•with so vast a variety of incidents, that no one bears
a likeness to another; such different kinds of deaths,
that no two heroes are wounded in tlie same man-
ner ; and such a profusion of noble ideas, that every
battle rises above the last in greatness, horror, and
confusion. It is certain there is not near that
number of images and descriptions in any Epic
Poet ; though every one has assisted himself with
a great quantity out of him : and it is evident of
Virgil especially, and he has scarce any comparisons
which are not drawn from his master.

If we descend from hence to the expression, we
see the bright imagination of Homer shining out in
the most enlivened forms of it. We acknowledge
liira the father of poetical diction, the first vrho



PREFACE. ix

taught that language of the Gods to men. His ex-
pression is like the colouriug of some great masters,
which discovers itself to be laid on boldly, and
1 executed Avith rapidity. It is indeed the strongest
and most glowing imaginable, and touched with the
greatest spirit. Aristotle had reason to say, He was
the onb' poet who had found out living words : there
are in him more daring figures and metaphors than
in any good autlior whatever. An arrow is impatient
to be on the wing, and a weapon thirsts to drink
the blood of an enemy, and the like. Yet his ex-
pression is never too big for the sense, but justly
great in proportion to it. It is the sentiment that^
swells and fills out the diction, which rises with it,
and forms itself about it: for in tlie same degree
that a thought is warmer, an expression will be
brighter ; as that is more strong, this will become
more perspicuous : like glass in the furnace, which
grows to a greater njagnitude and refines to a greater
clearness, only as the breath within is more power-
ful, and the heat more intense.

To throw his language more out of prose, Homer
seems to have affected the compound epithets.
This was a sort of composition peculiarly proper
to poetry, not only as it heightened the diction,
but as it assisted and filled the numbers with
greater sound and pomp, and likewise conduced in
some measure to thicken the images. On this last
consideration I cannot but attribute these also to
the fruitfulness of his Invention, since (as he has
managed themj they are a sort of supernumerary
pictures of the persons or things to which they are
joined. We see the motion of Hector's plumes in
the epithet xopwSa/oAof, the landscape of mount
■Neritus in that of £»voir»



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