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ginus preferred the Iliad : and because the Odyssey was less active and lofty, he judged it the work of the old age
of Homer. If this opinion be true, it will only prove, that Homer's
age might determine him in the choice of his subject, not that it affected him in the execution of it: and that which would be a very wrong instance to prove the decay of his imagination, is a very good one to evince the strength of his judgment. For had he (as Madam Dacier observes) composed the Odyssey in his youth, and the Iliad in his age, both must in reason have been exactly the same as they now stand. To blame Homer for his choice of such a subject, as did not admit the same incidents and the same pomp of style as his former ; is to take offence at too much variety, and to imagine, that when a man has written one good thing, he must ever after only copy himself.
The Battle of Constantine, and the School of Athens, are both pieces of Raphael : fhall we censure the School of Athens as faulty, because it has not the fury and fire of the other? or shall we say, that Raphael was grown grave and old, because he chose to represent the manners of old men and philosophers? There is all the filence, tranquillity, and composure in the one, and all the warmth, hurry, and tumult in the pther, which the subject of either required : both of them had been imperfect, if they had not been as they are. And let the painter or poet be young or old, who designs and performs in this manner,
him to have made the piece at a time of life when he was master not only of his art, but of his dif. cretion.
Aristotle makes no such distinction between the two Poems: he constantly cites them with equal praise, and draws the rules and examples of Epic writing equally from both. But it is rather to the Odyssey that Horace gives the preference, in the Epistle to Lellius, and in the Art of Poetry. It is remarkable how opposite his opinion is to that of Longinus ; and that the particulars he chooses to extol, are those very fictions and pictures of the manners which the other seems least to approve. Those fables and manners are the very essence of the work : but even without that regard, the fables themselves have both more invention and more instruction, and the manners more moral and example, than those of the Iliad.
In some points (and those the most effential to the Epic Poem) the Odyssey is confessed to excel the Iliad ; and principally in the great end of it, the moral. The condud, turn and disposition of the fable is also what the critics allow to be the better model for Epic writers to follow : accordingly we find much more of the cast of this Poem than of the other in the Æneid, and (what next to that is perhaps the greatest example) in the Telemachus. In the manners, it is no way inferior: Longinus is so far from finding any defeat in these, that he rather taxes Hom:
mer with painting them too minutely. As to the narrations, although they are more numerous as the occasions are more frequent, yet they carry no more the marks of old age, and are neither more prolix nor more circumstantial, than the conversations and dialogues of the Iliad. Not to mention the length of those of Phænix in the ninth book, and of Nestor in the eleventh, (which may be thought in compliance to their characters,) those of Glaucus in the sixth, of Æneas in the twentieth, and some others, must be allowed to exceed any in the whole Odyssey. And that the propriety of style, and the numbers, in the narrations of each are equal, will appear to any who
To form a right judgment, whether the genius of Homer had suffered any decay; we must consider, in both his Poems, such parts as are of a similar nature, and will bear comparison. And it is certain we shall find in each, the fame vivacity and fecundity of invention, the fame life and strength of imaging and colouring, the particular descriptions as highly painted, the figures as bold, the metaphors as animated, and the numbers as harmonious and as various.
The Odyssey is a perpetual source of Poetry: the stream is not the less full, for being gentle; though it is true (when we speak only with regard to the sublime) that a river foaming and thundering in cataracts from rocks and precipices, is what more strikes, amazes, and fills the mind, than the fame body of GG 3
water, flowing afterwards through peaceful vales and agreeable scenes of pasturage.
The Odyssey (as I have before faid) ought to be considered according to its own nature and design, not with an eye to the Iliad. To censure Homer because it is unlike what it was never meant to resemble, is, as if a gardener who had purposely cultivated two beautiful trees of contrary natures, as a specimen of his skill in the several kinds, should be blamed for not bringing them into pairs ; when in root, ftem, leaf, and flower, each was fo entirely different, that one must have been spoiled in the endeavour to match the other.
Longinus, who saw this Poem was “ partly of the
nature of Comedy,” ought not for that very reason to have considered it with a view to the Iliad. How little any
such resemblance was the intention of Homer, may appear from hence, that although the character of Ulysses there was already drawn, yet here he purposely turns to another side of it, and shows him not in that full light of glory but in the shade of common life, with a mixture of such qualities as are requisite to all the lowest accidents of it, struggling with misfortunes, and on a level with the meanest of mankind. As for the other persons, none of them are above what we call the higher Comedy; Calypso, though a Goddess, is a character of intrigue; the suitors yet more approaching to it; the Phæacians are of the fame cast; the Cyclops, Malanthius, and
Irus, descend even to droll characters; and the scenes that appear throughout, are generally of the comic kind; banquets, revels, sports, loves, and the pursuit of a woman.
From the nature of the Poem, we shall form an idea of the style. The diction is to follow the images, and to take its colour from the complexion of the thoughts. Accordingly the Odyssey is not always cloathed in the majesty of verse proper to tragedy, but sometimes descends into the plainer narrative, and sometimes even to that familiar dialogue essential to comedy. However, where it cannot support a sublimity, it always preserves a dignity, or at least a propriety.
There is a real beauty in an easy, pure, perspicuous description even of a low action. There are numerous instances of this both in Homer and Virgil ; and perhaps those natural passages are not the least pleaf. ing of their works. It is often the fame in history, where the representations of common, or even do. mestic things, in clear, plain, and natural words, are frequently found to make the liveliest impression on the reader.
The question is, how far a Poet, in pursuing the description or image of an action, can attach himself to little circumstances, without vulgarity or trifling? what particulars are proper, and enliven the image ; or what are impertinent, and clog it? In this matter