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COMMENTARIES ON, AND ILLUSTRATIONS OF, THE ENEIS OF VIRGIL.—(Continued.)
By JAMES HENRY, M.D.,
PART III.-CoMPREHENDING THE FIRST 250 LINES OF BOOK II.
W. 3. Infandum regina jubes renovare dolorem, &c.—Dante's charming lines, L
“Nessun maggior dolore,
Inferno, v. 121–
are a translation of, and, if I may venture so to say, an improvement on, the introductory verses of the Second Book of the Eneis. The poet, who imagines himself visiting the infernal regions in the company, and under the guidance, of the shade of Virgil, meets Francesca di Rimini, and inquires of her in terms parallel to Dido's inquiry of Eneas, (I. 753,)—
“Ma dimmi; al tempo de' dolci sospiri,
To which she replies in the above-quoted lines, “Nessun maggior dolore, . . . . . . . E cio sa ‘l tuo dottore;” ‘l tuo dottore, viz. Virgil, who was standing by at the very moment in the capacity of Dante's guide and instructor, and who knew well how great a pain it is to remember in affliction times of past prosperity, having himself so pathetically expressed that sentiment in his famous commencement of the Second Book of the Eneis, “Infandum regina jubes,” &c. Francesca then proceeds, almost in the identical terms of Eneas's reply to Dido,
“Mas' a conoscer la prima radice
I will do as Eneas did, and weeping tell you the whole story:
It seems unaccountable that the plain reference to Virgil's shade in the words “e cio sa ‘l tuo dottore,” (see no less than two applications of the term dottore to Virgil in the 21st Canto of the Purgatory; and compare the exactly corresponding reference to Cato in the exactly corresponding words, “Come sa chi per lei vita rifiuta,”—Il Purgat. I. 72), and to the Virgilian “Infandum regina jubes,” &c., in “Nessun maggior dolore,” should not have been perceived by Dante's commentators; two of the best of whom (Venturi and Biagioli) understand “’l tuo dottore” to mean Boëtius, and “Nessun maggior dolore,” &c., to be a versification of a sentiment which they have found in that philosopher's treatise, De Consolatione Philosophiae ; whilst a third, (Lombardi,) although correctly referring “’l suo dottore” to Virgil's shade, spoils the whole passage by assigning as the reason of Francesca's special appeal to Virgil's shade, to confirm the truth of the sentiment, “Nessun maggior dolore,” &c., that Virgil's shade being, as well as herself, an inhabitant of the infernal regions, had had like experience with herself of the truth of that sentiment; “Trovandosi anch' egli (viz. Virgilio) nella miseria dell’ infernale carcere.” Beautiful indeed must those lines be, which, even thus distorted and shorn of half their fine sense and excellence, have yet always been, and still are, quoted as the most beautiful of all the lines of that most beautiful of all the stories in the wonderful work of Virgil's greatest imitator and admirer.
W. 3." Infandum . . . . dolorem.—The translators (with the exception of Dryden and Sir J. Denham, who never even so much as attempt the true meaning of any of Virgil's words), agree in rendering infandus, ineffable, that cannot be told: “untellyble” (Douglas); “cannot be told” (Surrey); “past utterance severe” (Beresford); “unausprechlichen” (Voss). So also Forbiger, in his note on the passage; “Qui tantus est ut verbis exprimi non possit.” A very slight observation, however, of Virgil's use of the word in other places, as for instance, En. I. 251; II. 132; Iv. 85 and 613, is sufficient to show that its meaning is not ineffable or that cannot be told, but primarily (and according to the proper force of the participle in dus), that should not, must not be told, and therefore, secondarily, horrible. So Richardson, in his excellent dictionary, “Infandous [Lat. Infandus], That ought not to be spoken; too dreadful to be spoken.” And such is Howell's use of the word (quoted by Richardson). “This infandous custom of swearing, I observe, reigns in England lately, more than any where else.” The wide difference between infandous and ineffable will be manifest on the substitution of ineffable for infandous in this sentence. The Spanish and Italian translators have not fallen into this error. “La horrible historia y el dolor infando.” * Velasco. “Dogliosa istoria, E d'amara e d'orribil rimembranza.” Caro.
V. 5. Quaeque ipse miserrima widi, &c.—Quaque is epexegetic and limitative; the meaning of Eneas being, not that he will describe the taking of Troy, and the miseries he had himself witnessed, but that he will describe so much of the taking of Troy, and its miseries, as he had himself witnessed.
The view thus suggested by the grammatical structure of the introductory sentence, is confirmed by the narrative itself; for Eneas, having briefly mentioned the building of the wooden horse, and the concealment of the Grecian navy at Tenedos, immediately proceeds to say, that he was one of those who issued out of the gates rejoicing, as soon as the news of the departure of the Greeks was bruited abroad ; that he saw the horse, and was present at the argument respecting what should be done with it; that he saw Laocoon fling his spear against it, and heard it sound hollow; that his attention was drawn off by the sudden appearance of Sinon, of the whole of whose story he was an ear-witness; that he was one of those who agreed to spare Sinon's life; that he saw the two serpents come across the sea, and destroy Laocoon and his two sons; that he assisted to break down the wall in order to admit the horse into the city; that Hector appeared to him in a dream, and informed him that the city was on fire and could not be saved,—advised him to fly, and committed the Penates to his charge; that on awaking he saw, from the roof of the house, the city in flames; that, flying to arms, he met Pantheus, the priest of Apollo, escaping from the citadel, with his gods’ images and the other sacred objects of his religion; that Pantheus informed him that armed men were pouring out of the horse, that Sinon was a traitor and had fired the city, and that the whole Grecian army was entering at the gates; that he united himself with a few friends whom he happened to meet, and falling in with Androgeos, and a party of Greeks, they slew them every one, and clothed themselves with their spoils; that, thus disguised, they for a while carried terror and death every where, but at length, in attempting to rescue Cassandra from a party who were dragging her from the temple, were discovered to be Trojans, and attacked by the Greeks, while the Trojans, taking them for Greeks, overwhelmed them with missiles from the top of the temple; that, the greater number of his party having thus perished, he, with the small remainder, was attracted by the tumult to Priam's palace, from the roof of which he beheld the door forced, the building set on fire, the women and the aged king driven for shelter to an altar in an interior court, and the king himself slain at the altar in the blood of his son; that, his companions having leaped in despair to the ground, or given themselves up to the flames, he was left alone; that, descending and happening to see Helen where she was hiding, he was about to sacrifice her to the Manes of his country, when his arm was stayed by Venus, who commanded him to seek out his aged parent and his wife and child, and with them fly instantly from Troy; and who, at the same time taking off the veil which clouded his mortal vision, showed him the gods actively and personally engaged in the destruction of the city; that, having returned to his father's house, he saw the encouraging omens of an apex of fire on the head of Iulus, and a star shooting in the direction of Ida; that he escaped out of the city bearing his father on his shoulders, and leading Iulus by the hand; that Creusa, following behind, was lost on the road; that, returning to seek her, he found his father's house filled with Greeks, and on fire; that, extending his search every where, he returned to the citadel, and saw Phenix and Ulysses guarding captives and booty in the temple of Juno; that, as he called aloud upon Creusa through the streets and houses, her
shade presented itself, and informing him that she was provided for by the mother of the gods, enjoined him to abandon all search for her, and proceed upon his divine mission to found a new empire in Hesperia, where another, and a royal, spouse awaited him; that accordingly he returned to the place where he had concealed his father and son and domestics, and found there a great number of fugitives from the burning city, collected, and prepared to share his fortunes; and that with them and his father and son, he bade adieu for ever to Troy, and made good his retreat to the mountains. Nothing can be plainer than that this is a mere personal narrative of one of the principal sufferers; every circumstance related, with the single exception of the concealment of the Grecian fleet at Tenedos, having been witnessed by the relator, or heard by him on the spot from Pantheus or Sinon. This is, I think, a sufficient answer to those critics who have objected to Virgil's account of the taking of Troy, that it is by no means a full, complete, and strategical account of the taking of a great city; that many circumstances which may be supposed to have happened, and which indeed must have happened on such an occasion, have been either wholly omitted or left unexplained; and that, in short, Virgil, in his second book of the Eneis, has evinced his infinite inferiority in strategical science to his great prototype and master, Homer. Many such objections have been urged from time to time by various critics; and, amongst others, by a celebrated personage, whose opinion on any matter connected with military tactics must be received with the greatest deference, I mean the Emperor Napoleon, whose observations on this subject are to be found in a volume published after his death under the following title: Précis des Guerres de César, par Napoléon ; Écrit par M. Marchand, a l'île Sainte Hélène, sous la dictóe de l'Empereur; suivi de plusieurs fragmens inédits. Paris, 1836. 1 vol. 8vo. It is not my intention to enter into a detailed examination or refutation of all Napoleon's objections, (although I shall probably in the course of these notes have occasion to refer specially to more than one of them,) but simply to state that the whole of his critique is founded on the assumption that Virgil intended to give, or ought to have given, such a full and complete account of the taking of Troy as was given by Homer of the operations before its walls; such an account as might have