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النشر الإلكتروني

6

POPE.
Then his full soul a thought of vengeance bred,
Unworthy of himself and of the dead.
The nervous ankles bored, his feet he bound
With thongs inserted through the double wound;
Then fixed up high behind the rolling wain,
His graceful head was trailed along the plain.
Proud on the car th' insulting victor stood,
And bore aloft his arms distilling blood;
He smites the steeds—the rapid chariot flies,
The sudden clouds of circling dust arise.
Now lost is all that formidable air,
The face divine and long-descending hair
Purple the ground and streak the sable sand;
Deformed, dishonor'd, in his native land !
Given to the rage of an insulting throng,

And in his parents' sight now dragged along ! Andromache is framing a splendid texture in her chamber at the palace top, while her maidens, by her order, are heating an ample vase that a bath may be ready for Hector on his return from the field, when she hears the shrieks of the queen-mother, who, standing on the battlements, pulls off her veils and flings her gray hair by handfulls from the roots; while the venerable Priam weeps aloud, and lamentations are heard throughout the streets of Troy—all having witnessed the revolting scene described in the extract just quoted. In her agony, the shuttle falls from her fingers, for the thought strikes her at once that her Hector is no more ; and she has only to look from her window to see his mangled and dishonored corpse whirling towards the Grecian fleet. Homer has been censured for having produced a spectacle at once so disgusting and atrocious; but, as in all other cases in which flaws are sought to be found in his astonishing work, he fully acquits himself. He prepares us for the worst, when he tells us, in his noblest oratory, that “The naked corpse of a young man, stretched dead on the field of battle, is wrapped in a mantle of honor. No treatment can shame it. The defilements of dust, blood and wounds are so many dignities. But the body of a feeble old man, butchered by an enemy, and torn by dogs, is a painful and disgusting spectacle."

Without any further evidence, this would show that the poet had no intention of dishonoring Hector; but he furnishes many times as much. First, Achilles is allowed to give full vent to the passion concentrated on the two dead bodies—those of Patroclus and Hector. In proportion as

he loved the one, he hated the other; what was tendernessto the former, became ferocity to the latter; he had only to look at—nay, to think of—the body of Patroclus in order to exclude all remorse, and stifle every sentiment of mercy, if, indeed, any such was possible to him in the whirlwind of his wrath. Hence it is that his revenge is not sufficiently gratified, by dragging his corpse to the Grecian ships in the frightful, revolting manner described. He resolves that it shall be given to the dogs, that they may tear and devour it, while the Mymidons partake of the funeral banquet in honor of Patroclus.

“Rejoice with me, Patroclus, even in the mansions of Hades; For everything shall I now fulfil, which I formerly promised : That having dragged Hector hither, I would give him to the dogs to be

torn raw." Passing over the dream of Achilles, when at last overcome with sleep, in which Patroclus appears to him, as the ghost of Hamlet does in Shakspeare, and several other incidents scarcely less interesting or startling, we come to that in which his mother Thetis descends from Olympus to tell him that it is the will of heaven he should now relent.

“ Him there she found
Groaning disconsolate, while others ran
To and fro, occupied around a sheep
New-slaughtered, large, and of exuberant fleece.
She, sitting close beside him, softly stroked
His cheek, and thus affectionate began:
'How long, my son! sorrowing and mourning here,
Wilt thou consume thy soul, nor give one thought
Either to food or love? yet, love is good,
And woman's grief's best cure; for length of days
Is not thy doom, but even now thy death
And ruthless destiny are on the wing.
Mark me I come ambassadress from Jove.
The gods, he saith, resent it, but himself
More deeply than the rest, that thou retain'st
Amid the feet through fury of revenge
Unransom'd Hector. Be advised, accept
Ransom and to his friends resign the dead.'
To whom Achilles, swiftest of the swift:
'Come, then, the ransomer and take him hence;

So be it, if such be the desire of Jove.""
The son of Peleus complies without hesitation. Then
Iris is sent to Troy in order that Priam may proceed to the
Grecian camp, taking such gifts as may be most likely to
please the slayer of his son. Nor is he afraid, for he has yet

a princely spirit; besides, he is informed by Hermes that the hero is - prompt to raise the suppliant from the dust.” A grander scene than that which now ensues was never conceived, much less described. We can only make room for a brief extract from Cowper's version:

“iThink, O Achilles, semblance of the gods,
On thine own father, full of days like me,
And trembling on the gloomy verge of life.
Some neighbor chief, it may be, even now
Oppresses him, and there is none at hand,
No friend to succor him in his distress,
Yet, doubtless, hearing that Achilles lives,
He still rejoices, hoping day by day,
That one day he shall see the face again
Of his own son, from distant Troy returned.
But me no comfort cheers, whose bravest sons,
So late the flowers of Ilium, are all slain,
When Greece came hither, I had fifty sons ;
But fiery Mars hath thinned them. One I had,
One, more than all my sons, the strength of Troy,
Whom, standing for his country, thou hast slain-
Hector. His body to redeem, I come
Into Achaia's fleet, bringing myself,
Ransom inestimable to thy tent.
Rev’rence the gods, Achilles ! recollect
Thy father; for his sake compassion show
To me more pitiful still, who drew
Home to my lips (humiliation yet
Unseen on earth) his hand who slew my son!'
So saying, he waken'd in his soul regret
Of his own sire; softly he placed his hand
On Priam's hand, and pushed him gently away,
Remembrance melted both. Rolling before
Achilles' feet, Priam his son deplored,
Wide-slaughtering Hector, and Achilles wept
By turns his father, and by turns his friend
Patroclus : sounds of sorrow fill'd the tent.”

This is the noblest triumph of all, since it is that in which the hero triumphs over his own passions; and the Destroyer and the Bereaved are reconciled. Whatever is repulsive and revolting in the character of Achilles, is now, as it were, cut out like a gangrene by the poet :

“Ah, wretched one! many ills hast thou endured in thy mind!

How didst thou dare to come alone to the ships of the Greeks,
Into the presence of a man who thy many and brave
Sons slew ? Surely thou hast a heart of steel!
But, come, sit down beside me on the seat; and our sorrows altogether
Let'us allow to lie down in our minds—grieved though we be,
For there is no profit in freezing lamentation.'"-Il. XXIV., 518.

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The kindest hospitality is shown to the venerable Priam. The hero tells him that even the beautiful-haired Niobe, bereaved of her children, left nine days in their blood, without one to bury them, had to be “mindful of food.” With his own hands he kills a sheep; the most honored and brave of his companions roast it “circumspectly,” and he carves it. When all have fared well, and the time for rest approaches, a splendid couch is prepared for Priam, and both the hero and his guest “consign themselves to balmy sleep"—the former having beside him the beautiful-faced Briseis. Thus, under the same canopy, the Destroyer and the Bereaved repose, while no noise is heard save the murmurs of the midnight

The same heroic hands that slew Hector have now decently composed his limbs on the car of Priam, and covered his body with a fair vesture-having first had it duly washed and anointed—so that, after all, Andromache and Hecuba, however full of grief, need not look with horror on the face of the Defender.

And how mean do all other characters appear when compared to these—nay, compared even to Ulysses, whom it is so much the fashion to disparage as a mere trickster, if not a downright knave, or sharper, but to whom, in reality, the Æneas of Virgil is vastly inferior in all the qualities that constitute a hero. No matter which of their corresponding actions we place in juxtaposition, we shall find the superiority on the side of the Homeric character. Take, for example, the paltry excuse made by Æneas to Dido, when he is confronted with her angry shade in Hades, for having so basely deserted her; which is nothing more in substance than that he could not help it—that the gods, not he, were to blame, and that, at all events, he had no idea she would take it so much to heart.

Invitus, regina, tuo de litore cessi ;
Sed me jussa deùm quæ nunc has ire per umbras
Per loca senta situ cogunt noctemque profundam,
Imperiis egere suis; nec credere quivi,

Hunc tantum tibi me discessu ferre dolorem.- Æn. VI., 461. Nothing can be more different than this from the manly, truthful, and beautiful speech in which Ulysses takes his farewell of Calypso, in circumstances similar to those in which Æneas parted so suddenly and rudely with Dido : “Be not incensed against me, venerated goddess : I know how inferior Penelope is to thee in form, stature, and beauty of countenance; for she is mortal, while thou art immortal, and free from the effects of age," &c.

Ποτνια δεα, μή μοι τοδε χώεο: οίδα και αυτός
Παντα μαλ', ουν εκα σεΐο περίφρων Πηνελοπεια
Είδος ακιδνοτέρη, μέγεθός τ', είς άντα ιδέσθαι:
(Η μεν γαρ, βροτός έστι, συ δ' αθάνατος και αγήρως.)

Od. V., 215–18. We might add many similar contrasts, but enough. At the same time, far be it from us to make any attempt at disparaging the Æneid, which, of all the poems the European mind has produced, we regard as second only to the Iliadan opinion which we may attempt to justify before long. Now we must pass on to one or two other imitators of the divine Bard, in order to adduce some proof of the remark that those who have adhered most closely to the Homeric traditions have succeeded best. Dryden, instead of studying Homer himself, in casting afresh the subject of Troilus and Cressida, sought to find in Shakespeare the Homeric characters. But what has been the result ? He has brought all the characters down to a still “ lower depth” than that in which we find most of them in Shakespeare. For example, he makes Thersites say:

'Ajax and Achilles ! two mud walls of fool,

That differ only in degree of thickness.” Now, if we return to the old classic dramatists, we shall find that although they, too, exhibit a decided falling off from the Homeric standard, yet, because they have gone directly to the fountain-head, they have invested their men and women with more dignity than any of those who, like Shakespeare, Dryden and Shirley, have pursued a different course. Æschylus will serve as an example of this, without our referring to either Sophocles or Euripides. Nor does it matter much which of his men or women we select as an illustration. Thus, nowhere out of Homer is there a finer portrait of Helen, or, indeed, of any other woman, than that which we find in the Agamemnon of Æschylus :

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“When first she came to Ilion's towers,

0, a glorious sight, I ween, was there!
The tranquil beauty of the gorgeous queen
Hung soft as breathless summer on her cheeks,
Where, on the damask sweet, the glowing zephyr slept;

And like an idol beaming from its shrine,
So o'er the floating gold around her thrown,

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