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ON THE GENIUS AND WRITINGS OF
Part III.[Continued from No. LIV.] Est talis, ut si in recentiorum numerum ponas, sit haud dubie primus, et veterum ultimus.
M. Ant, Subcllicus Hist. Ea fuit Claudiani virtus, is spiritus, ut in quamcunque partem se verteret, summus et elegans existeret poëta : ita est aliquando festivus, ita concionus, ita elegans, nihil ut fieri possit argutius; ita vero aliquando insurgit, et artificiosa verborum conclusione carmen explicat, nihil ut sit magnificentius.
Franc. Asulæius Præf. Ed. Claudiani Aldin. Est suavis, luculentus, et inoffensi stili, sententiis acutus, in narrando subtilis et enucleatus, rerum quoque prope omnium peritia, nullius quod quidem præclarum solidumque poëtam absolvat, inscius.
Joach. Vadianus Lib. de Poetica.'
In the two former parts of this article we have given our view of the poetical character of Claudian, as a whole, and of the merits and defects of his matter, his style, and his arrangement. We shall conclude with an abstract of the poet's life, and a brief sketch of his several poems.
Claudius Claudianus, a native of Alexandria, (not, as some have supposed, a Spaniard or Florentine,) appears to have been born about the year 365 or 370, and to have florished as a poet principally during the last ten years of the fourth, and the first ten of the fifth, century. Whether he was the son of a celebrated professor of the name is disputed; it is certain, however, that he received a very superior education, from the extent and variety of knowledge which his works contain; that he was of a good family, and that he was early introduced to the notice of distinguished men; being admitted about A. D. 395 into the train of Stilicho, whose movements he accompanied during the five years preceding the latter's first consulship, and under whom he acquired those political predilections avd antipathies which afterwards distinguished him. Through the good offices of his patron, he rose high in the favor of the brother Emperors, Arcadius and Honorius, by whom he was honored with the military tribuneship (at that time a mere title of honor, bestowed, like modern knighthood, indiscriminately on all kinds of merit) as well as with many other distinctions. To the kindvess of the Princess Serena, the wife of Stilicho, he was likewise indebted for the hand of a rich and noble lady, whom he married on his return to his native city. Of the succeeding portion of his life, until the disgrace and death of Stilicho, we can only gather in general that it was passed in literary pursuits, in the society and correspondence of the noble and learned of his time, among whom may be numbered (besides the Princess Serena, who appears to have been a patroness of the polite arts) Olybrius, Gennadius, both orators and writers, the prætorian præfect. Hadrian, and the philosophic consul Mallius; and in the composition and recitation of those historical poems which raised hiin to the head of the poets of his time, and procured him the honor of a statue in the forum of Trajan. On the fall of Stilicho his fortune probably changed. Whether we are to refer to this period the persecution which (in retaliation for some reported sarcasins) be experienced from his former patron, the præfect Hadrian, and which, by his own account, involved him in poverty and danger,' is uncertain; as indeed the whole of his latter history. Some suppose that he sought a retreat at the court of the East, which he had so often treated with ridicule; that he florished there as a Greek poet, under Theodosius II., and there ended his days. On the question of his Christianity we have spoken in a former Number, though with more hesitation than was necessary; the designation of him by Orosius as
* We have extracted the above from the 281 testimonia which the exemplary diligence of Barthius has collected in the preface to his edition, as specimens of the estimation in which Claudian was formerly held by scholars. Among his authorities are some names which associate oddly with the men in us, as Petrarch, Boccaccio, agd Lope de Vega.
paganus pervicacissimus” is sufficient testimony in the negative; and the epigram on James the Master of Horse (Carm. Ixxvii.) is a proof that the assailant of Eutropius, whose powers were peculiarly adapted to grave satire, wanted as little the will as the ability, could the attempt have been safely made, to paint in lively colors the superstition, the absurd dissensions, and the grossly corrupt morals of the Christians of his age.”
' It would appear however from the poet's epistle to Hadrian (Carm, xxxix. 24.)" caris spoliamur amicis: Hunc tormenta necant; bic undique truditur exul:" that the main cause of the prefect's resentment was the poet's connexion with some adverse party.
2 We need scarcely say that the above notice is compiled almost
poem on the joint Consulship of the brothers Olybrius and Probinus, which stands first in the editions of Barthius, Heinsius, and Gesner, is appropriately placed at the threshold, whether by way of dissuasion or encouragement to the reader, being of a moderate length, and containing on the whole a fair average specimen of Claudian's characteristic merits and defects; excepting that its subject is less interesting than that of many others, and that it contains none of his finer passages of description or sentiment. The mixed style of Claudian's diction is exemplified in the very outset.
Sol, qui flammigeris mundum complexus habenis
Effantes roseum frenis spumantibus igien. The two first lines, though too high-strained for an exordium, are in themselves good, and the second even majestic; but in the third he gives way to his love of conceits, and the fourth and fifth are mere bombast. After a magnificent eulogy on the ancestry of the consuls, the poet proceeds to the main subject of his poem, their elevation to the supreme magistracy, which he
, accounts for by one of those awkward and uncalled-for pieces of machinery so frequent in his poenis. The goddess Rome, desirous of doing honor to the representatives of a family by which she had so long been illustrated, descends for the purpose of supplicating the Emperor Theodosius to this effect. The description of the goddess is copied, not very successfully, from the common representations of Minerva; one of the circumstances, however, is poetical, and worthy of Claudian.
Dextrum nuda latus, niveos exserta lacertos,
nodus, qui sublevat ensem, Albrem puniceo pectus discriminat ostro. In the same passage we have an instance of the futility of attempting to improve what is unimprovable. Homer bad said, in describing the descent of Neptune,
Tρίς μεν ορέξατ' ιών, το δε τετρατον ίκετο τίκτωρ.
Nec traxere moras, [equi sc.] sed lapsu protinus uno
wholly from the Prolegomena of Gesner and others, and from the poet's Now the very beauty of Homer's conception consists in the comparison it suggests. Neptune passes from one place to another by steps, as a man would do, but with swiftness immensely greater; and it is in this image of human power, increased to a preternatural degree, that the sublimity of the passage consists. But in Claudian there is no comparison; his coursers do not clear the aerial space by successive bounds, though fleeter than the rush of a storm, or the leap of a cataract; they are in heaven and on earth in the same moment, and by this utter want of proportion disturb the unity of the scene, the magnificence of which is merely earthly magnificence, exalted so as to suit a celestial subject. It is true that this conception of Deity is not the sublimest imaginable; but if a writer will represent his gods as magnified men, he ought at least to be consistent in his representations. He must not confound two opposite systems. The goddess presents her request to the hero in the moment of his victory over the rebel Eugenius. The picture of the field of battle is another example of a beginning of faultless beauty and elegance, marred in its effect by a turgid conclusion.
tetigere locum, qua fine sub imo
Corpora: turbantur permisto funere manes. The goddess prefers her desire in good set terms of panegyric on the conqueror and on the subjects of her petition : the monarch graciously consents: the joy of Rome, and the preparations for the solemnity, are described. And here we have one of those pleasing touches by which Claudian sometimes relieves the glaring monotony of his pictures. The mother of the consuls elect is introduced as embroidering with her own hands the robes of office which lier sons are to wear on the day of their inauguration. The piece concludes with a congratulatory oration from Father Tiber, and a meeting of the rivers, from which
Cowley, whose vast poetical superiority, and extraordinary ruggedness of versification, equally combine to place him in a strong antithesis with Claudian, whom he resembles only in his love for conceits, improves
Slaughter the wearied Riphaim's bosom fills;
Pope borrowed the parallel description in his Windsor Forest.
Indigenas fluvios, Italis quicunque suberrant
Liris, et Ebaliæ qui temperat arva Galesus.
, as we wished to afford such of our readers as may be unacquainted with Claudian a clearer notion of his manner, both of plan and execution, than could be collected from a mere general description. · The succeeding ones will not detain us at much length.
T'he next in order is the Rufinus, the most vigorous of all Claudian's writings, and, with the exception of the Rape of Proserpine, the most chaste and elegant in point of diction. It appears to have been written at two several times, like Dryden's Absalom and Achitophel; and the two parts may be considered as two separate poems, each embracing a separate series of action. The boldness of Rufinus's atrocities, the entire and perfect blackness of his character, as delineated by the poet, unqualified, as in the case of Gildo or Eutropius, by any ludicrous or contemptible attributes; the strikingly contrasted figure of Stilicho, and the heroic cast of the story (at least in the latter parts), give an imposing brilliancy to this poem, which is generally wanting in our author's narrative poems.' It opens with
the celebrated passage,
Sæpe mihi dubiam traxit sententia mentem, &c. which we could never regard otherwise than as a poetical hyperbole, intended to aggrandise his subject, and as much a fiction, in a different way, as the machinations of Alecto which immediately follow, or the
jam respirantibus astris, Infernos gravat umbra lacus and the
Tollite de mediis animarum dedecus umbris,
Et Ditis purgate doinos at the end of the second book. The other remarkable passages in this poem are the description of the infernal senate, imitated