« السابقةمتابعة »
The gen'rous critic fann'd the poet's fire,
To dress her charms, and make her more belov'd.
In Mr. Pitt's very estimable translation of the Eneid, a critical observation upon a passage in the sixth book is extracted from one of the most judicious writers of our times, the Rambler. The lucubrations of this admirable ge nius, whom, however far I fall short of, I will, upon this occasion, venture to call my predecessor, have constantly been perused, and I may say studied by me with very great delight: So much sense, judgment, and morality, flow throughout those papers, that I look upon them as a model of writing, which does honour to our nation, and which must be always acceptable to the virtuous and the wise. As I pretend not to rank myself with the latter, I hope the former will give me shelter on account of my sex, and because I publicly, but humbly, endeavour to be serviceable to the age in which I live.
As there are comments upon that immortal poem, as well as translations of it, in more than one language that I understand, I have very attentively considered such as have come to my hands, recommended for an excellence by those who are learned in the original; upon this foundation I shall offer a conjecture of mine upon the silence of Dido at the sight of Æneas in the Elysian fields, and shall venture to assign for it a very different reason from any that I have yet met with, submitting my conjectures to the judgment of my readers.
I agree entirely with all the commentators that have fallen within my observation, who have celebrated the beauty of Ajax's silence in the thirteenth book of the Odyssey; and will suppose with them, that Virgil copied the silence of Dido from his great master the Mæonian bard. The silence of the son of Telamon was undoubtedly founded in pride, and proceeded from a consciousness of his own defects in the art of eloquence, and therefore I join with the Rambler in thinking that the sullen taciturnity of Ajax had a much more contemptuous and piercing effect, "than any words which so rude an orator could have found." But the silence of Dido appears to me to have arisen from another cause: a cause extremely natural, and parti
cularly beautiful in the manner that Virgil, with his usual distant and insinuative delicacy, has introduced it.
I make no difficulty to pronounce that her silence proceeded from shame; not from the shame of seeing Æneas, the sight of whom must have roused her, as the Rambler justly observes, into clamour, reproach, and denunciation, but from the sight and presence of the most virtuous of all women, the Cumæan Sibyl. Such an unexpected guest, stifled at once every sentiment of fury, and choked every intended purport of rancour and revenge, in the Carthaginian queen. I am now to endeavour to prove my assertion.
The menaces of Dido were not only that her vengeance, but that her ghost, should follow Æneas wherever he went: as evidently appears from what she says to him in their last interview at Carthage:
When death's cold hand my struggling soul shall free,
The immutable laws of Pluto's kingdom hindered her from fulfilling her intentions. Her ghost was not permitted to follow the Trojan hero into the higher regions, but her ghost was not prohibited to speak to him, or to answer
him, when she saw him in the regions of the dead. What motive therefore hindered her from venting her passion, and giving a loose to the dictates of resentment, fury, and all the violence which we women, when injured by our own misconduct, generally exert too late? What, but the reproaching sight of the Cumaan Sibyl. Her conscience struck her, by seeing a chaste and most exemplary virgin, who had withstood the offers of a god. Frailty dare not look up at virtue: accordingly we find Virgil has painted the queen of Carthage as looking down upon the ground:
İlla solo fixos oculos aversa tenebat.
I give this line in the original language to oblige my learned readers, by the advice of a friend to whom I communicated my thoughts, upon the subject, and by whom I am told the literal translation is, "She, unwilling to look up, kept her eyes fixed upon the ground." The translators I have seen, misled by imagining Virgil so exact a copier of Homer that he makes Dido as proud and as sullen as Ajax, have constantly given the turn of haughtiness and contempt to the whole behaviour of the Tyrian queen. In this they are, in all probability, mistaken; the passage is a delicate and
tacit implication of conscious guilt; which, upon all occasions, is observed to be remarkably apparent by downcast eyes, and by the silence of a distracted and uneasy mind, whose horrible sensations dread to give themselves utterance.
The modern annotators have run into the same error: and Doctor Trapp, in pointing out the several imitations of Homer throughout the sixth Æneid, particularly mentions the sullen silence of Ajax, transferred to that of Dido. Give me leave to differ from him, and to observe that the chief beauty consists, in turning the proud and sullen silence of Ajax, into the confusion and speechless horror of Dido. Guilt stopped her tongue. She stood self-condemned before the chaste priestess of Apollo. She was convinced that no subterfuges, no pretence of marriage (arts which she practised in her life time), could be prevalent, or could deceive the Cumaan prophetess.
Æneas supplicates, and, with great eloquence, addresses the unhappy queen; who, incapable of hearing one word he says, becomes, for some time, motionless and inanimate; not from rage, that must have had another effect; but from the misery she feels in being in the front and personal view of a woman whose conduct was a reproach to frailty; and, therefore, to me Virgil