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traction into his figure. But we, who live in these lower ages of the world, are such entire strangers to this kind of diversion, that we often mistake the description of a picture for an allegory, and do not so much as know when it is hinted at. Juvenal tells us, a flatterer will not stick to compare a weak pair of shoulders to those of Hercules when he lifts up Antæus from the earth. Now, what a forced, unnatural similitude does this seem, amidst the deep silence of scholiasts and commentators? But how full of life and humour, if we may suppose it alluded to some remarkable statue of these two champions, that perhaps stood in a public place of the city? There is now in Rome a very ancient statue entangled in a couple of marble serpents, and so exactly cut in Laocoon's posture and circumstances, that we may be sure Virgil drew after the statuary, or the statuary after Virgil: and if the poet was the copier, we may be sure it was no small pleasure to a Roman, that could see so celebrated an image outdone in the description.
I might here expatiate largely on several customs that are now forgotten, though often intimated by ancient authors; and particularly on many expressions of their contemporary poets, which they had an eye upon in their reflections, though we at present know nothing of the business. Thus Ovid begins the second book of his elegies with these two lines:
Hæc quoque scribebam Pelignis natus aquosis,
How far these may prove the four verses prefixed to Virgil's Eneid genuine, I shall not pretend to determine but I dare say Ovid in this place hints
at them if they are so; and I believe every reader will agree, that the humour of these lines would be very much heightened by such an allusion, if we suppose a love-adventure ushered in with an Ille ego, and taking its rise from something like a preface to the Æneid. Guesses might be numberless on this occasion, and though sometimes they may be grounded falsely, yet they often give a new pleasure to the reader, and throw in abundance of light on the more intricate and obscure passages of an ancient author.
But there is nothing we want more direction in at present than the writings of such ancient authors as abound with humour, especially where the humour runs in a kind of cant, and a particular set of phrases. We may, indeed, in many places, by the help of a good scholiast, and skill in the customs and language of a country, know that such phrases are humorous, and such a metaphor drawn from a ridiculous custom; but at the same time the ridicule flags, and the mirth languishes to a modern reader, who is not so conversant and familiar with the words and ideas that lie before him; so that the spirit of the jest is quite palled and deadened, and the briskness of an expression lost to an ear that is so little accustomed to it. This want of discerning between the comical and serious style of the ancients, has run our modern editors and commentators into a senseless affectation of Terence's and Plautus's phrases, when they desire to appear pure and classical in their language: so that you often see the grave pedant making a buffoon of himself, where he least designs it, and running into light and trifling phrases, where he would fain appear solemn and judicious.
Another great pleasure the ancients had beyond us, if we consider them as the poet's countrymen, was, that they lived as it were upon the spot, and within the verge of the poem; their habitations lay among the scenes of the Æneid; they could find out their own country in Homer, and had every day, perhaps, in their sight, the mountain or field where such an adventure happened, or such a battle was fought. Many of them had often walked on the banks of Helicon, or the sides of Parnassus, and knew all the private haunts and retirements of the muses: so that they lived as it were on fairy ground, and conversed in an enchanted region, where everything they looked upon appeared romantic, and gave a thousand pleasing hints to their imaginations. To consider Virgil only in this respect: how must a Roman have been pleased, that was well acquainted with the capes and promontories, to see the original of their names as they stand derived from Misenus, Palinurus, and Cajeta? that could follow the poet's motions, and attend his hero in all his marches from place to place? that was very well acquainted with the lake Amsanctus, where the fury sunk, and could lead you to the mouth of the cave where Æneas took his descent for hell? Their being conversant with the place where the poem was transacted, gave them a greater relish than we can have at present of several parts of it; as it affected their imaginations more strongly, and diffused through the whole narration a greater air of truth. The places stood as so many marks and testimonies to the veracity of the story that was told of them, and helped the reader to impose upon himself in the credibility of the relation. To consider only that passage in the eighth Eneid, where the
poet brings his hero acquainted with Evander, and gives him a prospect of that circuit of ground, which was afterwards covered with the metropolis of the world. The story of Cacus, which he there gives us at large, was probably raised on some old confused tradition of the place, and if so, was doubly entertaining to a Roman, when he saw it worked up into so noble a piece of poetry, as it would have pleased an Englishman, to have seen in prince Arthur any of the old traditions of Guy varied and beautified in an episode, had the chronology suffered the author to have led his hero into Warwickshire on that occasion. The map of the place, which was afterwards the seat of Rome, must have been wonderfully pleasing to one that lived upon it afterwards, and saw all the alterations that happened in such a compass of ground: two passages in it are inimitably fine, which I shall here transcribe, and leave the reader to judge what impressions they made on the imagination of a Roman, who had every day before his eyes the capitol and the forum :
Hinc ad Tarpeiam sedem et capitolia ducit
Quis Deus, incertum est, habitat Deus. Arcades ipsum
Egida concuteret dextrâ, nimbosq; cieret.
-Ad tecta subibant
Pauperis Evandri, passimq; armenta videbant
There is another engaging circumstance that made Virgil and Homer more particularly charming
to their own countrymen, than they can possibly appear to any of the moderns; and this they took hold of by choosing their heroes out of their own nation for by this means they have humoured and delighted the vanity of a Grecian or Roman reader, they have powerfully engaged him on the hero's side, and made him, as it were, a party in every action; so that the narration renders him more intent, the happy events raise a greater pleasure in him, the passionate part more moves him, and in a word, the whole poem comes more home, and touches him more nearly, than it would have done had the scene lain in another country, and a foreigner been the subject of it. No doubt but the inhabitants of Ithaca preferred the Odyssey to the Iliad, as the Myrmidons, on the contrary, were not a little proud of their Achilles. The men of Pylos probably could repeat word for word the wise sentences of Nestor and we may well suppose Agamemnon's countrymen often pleased themselves with their prince's superiority in the Greek confederacy. I believe, therefore, no Englishman reads Homer or Virgil with such an inward triumph of thought, and such a passion of glory, as those who saw in them the exploits of their own countrymen or ancestors. And here, by the way, our Milton has been more universally engaging in the choice of his persons, than any other poet can possibly be. He has obliged all mankind, and related the whole species to the two chief actors in his poem. Nay, what is infinitely more considerable, we behold in him, not only our ancestors, but our representatives. We are really engaged in their adventures, and have a personal interest in their good or ill success. We are not only their offspring, but sharers in their