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OF THE ACTION OF THE EPIC POEM.
Hader any one general and simple head. This re- , simplicity of the fable; but it gives the fable anda dueing of all things to unity and siinplicity, is ther qualification, altogether necessary and regue what Horace likewise makes his first rule.
lar, namely, its perfection, and finishing stroke. Denique sit quodvis simplex duntaxat, & unum. According to these rules, it will be allowable to
SECT. V. make use of several fables; or (to speak more correctly) of several incidents, which may be divided into several fables, provided they are so ordered,
The action of a poem is the subject which tha that the unity of the fable be not spoiled. This liberty is still greater in the epic poem, because that the moral and the instructions which are the
poct undertakes, proposes, and builds upon. So it is of a larger extent, and ought to be entire and end of the epic poem are not the matter of it. complete. I will explain myself more distinctly by the figurative obscurity. They only give notice at the
Those the poets leave in their allegorical and practice of Homer.
exordium, that they sing some action: the reNo doubt but one might make four distinct venge of Achilles, the return of Ulysses, &c. fables out of these four following instructions.
Since then the action is the matter of a fable, 1. Division between those of the same party ex
it is evident, that whatever incidents are essential poses them entirely to their enemies.
to the fable, or constitute a part of it, are neces11. Conceal your weakness ;, and you will be
sary also to the action, and are parts of the epic dreaded as much, as if you had none of those im
inatter, none of which ought to be omitted. Such, perfections, of which they are ignorant.
for instance, are the contention of Agamemnon 111. When your strength is only feigned, and and Achilles, the slaughter Hector makes in the founded only in the opinion of others; hever ven
Grecian army, the re-union of the Greek princes; ture so far as if your strength was real. iv. The more you agree together, the less hurt and, lastly, the re-settlement and victory which
was the consequence of that re-union. can your enemies do you.
There are four qualifications in the epic action : It is plain, I say, that each of these particular the first is its unity, the second its integrity, the maxims might serve for the ground work of a fic-third its importance, the fourth its duration. tion, and one might make four distinct fables out
The unity of the epic action, as well as the of them. May not one then put all these into one
unity of the fable, does not consist either in the single epopea ? Not unless one single fable can be unity of the hero, or in the unity of time : three made out of all. The poet indecd may have so
things, I suppose, are necessary to it. The first much skill as to unite all into one body, as mem- is, to make use of no episode, but what arises from bers and parts, each of which taken asunder would be imperfect : and if he joins them so, as that this is as it were a natural member of the body. The
the very platform and foundation of the action, and conjunction shall be no hindrance at all to the second is, exactly to unite these episodes and unity and regular simplicity of the fable. This is these meinbers with one another
. And the third is, what Homer has done with such success in the
never to finish aný episode so as it may seem to composition of the Iliad.
be an entire action; but to let each episode still 1. The division between Achilles and his allics appear in its own particular nature, as the memtended to the ruin of their designs. 2. Patroclus ber of a body, and as a part of itself not comcomes to their relief in the armour of this hero, plete. and Hector retreats. 3. But this young man, pushing the advantage which his disguise gave
OF THE BEGINNING, MIDDLE, AND END OF THE him too far, ventures to engage with Hector himself: but not being master of Achilles' strength (whom he only represented in outward appear- ARISTOTLE not only says, that the epic action ance) he is killed, and by this means leaves the should be one, but adds, that it should be entire, Grecian affairs in the same disorder, from which, perfect, and complete; and for this purpose, in that disguise, he came to free them. 4. Achil- ought to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. les, provoked at the death of his friend, is recon- These three parts of a whole are too generally and ciled, and revenges his loss by the death of Hector. universally denoted by the words, beginning, midThese various incidents being thus united, do not dle, and end; we may interpret them inore premake different actions and fables, but are only cisely, and say, that the causes and designs of the uncomplete and unfinished parts of one and an action, are the beginning: that the effects of the same action and fable, which alone, when these causes, and the difficulties that are met with taken thus complexly, can be said to be complete in the execution of these designs, are the middle ; and entire: and all these maxims of the moral and that the unraveling and resolution of these are easily reduced into these two parts, which, in difficulties are the end. iny opinion, cannot be separated without enervating the force of both. The two parts are these,
THE ACTION OF Tile ILIAD. that a right understanding is the preservation, and
HOMEk's design in the Iliad, is to relate the discord the destruction of states. Though then the poet has made use of two parts this action is the change of Achilles from a calm
anger and revenge of Achilles. The beginning of in his poems, each of which might have served for a fable, as we have observed : yet this multi- of his passion, and all the illustrious deaths it is the
to a passionate temper. The middle is the effects plication cannot be called a vicious and irregular cause of. The end of this same action in the polymythia, contrary to the necessary unity and return of Achilles to his calmness of temper again.
THE ACTION OF THE ODYSSEY.
OF THE MIDDLE OR INTRIGUE OF THE ACTION.
All was quiet in the Grecian camp, when Aga- , sorts of causes, the humours, the interests, and memnon, their general, provokes Apollo against the designs of men; and these different causes of them, whom he was willing to appease afterwards an action are likewise often the causes of one anoat the cost and prejudice of Achilles, who had no ther, every man taking up those interests in which part in his fault. This then is an exact beginning : his humour engages him, and forming those deit supposes nothing before, and requires after it signs to wbich bis humour and interest incline the effects of this anger. Achilles revenges bim- him. Of all these the poet ought to inform his self, and that is an exact middle; it supposes be- readers, and render them conspicuous in his prinfore it the anger of Achilles, this revenge is the cipal personages. effect of it. Then this middle requires after it the Homer has ingeniously begun his Odyssey with effects of this revenge, which is the satisfaction the transactions at Ithaca, during the absence of of Achilles: for the revenge had not been com- Ulysses. If he had begun with the travels of his plete, unless Achilles had been satisfied. By this hero, he would scarce have spoken of any one means the poet makes his hero, after he was else, and a man might have read a great deal of glutted by the mischief he had done to Agamem- the poem, without conceiving the least idea of non, by the death of Hector, and the honour he | Telemachus, Penelope, or her suitors, who had did his friend, by insulting over his murderer; he so great a share in the action ; but in the beginmakes him, I say, to be moved by the tears and ning he has pitched upon, besides these personages misfortunes of king Priam. We see him as calm whom he discovers, he represents Ulysses in his at the end of the poem, during the funeral of full length, and from the very first open Hector, as he was at the beginning of the poem, sees the interest which the gods take in the whilst the plague raged among the Grecians. This action. end is just ; since the calmness of temper Achilles The skill and care of the same poet may be seen reenjoyed is only an effect of the revenge which likewise in inducing his personages in the first ought to have preceded : and after this nobody book of his Iliad, where he discovers the humours, expects any more of his anger. Thus has Homer the interests, and the designs of Agamemnon, been very exact in the beginning, middle, and Achilles, Hector, Ulysses, and several others, end of the action he made choice of for the sub- and even of the deities. And in his second he ject of his Iliad.
makes a review of the Grecian and Trojan armies ; which is full evidence, that all we have here said
is very necessary. His design in the Odyssey was to describe the return of Ulysses from the siege of Troy, and his arrival at Ithaca. He opens his poem with the complaints of Minerva against Neptune, who op- As these causes are the beginning of the action, posed the return of this hero, and against Calypso, the opposite designs against that of the hero are ho detained him in an island from Ithaca. Is the middle of it, and form that difficulty or inthis a beginning? No; doubtless, the reader trigue, which makes up the greatest part of the sould know why Neptune is displeased with Ulys- poem; the solution or unraveling commences when ses, and how this prince came to be with Calypso ? the reader begins to see that difficulty removed, He would know how he came from Troy thither? and the doubts cleared up. Homer has divided The poet answers his demands out of the mouth of each of his poems into two parts; and has put a Ulysses himself, who relates these things, and be particular intrigue, and the solution of it,' into gins the action by the recital of his travels from the each part. city of Troy. It signifies little whether the begin- The first part of the Iliad is the anger of Achila ning of the action be the beginning of the poem. les, who is for revenging himself upon Agamemnon The beginning of this action is that which happens by the means of Hector and the Trojans. The to Ulysses, when, upon his leaving Troy, he bends intrigue comprehends the three days' fight which bis course for Ithaca. The middle comprehends happened in the absence of Achilles : and it conall the misfortunes he endured, and all the Jis- sists on one side in the resistance of Agamemnon orders of his own government. The end is the re- and the Grecians ; and on the other in the reinstating of this hero in the peaceable possession vengeful and inexorable humour of Achilles, which of his kingdom, where he was acknowledged by would not suffer him to be reconciled. The loss his son, his wife, his father, and several others. of the Grecians, and the despair of Agamemnon, The poet was sensible he should have ended ill, prepare for a solution by the satisfaction which the kad be gone no farther than the death of these incensed hero received from it. The death of Paprinces, who were the rivals and enemies of Ulys- troclus joined to the offers of Agamemnon, which ns, because the reader might have looked for some of itself had proved ineffectual, remove this diffirevenge, which the subjects of these princes might culty, and make the unraveling of the first part. have taken on him who had killed their sove- This death is likewise the beginning of the second teigns: but this danger over, and the people van part; since it puts Achilles upon the design of regaished and quieted, there was nothing more to venging himself on Hector. But the design of Hecbe expected. The poem and the action have all tor is opposite to that of Achilles: this Trojan is their parts, and no more.
valiant, and resolved to stand on his own defence. Rat the order of the Odyssey differs from that this valour and resolution of Hector are on his of the Iliad, in that the poem does not begin with part the cause of the intrigue. All the endeavours the beginning of the action.
Achilles used to meet with Hector, and be the OF THE CAUSES AND BEGINNING OF THE Action.
death of him; and the contrary endeavours of the Tus causes of the action are also what the poem Trojan to keep out of his reach and defend himis obliged to give and account of There are three self, are the intrigue; which comprebends the
battle of the last day. The unraveling begins at the advantages his enemies had taken of his abthe death of Hector; and besides that, it contains sence hail reduced him, and to which his long misthe insulting of Achilles over his body, the honours fortunes had inured him. This allowed him an be paid to Patroclus, and the entreaties of king opportunity, without hazarding any thing, of Priam. The regrets of this king and the other taking the best measures he could, against those Trojans, in the sorrowful obsequies they paid to persons who could not so much as mistrust any Hector's body, are the unraveling ; they justify harm from hiin. This way was afforded him, by the satisfaction of Achilles, and demonstrate his the very nature of his action, to execute his tranquillity.
designs, and overcome the obstacles it cast before The first part of the Odyssey is the return of him. And it is this contest between the prudence Ulysses into Ithaca. Neptune opposes it by raising and the dissimulation of a single man on one hand tempests, and this makes the intrigue. The un- and the ungovernable insolence of so many rivals rareling is the arrival of Ulysses upon his own on the other, which constitut s the intrigue of the işland, where Neptune could offer him no farther second part of the Odyssey. injury. The second part is the re-instating this hero in his own government. The princes that OF THE END OR.UNRAVELING OF THE ACTION. are his rivals, oppose him, and this is a fresh intrigue: the solution of it begins at their deaths,
If the plot or intrigue must be natural, and such and is completed as soon as the Ithacans were
as springs from the very subject, as has been appeased.
already urged ; then the winding-up of the plot, These two parts in the Odyssey have not one
by a more sure claim, must have this qualitication, common intrigue. The anger of Achilles forms and be a probable consequence of all that went
before. both the intrigues in the Iliad; and it is so far than the rest, so should the poet be more exact
As this is what the readers regard more the matter of this epopea, that the very beginning in it
. This is the end of the poem, and the last and end of this poemn depend on the beginning and impression that is to be stamped upon them. end of his anger. But let the desire Achilles had
We shall find this in the Odyssey. Ulysses by to revenge himself, and the desire Ulysses had to
a tempest is cast upon the island of the Phæacians, return to his own country, be never so near allied,
to whom he discovers himself, and desires they yet we cannot place them under one and the same
would favour bis return to his own country, which notion : for that desire of Ulysses is not a passion
was not very far distant. One cannot see any that begins and ends in the poem with the action : it is a natural habit : nor does the poet propose it
reason why the king of this island should refuse
sich for his subject, as he does the anger of Achilles.
a reasonable request, to a hero whoin he We have already observed what is meant by indeed had heard him tell the story of his adven
seemed to have in great esteem. The Phæacians the intrigue, and the unraveling thereof; let us
tures; and in this fabulous recital copsisted all now say something of the manner of forming both. These two should arise naturally out of the very
ene advantage that he could derive from his essence and subject of the poem, and are to be presence ; for the art of war which they admired deduced from thence. Their conduct is so exact fatigable patience, and other virtues, were such
in him, his undauntedness under dangers, his indeand natural, that it seems as if their action had
as these islanders were not used to. All their presented them with whatever they inscried, with talent lay in singing and dancing, and whatsoever out putting themselves to the trouble of a farther
was charming in a quiet life. And here we see enquiry. What is more usual and natural to warriors, makes use of. l'hese people could do no less, for
how dextrously Homer prepares the incidents he than anger, heat, passion, and impatience of bear. the account with which Ulysses had so much ing the least affront or disrespect? This is what entertained them, than afford bim a ship and a fornis the intrigue of the Iliad: and every thing safe conroy, which was of little expense or trouble we read there is nothing else but the effect of
to them. this humour and these passions. What nore natural and usual obstacle to those travels which had disfigured him, made him alto
When he arrived, his long absence, and the su dio take voyages, than the sea, the winds, and gether unknown; and the danger he would have the storms ? Homer makes this the intrigue of the incurred, had he discovered himself too soon, forced frst part of the Odyssey : and for the second, he makes use of almost the infallible effect of the
him to a disguise : lastly, this disguise gave him Jong absence of a master, whose return is quite who for several years together had been accustomed
an opportunity of surprising those young suitors, despaired of, viz. the insolence of his servants and neighbours, the danger of his son and wife, and
to nothing but to sleep well, and fare daintily. the sequestration of his estate. Besides, an ab- this rule, that “ Whatever concludes the poem,
It was from these examples that Aristotle drem. sence of almost twenty years, and the insupport- should sa spring from the very constitution of the able fatigues joined to the age of which llysses fable, as if it were a necessary, or at least a then was, might induce him to believe that be should not be owned by those who thought him
probable, consequence." dead, and whose interest it was to have him really
Therefore, if he had presently declared who he was, and had called hiinself Ulysses, they would easily have destroyed him as an impostor,
SECT. VI. before he had an opportunity to make himself
TUL TIME OF THE ACTION. known.
There could be nothing more natural por more The time of the epic action is not fixed, like gecessary than this ingenious disguise, to which that of the dramatic poem; it is much longer :
CHE PASSIONS OF THE EPIC POEM.
for an uninterrupted duration is much more raise or discover them in the persons ; that they necessary in an action which one sees and is have an exact resemblance to what bistory, or present at, than in one which we only read or fable, have delivered of those persons, to whom hear repeated. Besides, tragedy is fuller of passion, they are ascribed ; and that there be an equality and consequently of such a violence as cannot in them, so that no man is made to act, or speak, admit of so long a duration.
out of his character. The Iliad containing an action of anger and violence, the poet allows it but a short time, about
UNITY OF THE CHARACTER, forty days. The design of the Odyssey required another conduct ; the character of the hero is But this equality is not sufficient for the unity of prudence and long-suffering ; therefore the time the character : it is further necessary, that the of its duration is much longer, above eight years. same spirit appear in all sorts of encounters. Thus
Æneas acting with great piety and miliness in the first part of the Æneid, which requires no other character; and afterwards appearing illustrious in
heroic valour, in the wars of the second part; but · The passions of tragedy are different from those of the epic poem. In the former, terrour and pity there, without any appearance either of a hard or have the chief place; the passion that seems most
a soft disposition, would doubtless, be far from peculiar to epic poctry, is admiration.
offending against the equality of the manners: but Besides this admiration, which in general dis- yet there would be no simplicity or unity in the tinguishes the epic poem from the dramatic; their particular place upon difierent occasions,
character. So that, besides the qnalities that claim cach epic poem has likewise some peculiar passion, there must be one appearing throughout, which which distinguishes it in particular from other
commands over all the rest ; and without this, we epic poems, and constitutes a kind of singular and individual difference between these poems of the
may affirm, it is no character. same species. These singular passions correspond Achilles, as pious as Æneas, and as prudent as
One may indeed make a hero as valiant as to the character of the hero. Anger and terrour reign throughout the Iliad, because Achilles is Ulysses. But it is a mere chimera, to imagine
a hero that has the valour of Achilles, the piety angry, and the most terrible of all men.
The Æncid has all soft and tender passions, because
of Æneas, and the prudence of Ulysses, at one that is the character of Æneas. The prudence,
and the same time. This vision might happen to
an author, who would suit the character of a hero wisdom, and constancy of Ulysses do not allow
to whatever each part of the action might naturally him either of these extremes ; therefore the poet does not permit one of thein to be predominant in require, without regarding the essence of the fable,
or the unity of the character in the same person the Odyssey. He confines himself to adıniration only, which he carries to an higher pitch than in upon all sorts of occasions : this hero would be
the mildest, best-natured prince in the world, and the Iliad : and it is upon this account that he introduces a great many more machines, in the
also the most choleric, hard-hearted, and imOdyssey, into the body of the action, than are to placable creature imaginable; he would be exo be seen in the actions of the other two poems.
tremely tender like Æneas, extremely violent like Achilles, and yet have the indifference of Ulysses, that is incapable of the two extremes. Would it not be in vain for the poet to call this person by
the same name throughout ? The manners of the epic poem ought to be
Let us reflect on the effects it would produce in poetically good, but it is not necessary ey be
several poems, whose authors were of opinion, always morally so. They are poetically good, when
that the chief character of a hero is that of an one may discover the virtue or vice, the good or
accomplished man. They would be all alike; ill inclinations of every one who speaks or acts:
all valiant in battle, prudent in council, pious in they are poetically bad, when persons are made
the acts of religion, courteous, civil, magnificent ; to speak or act out of character, or inconsistently,
and, lastly, endued with all the prodjgious virtues Of unequally. The manners of Eneas and of
any poet could invent. All this would be indepenMezentius are equally good, considered poetically, dent from the action and the subject of the popin; because they equally demonstrate the piety of the
прon seeing each hero separated from the rest Ole, and the impiety of the other.
of the work : we should not easily guess, to what action, and to what poem, the hero belonged. So that we should see, that none of those would have
a character ; since the character is that which It is requisite to make the same distinction makes a person discernable, and which distinbetween a hero in morality, and a hero in poetry, gnishes him from all others. as between moral and poetical goodness. Achilles This commanding quality in Achilles is his had as much right to the latter, as Æneas. Aristotle anger; in Ulysses, the art of dissimulation; in says, that the hero of a poem should be neither Æneas, meekness. Each of these may be styleil, good nor had; neither advanced above the rest of by way of eminence, the character in these Dankind by his virtues, or sunk beneath them by heroes. bis rices; that he may be the proper and fuller But these characters cannot be alone. It is ahExample to others, both what to imitate and what solutely necessary that some other should give to decline.
thein a lustre, and embellish them as far as they The other qualifications of the manners are, are capable; either by hiding the defects that are that they be suitable to the causes which either in cach, by some noble and shwing qualities; as
CHARACTER OF THE HERO.
OF THE MACHINERY.
the poet has done the anger of Achilles, by shading All these ways must be probable; for however it with extraordinary valour: or by making them necessary the marvellous is to the epic action, as entirely of the nature of a true and solid virtue, nothing is so conducive to admiration; yet we can, as is to be observed in the two others. The on the other hand, admire nothing, that we think dissimulation of Ulysses is a part of his prudence, impossible. Though the probability of these maand the meekness of Eneas is wholly employed in chives be of a very large extent, (since it is founded submitting his will to the gods. For the making upon divine power) it is not without limitations. up of this union, our poets have joined together There are numerous instances of allowable and such qualities as are by nature the most com- probable machines in the epic poem, where the patible; valour with anger, meekness with piety, gods are no less actors than the men. But the less and prudence with dissimulation. This last union credible sort, such as metamorphoses, &c. are far was necessary for the goodness of l'lysses; for, without that, his dissimulation might have de- This suggests a reflection on the method of rengenerated into wickedness and double-dealing. dering those machines probable, which in their
own nature are hardly so. Those, which require
only divine probability, should be so disengaged SECT. VII.
from the action, that one might subtract them from it, without destroying the action. But those,
which are essential and necessary, should be We now come to the machines of the epic grounded upon human probability, and not on poem. The chief passion which it aims to excite the sole power of God. Thus the episodes of being admiration, nothing is so conducive to that Circe, the Syrens, Polyphemus, &c. are necessary as the marvellous; and the importance and dig- to the action of the Odyssey, and yet not humanly pity of the action is by nothing so greatly elevated probable: yet Homer has artificially reduced them as by the care and interposition of Heaven. to human probability, by the simplicity and ignoThese machines are of three sorts.
rance of the Phæacians, before whom he causes theological, and were invented to explain the those recitals to be made. nature of the gods.' Others are physical, and The next question is, where, and on what occarepresent the things of nature. The last are moral, sions, machines may be used ? It is certain Homer and are images of virtues and vices.
and Virgil make use of them every where, and Homer and the ancients have given to their scarce suffer any action to be performed without deities the manners, passions, and vices of men. them. Petronius makes this a precept: Per The poems are wholly allegorical; and in this ambages, deo nque ministeria, &c. The gods view it is easier to defend Homer than to blame are mentioned in the very proposition of their him. We cannot accuse him for making mention works, the invocation is addrest to them, and the of many gods, for his bestowing passions upon whole narration is full of them. The gods are the them, or even introducing them fighting against causes of the action, they form the intrigue, and men. The Scripture uses the like figures and bring about the solution. The precept of Aristotle expressions.
and Korace, that the unravelling of the plot should If it be allowable to speak thus of the gods in not proceed from a miracle, or the appearance of theology, much more in the fictions of natural a god, has place only in dramatic poetry, not in the philosophy; where, if a poet describes the deities, epic. For it is plain, that both in the solution of he must give them such manners, speeches, and the Iliad and Odyssey, the gods are concerned : in actions, as are conformable to the nature of the the former, the deities meet to appease the anger things the represent under those divinities. The of Achilles : Iris and 'Mercury are sent to that case is the same in the morals of the deities :
purpose, and Minerva eminently assists Achilles Minerva is wise, because she represents prudence; in the decisive combat with Hector. In the Venus is both good or bad, because the passion of Odyssey, the same goddess fights close by Ulysses Jore is capable of these contrary qualities,
against the suitors, and concludes that peace beSince among the gods of a poem some are good, twixt him and the Ithacensians, which completes some bad, and some indifferently either; and the
poem. since of our passions we make so many allegorical We may therefore determine, that a machme is deities; we may attribute to the gods all that is not an invention to extricate the poet out of any doue in the poem, whether good or evil. But difficulty which embarrasses him : but that the these deities do not act constantly in one and the presence of a divinity, and some action surprising same manner.
and extraordinary, are inserted into almost all the Sometimes they act invisibly, and by mere parts of the work, in order to render it more mainspiration ; which has nothing in it extraordinary jestic and more admirable. But this mixture or miraculous ; being no more than what we say ought to be so made, that the machines might be every day, “ that some god has assisted us, or
retrenched, without taking any thing from the come demon has instigated us.'
action: at the same time that it gives the readers At other times tliey appear visibly, and manifest a lesson of piety and virtue ; and teaches them, themselves to men, in a manner altogether mira- that the most brave and the most wise can do noculous and preternatural.
thing, and attain nothing great and glorious, withThe third way has something of both the others; out the assistance of Heaven. Thus the machinery it is in truth a miracle, but is not commonly so ac- crowns the whole work, and renders it at once kounted: this includes dreavis, oracles, &c. marvellous, probable, and moral