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poet, distinguished from the rest by Italian characters. The best of Ovid's expositors is he that wrote for the Dauphin's use, who has very well shown the meaning of the author, but seldom reflects on his beauties or imperfections; for in most places he rather acts the geographer than the critic, and, instead of pointing out the fineness of a description, only tells you in what part of the world the place is situated. I shall, therefore, only consider Ovid under the character of a poet, and endeavour to show him impartially, without the usual prejudice of a translator; which I am the more willing to do, because I believe such a comment would give the reader a truer taste of poetry than a comment on any other poet would do; for in reflecting on the ancient poets, men think they may venture to praise all they meet with in some, and scarce anything in others; but Ovid is confessed to have a mixture of both kinds, to have something of the best and worst poets, and, by consequence, to be the fairest subject for criticism.
P. 88, 1. 34.-My son, says he, &c.] Phoebus's speech is very nobly ushered in, with the terque quaterque concutiens illustre caput and well represents the danger and difficulty of the undertaking; but that which is its peculiar beauty, and makes it truly Ovid's, is the representing them just as a father would to his young son;
Per tamen adversi gradieris cornua tauri,
for one while he scares him with bugbears in the way,
Vasti quoque rector Olympi,
Non agat hos currus; et quid Jove majus habetur ?
Deprecor hoc unum quod vero nomine pœna,
Non honor est. Pœnam, Phaeton, pro munere poscis ;
and in other places perfectly tattles like a father, which by the way makes the length of the speech very natural, and concludes with all the fondness and concern of a tender parent.
Patrio pater esse metu probor; aspice vultus
P. 90, 1. 16.-A golden axle, &c.] Ovid has more turns
and repetitions in his words than any of the Latin poets, which are always wonderfully easy and natural in him. The repetition of aureus, and the transition to argenteus, in the description of the chariot, give these verses a great sweetness and majesty.
Aureus axis erat, temo aureus, aurea summæ
P. 90, 1. 41.-Drive 'em not on directly, &c.] Several have endeavoured to vindicate Ovid against the old objection, that he mistakes the annual for the diurnal motion of the
The Dauphin's notes tell us that Ovid knew very well the sun did not pass through all the signs he names in one day, but that he makes Phoebus mention them only to frighten Phaeton from the undertaking. But though this may answer for what Phoebus says in his first speech, it cannot for what is said in this, where he is actually giving directions for his journey, and plainly
Sectus in obliquum est lato curvamine limes,
describes the motion through all the zodiac.
P. 91, 1. 15.—And not my chariot, &c.] Ovid's verse is Consiliis non curribus utere nostris. This way of joining two such different ideas as chariot and counsel to the same verb is mightily used by Ovid, but is a very low kind of wit, and has always in it a mixture of pun, because the verb must be taken in a different sense when it is joined with one of the things, from what it has in conjunction with the other. Thus in the end of this story he tells you that Jupiter flung a thunderbolt at Phaëton-Pariterque, animâque, rotisque expulit aurigam, where he makes a forced piece of Latin (anima expulit aurigam) that he may couple the soul and the wheels to the same verb.
P. 91, 1. 41.—The youth was in a maze, &c.] It is impossible for a man to be drawn in a greater confusion than Phaeton is; but the antithesis of light and darkness a little. flattens the description. Suntque oculis tenebræ per tantum lumen abortæ.
P. 92, 1. 2.—Then the seven stars, &c.] I wonder none of Ovid's commentators have taken notice of the oversight he has committed in this verse, where he makes the Triones
grow warm before there was ever such a sign in the heavens; for he tells us in this very book, that Jupiter turned Calisto into this constellation, after he had repaired the ruins that Phaeton had made in the world.
P. 93, 1. 14.-Athos and Tmolus, &c.] Ovid has here, after the way of the old poets, given us a catalogue of the mountains and rivers which were burnt. But, that I might not tire the English reader, I have left out some of them that make no figure in the description, and inverted the order of the rest according as the smoothness of my verse required.
Ibid. 1. 39.-'Twas then, they say, the swarthy Moor, &c.] This is the only Metamorphosis in all this long story, which, contrary to custom, is inserted in the middle of it. The critics may determine whether what follows it be not too great an excursion in him who proposes it as his whole design to let us know the changes of things. I dare say that if Ovid had not religiously observed the reports of the ancient mythologists, we should have seen Phaeton turned into some creature or other that hates the light of the sun; or perhaps into an eagle that still takes pleasure to gaze on it. P. 94, 1. 18.—The frighted Nile, &c.] Ovid has made a great many pleasant images towards the latter end of this story. His verses on the Nile,
Nilus in extremum fugit perterritus orbem,
are as noble as Virgil could have written; but then he ought not to have mentioned the channel of the sea. afterwards,
Mare contrahitur, siccæque est campus Arenæ,
because the thought is too near the other. The image of the Cyclades is a very pretty one;
Quos altum texerat æquor
but to tell us that the swans grew warm in Cäyster,
and that the dolphins durst not leap,
Nec se super æquora curvi
is intolerably trivial on so great a subject as the burning of the world.
P. 94, 1. 41.-The earth at length, &c.] We have here a
ON EUROPA'S RAPE, P. 112.
P. 113, 1. 5.—The dignity of empire, &c.] This story is
Non bene conveniunt, nec in unâ sede morantur,.
without which the whole fable would have appeared very
P. 114, 1. 3.-The frighted nymph looks, &c.] This con-
Elusam designat imagine tauri
is better described in Arachne's picture in the sixth book,
ON THE STORIES IN THE THIRD BOOK, P. 114.
There is so great a variety in the arguments of the Meta-
after it, in the more sublime and manly subjects of his poem. In the present fable the serpent is terribly described, and his behaviour very well imagined, the actions of both parties in the encounter are natural, and the language that represents them more strong and masculine than what we usually meet with in this poet: if there be any faults in the narration, they are these perhaps which follow.
P. 116, 1. 1.—Spire above spire, &c.] Ovid, to make his serpent more terrible, and to raise the character of his champion, has given too great a loose to his imagination, and exceeded all the bounds of probability. He tells us, that when he raised up but half his body, he overlooked a tall forest of oaks, and that his whole body was as large as that of the serpent in the skies. None but a madman would have attacked such a monster as this is described to be; nor can we have any notion of a mortal's standing against him. Virgil is not ashamed of making Æneas fly and tremble at the sight of a far less formidable foe, where he gives us the description of Polyphemus, in the third book; he knew very well that a monster was not a proper enemy for his hero to encounter: but we should certainly have seen Cadmus hewing down the Cyclops, had he fallen in Ovid's way; or if Statius's little Tydeus had been thrown on Sicily, it is probable he would not have spared one of the whole brotherhood.
Phoenicas, sive illi tela parabant,
Ibid. 1. 8.-In vain the Tyrians, &c.] The poet could not keep up his narration all along in the grandeur and magnificence of an heroic style: he has here sunk into the flatness of prose, where he tells us the behaviour of the Tyrians at the sight of the serpent:
Tegimen direpta leoni
And in a few lines after, lets drop the majesty of his verse, for the sake of one of his little turns. How does he languish in that which seems a laboured line! Tristia sanguineá lambentem vulnera lingua. And what pains does he take to express the serpent's breaking the force of the stroke, by shrinking back from it!