« AnteriorContinuar »
pathy-not even towards the martyr herself; for it nowhere appears that she embraces the new faith in preference to the old one, from any high and ennobling sense of natural duty, or because it is calculated to make her the better fulfil her appointed station on the earth; but simply because she believes that it will gain her a better station in heaven. Even when her poor father (who is the only person in the poem whose sorrows at all move us) is urging her to forswear her new faith, or at least to “dissemble-any thing, but die and leave me,” all she has to reply is
· who disown their Lord
On earth, he will disown in heaven.” and when he replies to this
Hard heartCredulous of all but thy fond father's sorrows!” we scarcely feel that he is reproaching her wrongfully.
Indeed, Mr. Milman has hitherto been truly unfortunate in his female characters. Even Bianca, in Fazio, (which is incomparably his best work,)—even Bianca, with all her restless and passionate fondness for her lord, is but a selfish and unamiable sort of person,-for she evidently loves him, not for his sake, but her own; and would infinitely rather see him dead at her feet, than living and happy at the feet, or even in the thoughts, of another. Such a character is any thing rather tban a revival (as it professes to be) of those of the Elizabethan drama. Mr. Milman may in vain seek for such a character in Fletcher, or Ford-least of all, in Shakspeare. There is no such thing. Even the Virgin Martyr, in Massinger's play of that name (which is evidently the prototype of the present poem)—even she has no doting father to leave childless and friendless behind her; for though the plot of that drama is liable to all the objections which apply to the Martyr of Antioch, Massinger had the judgment to make his heroine alone in the world, and, moreover, to endow her with a kind of half-human love for her ideal image of the Saviour, whose presence she is perpetually yearning after. But for this, and the deeds of charity and beneficence which she performs, she would, in spite of all her calm and noble resolution, go to heaven without that portion of our admiration and sympathy which she now carries with her.
With respect to the other characters (excepting Callias), we take no care or interest whatever about them. The only one who acts any thing like a prominent part is Olybius ; and what can we feel for the disappointed passion of a man who exultingly condemns his fellowbeings to torture and death, because they differ from him in faith? The author, it is true, has endeavoured to obviate this objection, by making him do all in compliance with the edicts of his Emperor, and in fulfilment of the duties belonging to his exalted station; and against his own feelings and judgment. But this, instead of mending the matter, evidently makes it worse ; inasmuch as it takes away from him those sentiments of fanaticism which might have been urged as a palliation or an excuse.
As to the other Christians—they are merely introduced to swell the pageant of the sacrifice; and they add nothing to the poetical effect of the tale. In fact, there can be very little sympathy felt now-a-days towards persons who are represented as courting and exulting in that death which is to purchase them a crown immortal, at the expense
neglecting or disregarding the mere mortal duties which arise from their natural and social ties. Even the feeling which brings about the catastrophe of Margarita's death,--namely, her eagerness to die before her poor doting and deserted father can arrive to take a last look and farewell of her,-is most unnatural and repulsive."
By all this we do not mean to express an opinion that the details of such events as that which forms the subject of this poem, should not be recorded ; but only that such details are altogether unfit for poetry; —which, in fact, cannot subsist in the absence of general sympathy confined within the limits of delight. Upon the whole, then, overlooking some minor faults of careless versification and modes of expression, general diffusiveness, &c. the Martyr of Antioch is strikingly inferior both to Fazio and the Fall of Jerusalem; and, but for the existence of these latter poems, we should not have felt ourselves justified in saying what we have meant to convey in the beginning of the article, that Mr. Milman is a writer of highly cultivated mind, whose works have no chance of being forgotten in the annals of the age which he contributes to adorn.
TO MISS M.A. TREE.
For the gentle Viola :
With poor Ophelia :
Finds its resting-place in thee :
It seeins thy fitting ininistry,
And Hope still lighter, burning still,
The fond enthusiast of his will,
The maid who never told her love."
To shrink at once before the blast;
But one short grief,—the first and last :
And yield, nor dare to stem the tide.
What woman's heart can do and dare,-
The tyrant thrall that lovers bear?
Thus to breathe thy noiseless spell,
And binds, although invisible.
LECTURES ON POETRY. BY T. CAMPBELL.
CONTINUATION OF THE SYNOPSIS OF GREEK POETRY,
Oracular Poetry. There can be no doubt that the Greeks early possessed, and long preserved, prophetic compositions. The traditional history of their oracles goes as far back as that of their poetry; and we are told that those oracles first taught them the use of heroic measure. A cloud of fable however rests over the names of all their primitive soothsayers; and the first light of distinct history that dawns upon Greek affairs discovers those who promulgated prophetic verses, bringing them forward not as their own compositions, but modestly ascribing them to departed genius. Their early religious mystics had an excellent stalking-horse in the reputation of Orpheus and Musæus, for aiming predictions
as well as doctrines behind the pretended authority of those
bards. Onomacritus coined oracles under both of their names. The rascality of that priest, who deserted the cause of his country, and went over to Xerxes, exposed his mock-antique predictions to scrutiny and detection. But other prophecies were circulated about the same time among his countrymen, which were either better concerted, or, from being favourable to the Greeks, were more goodnaturedly examined. Among these there were some attributed to the very ancient name of Bacis, which Herodotus regarded as old and fulfilled predictions of the battles of Salamis and Platæa. To these he appeals with as much confidence as a modern divine would feel in quoting holy writ, and with that air of sincerity which never leaves him, even when he is relating what is incredible: he subjoins, “ From this explicit declaration of Bacis (respecting the battle of Salamis ) I shall never presume to question the authority of Oracles, nor patiently suffer others to do so."
Thucydides mentions that when Athens was greatly agitated at the breaking out of the Peloponnesian war, the soothsayers split into parties, singing all manner of prophecies. Pausanias, when travelling through Greece many centuries afterwards, heard the verses of several prophets recited, which passed for compositions of extreme antiquity." Those of Bacis were among the number : Pausanias has quoted them ; but his date as a writer* makes his soothsaying scraps less valuable than those of Herodotus. About the age of oracular verses we can never be certain of much more than that they are as old as the writer who quotes them. But even for this assurance we prize those which are quoted by the father of history.
The ideas of prophetic and poetical inspiration were not identified by the Greeks, but they were evidently held to have some affinity. Plato considers Love, Poetry, and Prophecy, as the three great branches of divine transport or madness (rñs õelas javías). Verse was the earliest language of oracles, and was not superseded by prose till within the third century before the Christian era. The scenery of Delphi, incomparably the greatest of the Pagan shrines, was poetically hallowed, and its tutelary power was the god of song as well as of divination. It is true that Parnassus was partially consecrated to Bacchus as well as
* In the second century A. C.
VOL. IV. NO, XVII.
Apollo* ; but the mountain lost nothing of its poetical patronage by this participation of its empire; for Bacchus was invoked as the chief inspirer of the tragic muse. The Parnassian laurel was expressly denominated the prophetic plant;" and, if we may believe Lycophron's Cassandra, its leaves were administered by Apollo as food to those whom he gifted with vaticination t. Whether the god ever treated his poets to this species of salad, we are not informed; but the laurel was a token of honour in their vocation; and it is a moot point whether the name of a rhapsodist was not derived from the rod (paßdos), which was a branch of laurel that he bore in his hand.—" Should you presume to ascend Parnassus,” says Lucian to an ignoramus, "the Muses would not present you with a luurel-branch, but would whip you with a rod of a different description.”. Moreover, the Pythian priestess used to bathe in the Castalian fountain to prepare her for prophesying t; and the poets drank its waters as a tonic for inspiration, though it is to be hoped that they timed their draughts at due intervals from the old lady's lustrations,
But notwithstanding so many circumstances which denote the ideas of song and divination to have been connected in the minds of the Greeks, we have no traces of their having possessed prophetic works of a high or interesting poetical character. Indeed, where prediction is but a phantasy of human enthusiasm, we can hardly expect it to bear the genuine impress of poetry. Homer has justly denominated the Muses the daughters of Memory; and it is evident that their pictures of existence must be more vividly drawn from the substantial past, than from the shadowy future. Of this the Greeks seem to have been early aware; for even in the Homeric manners the offices of the bard and the soothsayer are completely separated. The renown of the Cretan Epimenides g may suggest an idea, that he, though posterior to Homer, may have possibly united the two vocations. But within the clear verge of Greek history we meet with no man of distinguished genius accredited both as a bard and a seer. On the contrary, when priests or statesmen found it convenient to scatter predictions among the people, if they were not obtained from the Pythia, they were either fathered on a Bacis or an Olen, or attributed to some Sibyl of conveniently remote antiquity. Greek politics were certainly not uninfluenced by oracles, but never to any such degree as among the Hebrews. The theocratic constitution of the Jews might be said to subsist upon prophecy. The prophets of that people blended the importance and utility of public orators, censors, patriots, philosophers, and even of historians, though they were the historians of futurity. Moses provided for their freedom of speech under the protection of the law. Samuel incorporated them into colleges when he renovated the Mosaic system from its first decline ; and the prophets continued for many centuries to be efficient, either as the champions or martyrs of that system.--Not such champions of truth
* Parnassus gemino petit æthera collo
Mons Phæbo Bromioque sacer. * Δαφνηφάγων φοίβαζειν εκ λαιμών όπα. .
The office of Pythia could not be filled by a lady under the age of fifty. At the primitive institution of the Oracle this had not been the case; but a young and handsome priestess having been run away with by some sacrilegious lover, the requisite :ge was fixed at half a century, 49 being thought still too susceptible a period.
§ Vide Fabricii Biblioth. Græc. vol. i. p. ?!), cilit Harlos.
as Homer describes Calchas to have been, in the Hiad, when he bargains for safety before he will risque offending Agamemnon. A Hebrew prophet would have disdained to have sought shelter even behind the arm of Achilles. — The elevation of the prophetic character in Israel made it monopolize the national genius. All that was lofty and ideal in the Hebrew mind sprang upwards to meet the divine commission. Hence, prediction, which elsewhere was only verse, became in Judæa picturesque and imaginative poetry.
Surrounded though Delphi was with poetical associations, we are certain that its oracular responses were never poetically famous. Versemakers were retained in the temple for the express purpose of putting the ravings of the Pythia into proper diction. Yet we find Plutarch apologizing for the mediocrity of the Delphic verses, and acquitting Apollo of blame, on the ground that he was answerable only for the meaning and not the metre. Lucian is not so good-natured: he makes Momus rally the God of Delphi on the ambiguity of his style, alleging that it was a mere refuge from the distress of answering posing questions, and declaring the bad prosody of the Pythian measures to be a proof that the Muses and his oracular God-ship were not on the best possible terms.
In the Cassandra of Lycophron we have no doubt an entire and regular Greek poem of a prophetic character, and one which we are certain to have been composed before the Christian era. It contains Cassandra's predictions of the misfortunes of Troy. This obscure work was written by a poet sometimes ranked in the poetical Pleiades of the court of Ptolemy Philadelphus, though the scholiasts are not agreed as to his having been one of the seven luminaries of that constellation, which, if all its orbs had been like Lycophron, would have been, indeed, rather a dim one. His poem, for aught that is known to the contrary, may be a learned imitation of the ancient soothsaying strains, but it is coldly elaborate, and gives us an idea more of the smoke than the fire of vaticination. It is in fact, however, merely a picture, and not a relic of Greek poetical prophecy. Cassandra speaks only at second-hand through a messenger in the poem, and we never think for a moment of the author having pretended to prescience. He figures before us only as one imagining the past predictions of past things, and enditing them either in his closet, or in a nook of the Alexandrian Library.
The short passages of oracular sayings and responses preserved to us by the Greek historians are, therefore, the only extant specimens of this class of their poetry. Those passages are exceedingly curious as historical documents ; but they are few and brief, as we might expect them to be, and, as relics of poetry, are entirely insignificant. Nor is the slightest reliance to be placed on the pretended antiquity of the so called Sibylline verses. The eight books which are extant under that title, are palpable forgeries of the early Christians, or of subsequent compilers. T'he Sibyl muse, in those dull effusions, versifies portions of scriptural history, both from the Old and New Testament; describes the flood and the family of Noah with considerable minuteness; professes herself a Christian; inveighs against idolaters and Jews ; preaches the crucifixion, and the coming of Antichrist; and intelligibly hints at the doctrine of the Trinity. It is painful to