Chapter X.—Of those who reject the Doctrines of Philosophers, as well as those of Scripture: and that we ought to believe the Poets in All Things, or disbelieve them in All.
There are, however, some persons so infatuated, that when they meet with such sentiments as these, they are neither converted or alarmed: nay, they even treat them with contempt and scorn, as if they listened to the inventions of fable; applauding, perhaps, the beauty of the eloquence, but abhorring the severity of the precepts. And yet they give credence to the fictions of the poets, and make both civilized and barbarous 3410 countries ring with exploded and false tales. For the poets assert that the judgment of souls after death is committed to men whose parentage they ascribe to the gods, 3411 extolling their righteousness and impartiality and represent them as guardians of the dead. The same poets describe the battles of the gods and certain usages of war among them, and speak of them as subject to the power of fate. Some of these deities they picture to us as cruel, others as strangers to all care for the human race, and others again as hateful in their character. They introduce them also as mourning the slaughter of their own children, thus implying their inability to succor, not strangers merely, but those most dear to them. They describe them, too, as subject to human passions, and sing of their battles and wounds, their joys and sorrows. And in all this they appear worthy of belief. 3412 For if we suppose them to be moved by a divine impulse to attempt the poetic art, we are bound to believe them and to be persuaded of what they utter under this inspiration. They speak, then, of the calamities to which their divinities are subject; calamities which of course are altogether true! But it will be objected that it is the privilege of poets to lie, since the peculiar province of poetry is to charm 3413 the spirits of the hearers, while the very essence of truth is that things told be in reality exactly what they are said to be. 3414 Let us grant that it is a characteristic of poetry occasionally to conceal the truth. But they who speak falsehood do it not without an object; being influenced either by a desire of personal gain or advantage, or possibly, being conscious of some evil conduct, they are induced to disguise the truth by dread of the threatening vengeance of the laws. But surely it were possible for them (in my judgment), by adhering faithfully to truth at least while treating of the nature of the Supreme Being, to avoid the guilt at once of falsehood and impiety.
“All the Greek-speaking world, and foreign lands as well.”567:3411
Rhadamanthus was a son of Jove (or Vulcan) and Europa. Cf. Hom. Il. 14. 322; Od. 4. 564, 7. 323.567:3412
[There can be no doubt (though the fact is not immediately apparent from the wording of the text), that the spirit of this passage is ironical.—Bag.]567:3413
Rather “cheat,” or “delude.” Mr. Charles Dudley Warner, essayist and novelist, says in an interesting essay on the relation of fiction to life, that the object of fiction is to produce illusions, and the test of its art is its power to produce such illusion.567:3414
There is a temptation here to adopt the translation of Molz. “Truth lies in the fiction, however, when what is told corresponds to reality.” Mr. Warner, in his lecture, goes on to say that the object of fiction is to reveal what is,—not the base and sordid things only or peculiarly, but the best possibilities, and gives an exquisite exposition of the fact that the idealism of true fiction is simply the realism of the nobler characteristics and truths. The truth is, that the object of fiction or poetry as art is to produce the image,—fill the whole personality with a picture. This is only gained in its highest form when every detail exactly corresponds to truth or reality. The function of fiction is not illusion, but realization. Its object is the reproduction of truth. Molz. makes Constantine say that fiction is true when it corresponds to reality, though the forms be not historical or actual. This is a true observation, but not what Constantine says. He says in substance, with Mr. Warner, that the object is to produce illusion or deceive, while the idea of truth is just the reverse.