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The Golden Verses of Pythagoras, by Fabre d'Olivet, [1917], at

p. 88


I am beginning with the creator of epopœia, with Homer. It is easy to see by the manner in which this divine man blends, from the opening lines of the Iliad, the exposition and invocation, that, full of a celestial inspiration that he was the first to receive, he seeks to pour forth the superabundant fire which consumes him, and to throw into the soul of his hearer the impassioned enthusiasm which masters and controls his own. The following lines will suffice to make known the subject of a work which fills twenty-four cantos.

Déesse! viens chanter la colère d’Achille,
Fatale, et pour les Grecs si fertile en malheurs,
Qui, d’avance, aux enfers, précipitant en foule
Les âmes des héros, livra leurs corps sanglants
Aux dogues affamés: ainsi Jupiter même
Le voulut, quand la haine eut divisé les cœurs
Du roi des rois Atride et du divin Achille.
  Lequel des Immortels provoqua ce courroux?
Apollon irrité, qui, pour punir Atride,
Ravagea son armée: et les peuples mourraient!

O Goddess! sing the wrath of Peleus’ son,
Achilles; sing the deadly wrath that brought
Woes numberless upon the Greeks, and swept
To Hades many a valiant soul, and gave
Their limbs a prey to dogs and birds of air,—
For so had Jove appointed,—from the time
When the two chiefs, Atrides, King of men,
And great Achilles, parted first as foes.
  Which of the gods put strife between the chiefs,
That they should thus contend? Latona’s son
And Jove’s. Incensed against the king, he bade
A deadly pestilence appear among
The army, and the men were perishing.

p. 89

Μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος,
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί᾽ Ἀχαιοϊς ἄλγε᾽ ἔθηχεν,
πολλὰς δ᾽ ἰφθίμους ψυχὰς Ἄϊδι προϊαψεν
ἡρώων, αὐτοὺς δὲ ἑλώρια τεῦχε χύνεσσιν
οἰωνοῖσί τε πᾶσι (Διὸς δ᾽ἐτελείετο βουλή),
ἐξ οὖ δὴ τὰ πρῶτα διαστήτην ἐρίσαντε
Ἀτείδης τε, ἄναξ ἀνδρῶν, καὶ δῖος Ἀχιλλεύς.
  Τίς τ᾽ ἄρ σφωε θεῶν ἔριδι ξυνέηχε μάχεσθαι;
Λητοῦς καὶ Διὸς υἱός. Ὁ γὰρ βασιλῆϊ χολωθεὶς
νοῦσον ἀνὰ στρατὸν ὦρσε κακὴν, ὀλέκοντο δὲ λαοὶ.

I dispense with making any reflection upon the charm of the original verses and upon the admirable sentiment which terminates them. It would be a very strange thing not to be impressed by the beauties of this poetry. Let us pass on to Vergil.

Even though I should not say it, it would suffice now to compare the Greek poet with the Latin poet, in order to perceive that the latter received only a second inspiration, transmitted by the inspiring power of the former. Vergil, less ardent, more tender, more correct, admits at once the luminous distinction; far from blending the exposition and invocation, he separates them, affects a tone more simple, promises little, exposes with timidity the subject of his poem, summons his Muse, and seems to persuade it, even less than the reader, to be favourable to him. He employs these lines:

Je chante les combats, et ce Héros troyen,
Qui, fuyant Ilion, aborda l’Italie
Le premier: sur la terre errant, et sur les mers,
En butte aux traits cruels de Junon irritée,
Il souffrit mille maux; avant qu’il établît
Ses Dieux chez les Latins, et fondât une ville,
Berceau d’Albe, de Rome et de ses hauts remparts.
  Muse! rappelle-moi quels motifs de vengeance
Excitaient la Déesse, et pourquoi son courroux
S’obstinait à poursuive un Héros magnanime?
Tant de haine entre-t-elle au cœur des Immortels!

p. 90

Arms and the man I sing, who first,
By fate of Ilium realm amerced,
To fair Italia onward bore,
And landed on Lavinium’s shore:—
Long tossing earth and ocean o’er,
By violence of heaven, to sate
Fell Juno’s unforgetting hate:
Much laboured too in battle-field,
Striving his city’s walls to build,
  And give his Gods a home:
Thence come the hardy Latin brood,
The ancient sires of Alba’s blood,
  And lofty-rampired Rome.
Say, Muse, for godhead how disdained,
Or wherefore worth, Heaven’s queen constrained
That soul of piety so long
'To turn the wheel, to cope with wrong.
Can heavenly natures nourish hate
So fierce, so blindly passionate?

Arma virumque cano, Trojæ qui primus ab oris
Italiam, fato profugus, Lavinaque venit
Litora, multum ille et terris jactatus et alto
Vi superûm, sævæ memorem Junonis ob iram,
Multa quoque et bello passus, dum conderet urbem
Inferretque deos Latio: genus unde Latinum,
Albanique patres atque altæ mœnia Romæ.
  Musa, mihi causas memora, quo numine læso,
Quidve dolens, regina deûm tot volvere casus
Insignem pietate virum, tot adire labores
Impulerit. Tantæne animis cœlestibus iræ?

It can be observed that Vergil, although he places himself foremost and although he says, I sing, begins nevertheless in a manner much less animated, much less sure than the Greek poet, who, transported beyond himself, seems to impose upon his Muse the subject of his songs, interrogates her, and then inspired by her, responds. The Latin poet finishes, like his model, with a sentence; but it is easy to feel that this apostrophe,

p. 91

Can heavenly natures nourish hate
So fierce, so blindly passionate?

although very beautiful, contains less depth, less feeling, and holds less intimately to the subject than this sublime reflection:

. . . and the men were perishing!

Someone has said that Vergil had imitated in his exposition the commencement of the Odyssey of Homer; this is a mistake. One finds always in the exposition of the Odyssey the real character of a first inspiration blended with the invocation, although more calm and less alluring than in the Iliad. Here is the translation:

  Du plus sage Héros, Muse, dis les traverses
Sans nombre, après qu’il eut triomphé d’Ilion:
Rapelle les cités, les peuples, les usages,
Qu’il connut, et les mers où longtemps il erra:
A quels soins dévorants, à quels maux l’exposèrent
L’amour de la patrie et noble désir
D’y mener ses guerriers! Vain désir: ils osèrent,
Insensés! du Soleil dévorer les troupeaux;
Et ce Dieu, du retour leur ravit la journée.
Fais-nous part de ces faits, fille de Jupiter.

Tell me, O Muse, of that sagacious man
Who, having overthrown the sacred town
Of Ilium, wandered far and visited
The capitals of many nations, learned
The customs of their dwellers and endured
Great suffering on the deep; his life was oft
In peril, as he laboured to bring back
His comrades to their homes. He saved them not,
Though earnestly he strove; they perished all,
Through their own folly; for they banqueted,
Madmen! upon the oxen of the Sun,
The all-o’erlooking Sun, who cut them off
From their return. O Goddess, virgin-child
Of Jove, relate some part of this to me.

p. 92

Ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν,
πολλῶν δ᾽ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω·
πολλὰ δ᾽ ὅ γ᾽ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν,
ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ὧς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο ἱέμενός περ·
αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρησιν ἀτασθαγίησιν ὄλοντο,
νήπιοι, οἳ κατὰ βοῦς Ὑπερίονος Ἠελίοιο
ἤσθιον· αὐτὰρ ὁ τοῖσιν ἀφείλετο νόστιμον ἧμαρ.
τῶν ἁμόθεν γε, θεὰ θύγατερ Διός, εἰμὲ καὶ ἡμῖν.

The talent of Homer shows itself completely in the Odyssey; it dominates the genius there, so to speak, as much as the genius had dominated it in the Iliad. The fire which animates the Iliad has been, with reason, compared to that of the sun arrived at the height of its course, and the splendour which shines in the Odyssey to that with which the occident is coloured on the evening of a fine day. Perhaps if we had his Thebaid, we would see those brilliant lights which accompany the aurora, developed there, and then we would possess in all its shades this immortal genius who depicted all nature.

There are people who, feeling by a sort of intuition that Homer had been created the poetic incentive of Europe, even as I have said, and judging on the other hand that Ariosto had made an epic poem, are convinced that the Italian poet had copied the Greek; but this is not so. Ariosto;, who has made only a romanesque poem, has not received the inspiration of Homer; he has simply followed the fictions attributed to Archbishop Turpin and clothing them with forms borrowed from the Arabs by the troubadours makes himself creator in this secondary style. The rhyme is as essential to it as it is harmful to veritable epopœia; this is why the eumolpique verses never conform to it in the slightest degree. To apply them to it, is to make serious what is by nature gay, it is to give a character of force and of truth to what is only light, airy, and fantastic. I am

p. 93

about, however, to translate the beginning of his poem, in order to furnish, by the shocking disparity which exists between the romantic essence of his poetry and the epic form that I here adapt, a new proof of what I have said.

  Je veux chanter les Dames, les Guerriers,
L’amour, l’honneur, et les jeux et les armes,
Durant ces temps où les fiers Sarrasins,
Des mers d’Afrique, abordèrent en France,
Pour seconder les fureurs d’Agramant,
Le jeune roi, dont l’orgueilleuse audace
Pensait venger la mort du vieux Trojan,
Sur l’empereur des Romains, Charlemagne.

  Je veux aussi raconter de Roland,
Chose inouïe, autant en vers qu’en prose;
Dire l’amour qui rendit furieux
Ce paladin, auparavant si sage;
Si toutefois celle qui m’a charmé,
Qui va minant ma raison d’heure en heure,
M’en laisse assez pour remplir dignement
Mon entreprise et tenir ma promesse.

  Of Loves and Ladies, Knights and Arms, I sing,
Of Courtesies, and many a Daring Feat;
And from those ancient days my story bring,
When Moors from Afric passed in hostile fleet,
And ravaged France, with Agramant their King,
Flushed with his youthful rage and furious heat;
Who on King Charles’, the Roman emperor’s head
Had vowed due vengeance for Troyano dead.

  In the same strain of Roland will I tell
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme,
On whom strange madness and rank fury fell,
A man esteemed so wise in former time;
If she, who to like cruel pass has well
Nigh brought my feeble wit which fain would climb
And hourly wastes my sense, concede me skill
And strength my daring promise to fulfil.
                                           W. R. ROSE.

p. 94

  Le donne, i cavalier, l’arme, gl’amori
Le cortesíe, l’audaci imprese io canto,
Che furo al tempo the passaro i Mori
D’Africa il mare, e in Francia nocquer tanto,
Seguendo l’ire e i giovenil furori
D’Agramante lor re, che si diè vanto
Di vendicar la morte di Troiano
Sopra re Carlo imperator romano.

  Dirò d’Orlando in un medesmo tratto
Cosa non detta in prosa mai, nè in rima;
Che per amor venne in furore e matto,
D’uom che sì saggio era stimato prima:
Se da colei che tal quasi m’ha fatto
Che’l poco ingegno ad or ad or mi lima,
Me ne sarà perd tanto concesso,
Che mi basti a finir quanto ho promesso.

It is very easy to see, in reading these two strophes, that there exists in the exposition no sort of resemblance either with that of Homer, or with that of Vergil. It is a third style, wholly foreign to the other two. Homer mingling the exposition and the invocation, commands his Muse to sing what she inspires in him; Vergil distinguishing one from the other, prays his Muse to acquaint him with what he is about to sing; whereas Ariosto, announcing simply the subject of his songs, makes no invocation. It is evident that he relies upon himself, and that in the style that he adopts he understands very well that he has no other Muse, no other guide than his imagination. His subject is in accord with his manner of treating it. If one wishes to reflect upon this decisive point, one will feel and realize, for the first time perhaps, why in the opinion of all the world concerning two works from the same hand, La Pucelle and La Henriade, the one is a poem, whereas the other, composed with a far greater pretension, is not. Voltaire, in imitating Ariosto in a subject that he has rendered romanesque and frivolous, has received the second inspiration; but in imitating Lucan in an historic subject he received nothing,

p. 95

for Lucan, creator of a mixed style, had no inspiration that he could communicate.

I have said what I thought of Camoens: it is useless to quote the exposition of his poem that has nothing remarkable, particularly since Tasso has so far surpassed him.

Tasso was worthy of receiving a veritable inspiration. His lofty genius, his pure and brilliant imagination brought him nearer to Vergil than to Ariosto; and if he had been inspired even through the Latin poet, he would have shown Europe what the magnetic power of Homer was, although acting only in its third degree. But the prejudices of education working in him even without his knowledge, and the influence that chivalresque poetry had attained in Italy, did not permit him either to forsake entirely the chronicles of Archbishop Turpin, or above all, to make any changes in the consecrated form. All that he could do in a most grave and serious historical subject was to mix a little allegorical genius with a great deal of romanesque fiction; so that, becoming inspired at the same time with Ariosto, Lucan, and Vergil, he made a mixed work, which, under the form of a lengthy song, contained the essence of epopœia, of history, and of romance. This work is one of the most entertaining poems that one can read; the only one perhaps which a translation in prose can harm but little. The inequality of its texture takes away nothing from the interest that it inspires. It pleases, but it does not instruct. If the eumolpique lines were applied to it throughout, it would not sustain them; for it is in substance only a very beautiful ballad; nevertheless, here and there are found parts which could become sublime. His exposition, imitating Vergil, reveals them very well. They are as follows:

  Je chante les combats pieux, et le Guerrier
Qui délivra du Christ la tombe renommée.
Combien il déploya de génie et d’ardeur!
Combien il supporta de maux dans cette guerre!

p. 96

Vainement les enfers s’armérent; vainement
Les peuples de l’Asie aux Africains s’unirent:
Favorisé du Ciel, sous ses drapeaux sacrés,
Vainqueur, il ramena ses compagnons fidèles.

  Divine Muse! ô toi dont le front radieux
Ne ceint point sur le Pinde un laurier périssable,
Mais qui, parmi les chœurs des habitants du Ciel,
Chantes, le front orné d’étoiles immortelles,
Viens, inspire à mon sein tes célestes ardeurs;
Fais briller dans mes vers tes clartés, et pardonne
Si, parant quelquefois l’austère vérité,
Je mêle à tes attraits des grâces étrangères.

  I sing the pious arms and Chief, who freed
The Sepulchre of Christ from thrall profane:
Much did he toil in thought, and much in deed;
Much in the glorious enterprise sustain;
And Hell in vain opposed him; and in vain
Afric and Asia to the rescue pour’d
Their mingled tribes;—Heaven recompensed his pain,
And from all fruitless sallies of the sword,
True to the Red-Cross flag his wandering friends restored.

  O thou, the Muse, that not with fading palms
Circlest thy brows on Pindus, but among
The Angels warbling their celestial psalms,
Hast for the coronal a golden throng
Of everlasting stars! make thou my song
Lucid and pure; breathe thou the flame divine
Into my bosom; and forgive the wrong,
If with grave truth light fiction I combine,
And sometimes grace my page with other flowers than thine!

  Canto l’armi pietose, e’l Capitano
Che’l gran sepolcro liberò di Christo:
Molto egli oprò col senno e con la mano;
Molto soffrì nel glorïoso acquisto:
E invano l’Inferno a lui s’oppose, e invano
S’arma d’Asia, e dì Libia il popol misto;
Chè il Ciel diè favore, e sotto ai santi
Segni ridusse i suoi compagni erranti.

p. 97

  O Musa, tu, che di caduchi allori
Non circondi la fronte in Elicona
Ma su nel Ciel infra i beati cori,
Hai di stelle immortali aurea corona,
Tu spira al petto mio celesti ardori,
Tu rischiara il mio canto, e tu perdona,
S’intesso fregi al ver, s’adorno in parte
D’altri diletti, che de’ tuoi, le carte.

The captivating enthusiasm of Homer, the majestic simplicity of Vergil are not there; there is a sweetness of expression, a purity of imagery which please. This might be greater, but then the melancholy of the romance would exclude it and the reader would demand the full force of epopœia.

Besides, the Italians have tried, over and over again, to vary the form of their verses; some have wished to measure them by musical rhythm; others have contented themselves with making blank verse. They have neither succeeded completely nor failed completely. Their language sweet and musical lacks force whether in good or in evil. Its words might indeed, strictly speaking, be composed of long and short syllables; but as they terminate, nearly all, in the soft and languid style that we call feminine, it results, therefore, that in the measured verses the poets lack the long syllables to constitute the last foot and to form the spondee; and that in the blank verse they are obliged to terminate them all in the same style; so that with the measure they create only lame verses, and without the rhyme they make them all equally languid. 1

p. 98

I recall having sometimes read French writers who, not having investigated the character of their tongue, have reproached it for its feminine syllables and have believed that their concurrence was harmful to its force and its harmony. These writers have scarcely considered what this language would be, deprived of its feminine sounds. For with the little force that it would gain on one side, it would acquire such a harshness on the other, that it would be impossible to draw from it four consecutive lines that would be endurable. If all its finals were masculine, and if nothing could change it otherwise, it would be necessary to renounce poetry, or like the Arabs, be resolved to compose whole poems in the same rhyme.

We have just seen that the lack of masculine finals takes away all energy from the Italian tongue; a contrary defect would deprive the French of this mélange of sweetness and force which makes it the première langue of Europe. The English language is lacking in precisely what the writers of whom I have spoken desired eliminated from the French, without foreseeing the grave disadvantages of their desire: it has no feminine finals 1;

p. 99

also it is in everything the opposite of the Italian. It is true that it possesses great energy, great boldness of expression, and a grammatical liberty which goes to the full extent; but deprived of sweetness and softness, it is, if I may say it, like those brittle metals whose strength is in stiffness, and which is broken when one would make them flexible. The poverty of its rhymes, denuded for the most part of accuracy of accent and of harmony in consonants, has for a long time engaged the English poets in making blank verse; and it must be admitted that, notwithstanding the defect inherent in their tongue and which consists, as I have just said, in the absolute lack of feminine finals, they have succeeded in this better than any of the poets of other nations. These lines, all imperfect in their harmony, are however, as to form, the only eumolpique verse that they could make. Shakespeare felt it and made use of it in his tragedies.

Shakespeare with the creative genius with which nature had endowed him, would have borne dramatic art to its perfection in these modern times, if circumstances had been as favourable to him as they were adverse. Emulator of Æschylus, he might have equalled and perhaps surpassed him, if he had had at his disposal a mine so rich, so brilliant

p. 100

as that of the mysteries of Orpheus; if he had made use of a language so harmonious, if his taste had been able to be refined at the school of Pindar or of Homer. At the epoch of his birth, Europe scarcely emerged from the gloom of barbarism; the theatre, given over to ridiculous mountebanks, profaned in indecent farces the incomprehensible mysteries of the Christian religion, and the English tongue, still crude and unformed, had not succeeded in amalgamating in one single body the opposed dialects of which it was successively formed. In spite of these obstacles, Shakespeare stamped upon England a movement of which Europe felt the influence. Raised by the sole force of his genius to the essence of dramatic poetry, he dared to seek for his subjects in the mythology of Odin, and put upon the stage, in Hamlet and in Macbeth, tableaux of the highest character. 1

p. 101

[paragraph continues] Like Æschylus he conducted one to virtue by terror; but unfortunately the taste of the spectators, upon which he was forced to model his, led him to degrade his tableaux by grotesque figures: the English people were not sufficiently advanced to comprehend the moral end of the tragedy. They must be amused; and Shakespeare succeeded only at the expense of the beauties of the art. Historic facts and trivial scenes replaced the mysterious and sublime subjects.

In London, the dramatic muse was turbulent and licentious;

p. 102

as in Madrid it had been chivalrous and gallant. Everywhere the theatre had to accommodate itself to the taste of the people. The first regular tragedy which Pierre Corneille composed in France was derived from a Spanish ballad. Madrid at that time gave the tone to Europe. It needed much of the time and all the prosperity of Louis XIV. to throw off the unseasonable ascendancy that this

p. 103

proud nation had assumed over public opinion. 1 Notwithstanding the efforts of Corneille, of Racine, and of Molière, the Théâtre Français retained always the romanesque tone that it had originally received. All that these three men could do was, by lofty sentiments, by purity of forms, by regularity of the customs and characters, to pass over what was, in reality, defective. They came thus to give to modern dramatic art all the perfection of which it was susceptible. Shakespeare had been in London the successor of Æschylus; Corneille received in France the inspiration of Sophocles; Racine, that of Euripides; and Molière united as in a sheaf the spirit of Menander. of Terence, and of Plautus.

When I compare Shakespeare with Æschylus, I want to make it clearly understood that I regard him as the regenerator of the theatre in Europe, and superior to Corneille and Racine as to dramatic essence, although he may be assuredly much inferior to them as to form. Æschylus,

p. 104

in Greek, was inspired by Homer; while, on the contrary, it was Shakespeare who inspired Milton. It is known that Paradise Lost was at first conceived as the subject of a tragedy, and that it was only after reflection that the English poet saw therein the material for an epic poem. I will tell later on, in speaking of the Messiah of Klopstock, what has prevented these two subjects, which appear equally epics, from attaining wholly to the majesty of epopœia. As many of the motives that I have to offer apply to the two works, I will thus avoid useless repetition. I shall begin by translating the exposition and invocation of Milton, by imitating its movement and its harmony, as I have done with the other poets.

  De l’homme, viens chanter la disgrâce, et la fruit
De cet arbre fatal, dont le goût homicide
Livra le Monde au crime, à la mort, aux malheurs,
Et nous ravit Eden, jusqu’au moment qu’un Homme
Plus grand, par son trépas, racheta le séjour p. 105
Du bonheur: viens, ô Muse! ô toi qui, sur la cime
Se Sinaï, d’Oreb, en secret inspiras
La Berger d’Israël, quand d’une voix sacrée
Il enseignait comment et la terre et des cieux
Sortirent du Chaos! ou bien, si tu préfères
Les sommets de Sion, les bords du Siloë,
Qui, près du Temple saint, roule ses flots, ô Muse!
Viens protéger de là mes chants audacieux,
Mes chants qui, surpassant d’un essor non timide,
Les monts Aoniens, vont raconter des faits
Que n’ont point encor dits la prose ni la rime.

  Of Man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us and regain the blissful seat,
Sing, heavenly Muse, that, on the secret top
Of Oreb or of Sinai, didst inspire
That shepherd, who first taught the chosen seed,
In the beginning how the heavens and earth
Rose out of chaos; or if Sion hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s brook that flow’d
Fast by the oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventurous song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above the Aonian mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.

This invocation is manifestly in imitation of Homer, from whom Milton has received the second inspiration without the intermediary—Vergil. One can observe in the English poet the same movement and almost as much force as in the Greek poet, but much less clarity, precision, and particularly harmony. Nearly all of these defects pertain to his subject and his tongue. Circumstances were not favourable to Milton. His lines could not have been better with the elements that he was forced to employ. All imperfect as they are, they are worth much more than those of Klopstock; for at least they are in the character of his tongue, whereas those of the German poet are not.

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[paragraph continues] Milton is satisfied with throwing off the yoke of rhyme, and has made eumolpique lines of one foot only, measured by ten syllables. Their defect, inherent in the English idiom, consists, as I have said, in having all the lines bearing equally the masculine final, jarring continually one with the other. Klopstock has aspired to make, in German, verses measured by the musical rhythm of the Greeks; but he has not perceived that he took as long and short, in his tongue, syllables which were not such in musical rhythm, but by accent and prosody, which is quite different. The German tongue, composed of contracted words and consequently bristling with consonants, bears no resemblance to the Greek, whose words, abounding in vowels, were, on the contrary, made clear by their elongation. The rhythmic lines of Klopstock are materially a third longer than those of Homer, although the German poet has aspired to build them on an equal measure. 1 Their rhythmic harmony, if it exists there, is absolutely factitious; it is a pedantic imitation and nothing more. In order to make the movement of these lines understood in French, and to copy as closely as possible their harmony, it is necessary to compose lines of two cæsuras, or what amounts to the same, to employ constantly a line and a half to represent a single one. Here are the first fourteen lines which contain the exposition and invocation of the Messiah:

Des coupables humains, célèbre, Ame immortelle,
           l’heureuse délivrance,
Que sur terre envoyé le Messie accomplit
           dans son humanité:
Dis comment il rendit les fils du premier homme
           à leur Auteur céleste; p. 107
Souffrant et mis à mort, enfin glorifié.
          Ainsi s’exécuta
Le décret éternel. En vain Satan rebelle
          opposa son audace
A ce Fils du Très-Haut; et Judas vainement
          s’éleva contre lui:
Réconciliateur et Rédempteur suprême,
          il consomma son œuvre.
Mais quoi, noble action! que Dieu seul en son cœur
Connaît, la Poésie, en son exil terrestre,
          pourra-t-elle te suivre?
Non, Esprit créateur, c’est à toi, devant qui
          je m’incline en tremblant,
A rapprocher de moi cette action divine,
          à toi-même semblable.
Viens donc, conduis-la-moi dans l’état immortel
          de toute sa beauté;
Remplis-la de ton feu, toi que, sondant l’abîme
          du Très-Haut, peux de l’homme
Issu de la poussière, et fragile et mortel,
          te faire un temple saint.

My Soul, degenerate man’s redemption sing,
Which the Messiah in his human state
On earth accomplished, by which, suffering slain
And glorify’d, unto the Love of God
The progeny of Adam he restored.
Such was the everlasting Will divine,
Th' infernal Fiend opposed him, Judah stood
In opposition proud; but vain their rage:
He did the deed, he wrought out man’s salvation.
  Yet, wondrous Deed, which th’ all-compassionate
Jehovah alone completely comprehends,
May Poesy presume from her remote
Obscurity to venture on thy theme?
Creative Spirit, in whose presence here
I humbly' adore, her efforts consecrate,
Conduct her steps and lead her, me to meet,
Of transport full, with glorious charms endow’d
And power immortal, imitating Thee.

p. 108

Sing, unserterbliche Seele, der sündigen Menschen
Die der Messias auf Erden, in seiner Menscheit
Und durch die er Adams Geschlecht zu der Liebe
                                  der Gottheit,
Leidend, getödtet und verherlichet, weider erhöhet
Also geschah des Ewigen Wille. Vergebens erhub
Satan gegen der göttlichen Sohn; umsonst stand
Gegen ihn auf; er that’s, und wollbrachte die grosse
Aber, o That, die allein der Albarmherzige
Darf aus dunckler Ferne sich auch dir nahen
                                  die Dichtkunst?
Weihe sie, Geist, Schöpfer, vor dem ich hier still
Führe sie mir, als deine Nachahmerin, voller
Voll unsterblicher Kraft, in verklärter Schönheit,
Rüste mit deinem Feuer sie, du, der die Tiefen des
Schaut und den Menschen, aus Staube gemacht, zum
                                  Tempel sich heiligt!

It is evident that in this exposition the movement of Homer has been united by Klopstock to the ideas of Tasso. The German poet claims nevertheless the originality, and believes that he himself was called to enjoy the first inspiration. In order that this high aspiration might have been realized, a mass of learning very difficult to find would have been necessary. I will explain briefly this idea. I believe that the one who, disdaining to follow in the footsteps of Homer or of Vergil, would wish to open another road to epopœia, should be well acquainted with the ground over which he ventures to trace it, and the goal toward which he aspires to conduct it; I think he should make himself master of his subject so that nothing might remain obscure

p. 109

or unknown to him; so that if he should choose either the downfall of Man, as Milton, or his rehabilitation, after the example of Klopstock, he would be able to acquaint himself with the inner meaning of these mysteries, to explain all the conditions, to comprehend the beginning and the end, and, raising himself to the intellectual nature where they had birth, to spread light upon physical nature. This is the first attainment that I deem indispensable to the epic poet; I say that he should understand what he would sing. Homer knew what Ilium was, what Ithaca was; he could explain to himself the nature of Achilles and Helen, of Penelope and Ulysses; consequently he could depict them. I do not wish to investigate here whether Milton has understood in the same manner the beginning of the World and the nature of Satan; nor whether Klopstock has well understood the mystery of the incarnation of the Messiah. I only say that if they have not understood these things, they cannot sing them in a manner really epic.

A defect which is common to these two poets, and which is even noticeable in the Jerusalem Delivered of Tasso, is, that everything which does not pertain to the part of the celebrated hero, is by its impure, unfaithful, impious nature, governed by the Principle of evil, and as such consigned to eternal damnation. An insurmountable barrier separates the personages and makes them not alone enemies, but opposed, as much as good and evil, light and darkness. However, the passions act unknown even to the poet; the reader is hurried along, he forgets the fatal line of demarcation, and is deceived into becoming interested in Satan, into finding great, beautiful, and terrible, this enemy of mankind; he trusts in Armida, he is moved by her troubles, and seconds with his vows those of a notorious magician, instrument of the Infernal Spirit. Matters go not thus with Homer. The Greeks see in the Trojans, enemies, and not reprobates. Paris is culpable but not impious. Hector is a hero in whom one can be interested without

p. 110

shame, and the interest that one devotes to him reflects upon Achilles and can even be increased. The gods are divided; but Venus and Juno, Minerva and Mars, Vulcan and Neptune are of a like nature; and although divided in the epic action, they are none the less venerated by both parties, equal among each other and all equally subject to Jupiter, who excites or checks their resentment. I know not whether any one has already made this observation; but be that as it may, it is very important. One can attain to the sublimity of epopœia only if like Homer one knows how to oppose the Powers which serve the hero with the Powers which persecute him. For if everything which serves the hero is good, holy, and sacred, and everything which is harmful to him wicked, impious, and reprobate, I do not see the glory of his triumph.

The principal defect in Milton’s poem is that his hero succumbs, although he has to combat only the evil things within himself, whilst everything which is good protects him: the poem of Klopstock does not hold the reader’s interest, because the perils of his hero are illusory and as soon as he is represented as God, and when he himself knows his divinity, his downfall is absolutely impossible.

But it is too much to dwell upon points of criticism which do not belong to my subject. I have touched upon them only slightly so that you may feel, Messieurs, notwithstanding the pretensions of three rival peoples, that the epic career remains none the less wholly open to the French nation. Some out-of-the-way paths have been traced here and there; but no poet since Vergil, has left the imprint of his steps upon the true path. The moment is perhaps at hand for gathering the palms that time has ripened. Must this century, great in prodigies, remain without an impassioned and enchanting voice to sing of them? Assuredly not. Whoever may be the poet whose genius raises itself to this noble task, I have wished from afar to lend him my feeble support; for I have often enough repeated, that

p. 111

talent alone will aspire to this in vain. Epopœia will only be the portion of the one who thoroughly understands the essence of poetry and who is able to apply to it a proper form. I have penetrated this essence as far as has been possible for me, and I have revealed my ideas, Messieurs, as clearly as the insufficiency of my means has permitted. I trust that their development may have appeared satisfactory and useful to you; I trust equally that the new form which I offer you merits your attention. I have applied it before you, to ideas, to intentions and to very different harmonies: it adapts itself here, for of itself it is nothing. Subject wholly to poetic essence, it receives therefrom all its lustre. If the ideas that it would render have grandeur and sublimity, it will easily become grand and sublime; but nothing would be poorer and more void, than that it should serve trivial thoughts or that it should conceal an absolute want of ideas. Do not imagine, Messieurs, that the absence of rhyme makes easy the French verse; it is precisely this absence which makes the great difficulty: for there is not then the means of writing without thinking. One can, with the aid of talent and practice, compose pleasing rhymed verse, without a great expenditure of ideas; the enormous quantity that is made today proves that it is not very difficult. The elegance of form supplies the sterility of substance. But this form becomes at last worn out; the rhymes are not inexhaustible; one word attracts another, forces it to unite with it, making understood the sounds that one has heard a thousand times, repeating the pictures which are everywhere; one repeats unceasingly the same things: the enjambment which gives so much grace to the Greek and Latin verse and without which real epic impulse cannot exist, is opposed to the rhyme and destroys it. You can see, Messieurs, that it constitutes one of the principal qualities of eumolpique verse; nothing here constrains the enthusiasm of the poet.

After some impassioned verses that I have believed

p. 112

necessary for you to hear, I shall now pass on to verses, philosophical and devoid of passion, which form the subject of this writing and to which I desire above all to call your attention.


97:1 Nearly all of the Italian words terminate with one of four vowels, a, e, i, o, without accent: it is very rare that the vowels are accentuated, as the vowel ù. When this occurs as in cità, perchè, , farò, etc., then, only, is the final masculine. Now here is what one of their best rhythmic poets, named Tolomèo, gives as an hexameter verse:

Questa, per affeto, tenerissima lettera mando
A te

To make this line exact, one feels that the word mando, which terminates it, should be composed of two longs, that is to say, that it should be written p. 98 mandò, which could not be without altering the sense entirely. Marchetti has translated into blank verse the Latin poem of Lucretius. I will quote the opening lines. Here is evident the softness to which I take exception and which prevents them from being really eumolpique, according to the sense that I have attached to this word.

Alma figlia di Giove, indite madre
Del gran germe d’Enea, Venere bella,
Degli uomini piacere e degli Dei:
Tu, the sotto il volubili e lucenti
Segni del cielo, il mar profundo, e tutta
D’animai d’ogni specie orni la terra:

. . . etc.

98:1 One must not believe that the mute e with which many English words terminate represents the French feminine final, expressed by the same vowel. This mute e is in reality mute in English; ordinarily it is only used to give a more open sound to the vowel which precedes it, as in tale, scene, bone, pure, p. 99 fire. Besides it is never taken into account, either in the measure or in the prosody of the lines. Thus these two lines of Dryden rhyme exactly:

"Now scarce the Trojan fleet with sails and oars
 Had left behind the fair Sicilian shores. . . . "
                                            Æneid, b. i., v. 50.

[paragraph continues] It is the same in these of Addison:

"Tune ev’ry string and ev’ry tongue,
 Be thou the Muse and subject of our song...."
                                      St. Cecilia’s Day, i., 10.

or these from Goldsmith:

"How often have I loiter’d o’er thy green,
 Where humble happiness endeared each scene."
                                    The Deserted Village, i., 7.

100:1 There remains to us of this poetry the very precious fragments contained in the Edda and in Voluspa. The Edda, whose name signifies great-grandmother, is a collection, fairly ample, of Scandinavian traditions. Voluspa is a sort of Sibylline book, or cosmogonic oracle, as its name indicates. I am convinced that if the poets of the north, the Danes, Swedes, and Germans, had oftener drawn their subjects from these indigenous sources, they would have succeeded better than by going to Greece to seek them upon the summits of Parnassus. The mythology of Odin, descended from the Rhipæan mountains, suits them better than that of the Greeks, whose tongue furthermore is not conformable here. When one makes the moon and the wife (der Mond, das Weib) of masculine and neuter gender; when one makes the sun, the air, time, love (die Sonne, die Luft, die Zeit, die Liebe) of feminine gender, one ought wisely to renounce the allegories of Parnassus. It was on account of the sex given to the sun and the moon that the schism arose, of which I have spoken, in explaining the origin of the temple of Delphi.

The Scandinavian allegories, however, that I consider a débris of Thracian allegories, furnishing subjects of a very different character from those of the Greeks and Latins, might have varied the poetry of Europe and prevented the Arabesque fiction from holding there so much ascendancy. The Scandinavian verses, being without rhyme, hold moreover, to eumolpœia. The following is a strophe from Voluspa:

"Avant que le temps fût, Ymir avait été;
 Ni la mer, ni nes vents n’existaient pas encore;
 Il n’était de terre, il n’était point de ciel:
 Tout n’était qu’un abîme immense, sans verdure." p. 101

"In the beginning, when naught was, there
 Was neither sand nor sea nor the cold waves,
 Nor was earth to be seen nor heaven above.
 There was a Yawning Chasm [chaos] but grass nowhere. . .

Ár vas alda pat-es ekki vas;
vasa sandr né sær né svalar unnir,
iærô̽ fansk æva né upp-himinn;
Gap vas Ginnunga, enn gras ekki
, . . .

Voyez Mallet, Monuments celtiques, p. 135; et pour le texte, le poëme même de la Voluspa, in Edda islandorum, Mallet paraît avoir suivi un texte erroné.

As to the Gallic poetry of the Scotch bards, that Macpherson has made known to us under the name of Ossian, much is needed that they may have a sufficient degree of authenticity for them to be cited as models, and placed parallel with those of Homer, as has been done without reflection. These poems, although resting for the greater part upon a true basis, are very far from being veritable as to form. The Scotch bards, like the Oscan troubadours, must be restored and often entirely remade, if they are to be read. Macpherson, in composing his Ossian, has followed certain ancient traditions, has put together certain scattered fragments; but has taken great liberties with all the rest. He was, besides, a man endowed with creative genius and he might have been able to attain to epopœia if he had been better informed. His lack of knowledge has left a void in his work which demonstrates its falsity. There is no mythology, no allegory, no cult in Ossian. There are some historic or romanesque facts joined to long descriptions; it is a style more emphatic than figurative, more bizarre than original. Macpherson, in neglecting all kinds of mythological and religious ideas, in even mocking here and there the stone of power of the Scandinavians, has shown that he was ignorant of two important things: the one, that the allegorical or religious genius constitutes the essence of poetry; the other, that Scotland was at a very ancient period the hearth of this same genius whose interpreters were the druids, bards, and scalds. He should have known that, far from being p. 101 without religion, the Caledonians possessed in the heart of their mountains, the Gallic Parnassus, the sacred mountain of the Occidental isles; and that when the antique cult began to decline in Gaul, it was in Albion, reckoned among the holy isles by even the Indians, that the druids went to study. Voyez Les Commentaires de César, iv., 20; L’Introduction de l’histoire de Danemark, par Mallet; L’Histoire des Celtes, par Pelloutier; et enfin les Recherches asiatiques (Asiat. Research.), t. vi., p. 490 et 502.

In order to seize the occasion of applying eumolpique lines to a greater number of subjects, I am going to quote a sort of exposition of Ossian, the only one I believe, which is found in his poems; because Macpherson, for more originality, neglected nearly always to announce the subject of his songs. I will not give the text, because the English translation whence I obtained it does not give it. It concerns the battle of Lora. After a kind of exordium addressed to the son of the stranger, dweller of the silent cavern, Ossian said to him:

  Le chant plait-il à ton oreille?
Ecoute le récit du combat de Lora.
Il est bien ancien, ce combat! Le tumulte
Des armes, et les cris furieux des guerriers,
  Sont couverts par un long silence;
  Ils sont éteints depuis longtemps:
Ainsi sur des rochers retentissants, la foudre
  Roule, gronde, éclate et n’est plus;
Le soleil reparaît, et la cime brillante
Des coteaux verdoyants, sourit à ses rayons.

Son of the secret cell! dost thou delight in songs?
Hear the battle of Lora.
The sound of its steel is long since past.
So thunder on the darkened hill roars, and is no more.
The sun returns with his silent beams,
The glittering rocks, and green heads of the mountains smile.

This example serves to prove that eumolpique lines might easily adapt themselves to the dithyramb.

103:1 The tragedy of the Cid, given by Pierre Corneille in 1626, upon which were based the grandeur and dominant character of the Théâtre Français, as well as the renown of the author, is taken from a Spanish ballad very celebrated in Spain. The Cid, who is the hero of it, lived towards the close of the eleventh century. He was a type of the paladins and knights errant of the romanesque traditions. He enjoyed a wide reputation and attained a high degree of fortune. Voyez Monte-Mayor, Diana, l. ii.; et Voltaire, Essai sur les Mœurs, t. iii., stéréotype, p. 86.

In the course of the sixteenth century, the Spanish held a marked superiority over the other peoples: their tongue was spoken at Paris, Vienna, Milan, Turin. Their customs, their manners of thought and of writing, subjugated the minds of the Italians, and from Charles V. to the commencement of the reign of Philip III., Spain enjoyed an importance that the other peoples never had. Voyez Robertson, Introduction d l’Histoire de Charles-Quint.

It would be necessary to overstep considerably the ordinary limits of a footnote, if I should explain how it happens that Spain has lost this supremacy acquired by her, and why her tongue, the only one capable of rivalling and perhaps effacing the French, has yielded to it in all ways, and by which it was eclipsed. This explanation would demand for itself alone a very lengthy work. Among the writers who have sought for the cause of the decadence of the Spanish monarchy, some have believed to discover it in the increase of its wealth, others, in the too great extent of its colonies, and the greater part, p. 104 in the spirit of its government and its superstitious cult. They have all thought that the tribunal of the Inquisition alone was capable of arresting the impulse of genius and of stifling the development of learning. In this they have taken effects for causes, and consequences for principles. They have not seen that the spirit of the government and the cult is always not the motive, but the result of the national spirit, and that the wealth and the colonies, indifferent in themselves, are only instruments that this spirit employs for good or evil, according to its character. I can only indicate the first cause which has prevented Spain from reaching the culminating point which France is very near to attaining. This cause is pride. Whilst Europe, enveloped in darkness, was, so to speak, in the fermentation of ignorance, Spain, conquered by the Arabs, received a germ of science which, developing with rapidity, produced a precocious fruit, brilliant, but like hot-house fruit lacking internal force and generative vigour. This premature production having raised Spain abruptly above the other European nations, inspired in her that pride, that excessive amour propre, which, making her treat with contempt all that did not belong to her, hindered her from making any change in her usual customs, carried her with complacency in her mistakes, and when other peoples came to bring forth fruits in their season, corrupted hers and stamped her with a stationary movement, which becoming necessarily retrogressive, must ruin her, and did ruin her.

106:1 In comparing the first lines of Homer with those of Klopstock, it is seen that the Greek contains 29 letters, 18 of which are vowels; and the German 48 letters, 31 of which are consonants. It is difficult with such disparity in the elements to make the harmony the same.

Next: The Golden Verses of Pythagoras