Though it may be allowed to be a question fit for the determination of those concerning whom Cato said, Their palates are more sensitive than their minds, whether that saying of Philoxenus the poet be true or no, The most savory flesh is that which is no flesh, and fish that is no fish. Yet this to me, Marcus Sedatus, is out of question, that those precepts of philosophy which seem not to be delivered with a designed gravity, such as becomes philosophers, take most with persons that are very young, and meet with a more ready acceptance and compliance from them. Whence it is that they do not only read through Aesop’s fables and the fictions of poets and the Abaris of Heraclides and Ariston’s Lyco; but also such doctrines as relate to the souls of men, if something fabulous be mixed with them, with an excess of pleasure that borders on enthusiasm. Wherefore we are not only to govern their appetites in the delights of eating and drinking, but also (and much more) to inure them to a like temperance in reading and hearing, that, while they make use of enjoyment as a sauce, they may pursue that which is wholesome and profitable in those things which they read. For neither can a city be secure if but one gate be left open to receive the enemy, though all the rest be shut; nor a young man safe, though he be sufficiently fortified against the assaults of all other pleasures, whilst he is without any guard against those of the ear. Yea, the nearer the commerce is betwixt the delights of that sense and those of the mind and reason, by so much the more, when he lies open on that side, is he apt to be debauched and corrupted thereby. Seeing therefore we cannot (and perhaps would not if we could) debar young men of the size of my Soclarus and thy Cleander altogether from the reading of poets, yet let us keep the stricter guard upon them, as those who need a guide to direct them in their reading more than on their journeys. Upon which consideration, I find myself disposed to send thee at present in writing that discourse concerning Poetry which I had lately an occasion to deliver by word of mouth; that, when thou hast read it over thyself, thou mayst also make such use of it, if thou judgest it may be serviceable to that purpose, as those which are engaged to drink hard do of amulets (or preservatives against drunkenness) — that is, that thou mayst communicate it to Cleander, to prepossess him therewith; seeing he is naturally endowed with a brisk, piercing, and daring wit, and therefore more prone to be inveigled by that sort of study.
They say of the fish called polypus that
His head in one respect is very good,
But in another very naughty food;
because, though it be very luscious to eat, yet it is thought to disturb the fancy with frightful and confused dreams. And the like observation may be made concerning poetry, that it affords sweet and withal wholesome nourishment to the minds of young men, but yet it contains likewise no less matter of disturbance and emotion to them that want a right conduct in the study thereof. For of it also, as well as of Egypt, may it be said that (to those who will use it)
Its over-fertile and luxuriant field
Medicines and poisons intermixt doth yield;
Love with soft passions and rich language drest
Oft steals the heart out of th’ ingenuous breast.
(“Odyssey,” iv. 230; “Iliad,” xiv. 216.)
And indeed such only are endangered thereby, for the charms of that art ordinarily affect not those that are downright sots and naturally incapable of learning. Wherefore, when Simonides was asked why of all men he could not deceive the Thessalians, his answer was, Because they are not so well bred as to be capable of being cajoled by me. And Gorgias used to call tragical poems cheats, wherein he that did cheat was juster than he that did not cheat, and he that was cheated was wiser than he that was not cheated.
It deserves therefore our consideration, whether we shall put young men into Epicurus’s boat — wherein, having their ears stopped with wax, as those of the men of Ithaca were, they shall be obliged to sail by and not so much as touch at poetry — or rather keep a guard on them, so as to oblige their judgments by principles of right reason to use it aright, and preserve them from being seduced to their hurt by that which affords them so much delight. For neither did Lycurgus, the valiant son of Dryas (as Homer calls him) (“Iliad,” vi. 130.) act like a man of sound reason in the course which he took to reform his people that were much inclined to drunkenness, by travelling up and down to destroy all the vines in the country; whereas he should have ordered that every vine should have a well of water near it, that (as Plato saith) the drunken deity might be reduced to temperance by a sober one. For water mixed with wine takes away the hurtful spirits, while it leaves the useful ones in it. Neither should we cut down or destroy the Muses’ vine, poetry; but where we perceive it luxuriates and grows wild through an ungoverned appetite of applause, there ought we to prune away or keep under the fabulous and theatrical branches thereof; and where we find any of the Graces linked to any of the Muses — that is, where the lusciousness and tempting charms of language are not altogether barren and unprofitable — there let us make use of philosophy to incorporate with it.
For as, where the mandrake grows near the vine and so communicates something of its force thereto, the wine that is made of its grapes makes the sleep of those that drink it more refreshing; so doth the tempering poetry with the principles of philosophy and allaying their roughness with its fictions render the study of them more easy and the relish of them more grateful to young learners. Wherefore those that would give their minds to philosophical studies are not obliged to avoid poetry altogether, but rather to introduce themselves to philosophy by poems, accustoming themselves to search for and embrace that which may profit in that which pleaseth them, and rejecting and discarding that wherein they find nothing of this nature. For this discrimination is the first step to learning; and when this is attained, then, according to what Sophocles saith —
To have begun well what we do intend
Gives hope and prospect of as good an end.
Let us therefore in the first place possess those whom we initiate in the study of poetry with this notion (as one which they ought always to have at hand), that
’Tis frequently the poet’s guise
To intermingle truth with lies; —
which they do sometimes with and sometimes against their wills. They do it with their wills, because they find strict truth too rigid to comply with that sweetness and gracefulness of expression, which most are taken with, so readily as fiction doth. For real truth, though it disgust never so much, must be told as it is, without alteration; but that which is feigned in a discourse can easily yield and shift its garb from the distasteful to that which is more pleasing. And indeed, neither the measures nor the tropes nor the grandeur of words nor the aptness of metaphors nor the harmony of the composition gives such a degree of elegance and gracefulness to a poem as a well-ordered and artificial fiction doth. But as in pictures the colors are more delightful to the eye than the lines because those give them a nearer resemblance to the persons they were made for, and render them the more apt to deceive the beholder; so in poems we are more apt to be smitten and fall in love with a probable fiction than with the greatest accuracy that can be observed in measures and phrases, where there is nothing fabulous or fictitious joined with it. Wherefore Socrates, being induced by some dreams to attempt something in poetry, and finding himself unapt, by reason that he had all his lifetime been the champion of severe truth, to hammer out of his own invention a likely fiction, made choice of Aesop’s fables to turn into verse; as judging nothing to be true poetry that had in it nothing of falsehood. For though we have known some sacrifices performed without pipes and dances, yet we own no poetry which is utterly destitute of fable and fiction. Whence the verses of Empedocles and Parmenides, the Theriaca of Nicander, and the sentences of Theognis, are rather to be accounted speeches than poems, which, that they might not walk contemptibly on foot, have borrowed from poetry the chariot of verse, to convey them the more creditably through the world. Whensoever therefore anything is spoken in poems by any noted and eminently famous man, concerning gods or daemons or virtue, that is absurd or harsh, he that takes such sayings for truths is thereby misled in his apprehension and corrupted with an erroneous opinion. But he that constantly keeps in his mind and maintains as his principle that the witchcraft of poetry consists in fiction, he that can at all turns accost it in this language —
Riddle of art! like which no sphinx beguiles;
Whose face on one side frowns while th’ other smiles!
Why cheat’st thou, with pretence to make us wise,
And bid’st sage precepts in a fool’s disguise? —
such a one, I say, will take no harm by it, nor admit from it any absurd thing into his belief. But when he meets in poetry with expressions of Neptune’s rending the earth to pieces and dicovering infernal regions, (“See Iliad,” xx. 57.) he will be able to check his fears of the reality of any such accident; and he will blame himself for his anger against Apollo for the chief commander of the Greeks —
Whom at a banquet, whiles he sings his praise
And speaks him fair, yet treacherously he slays.
(“From Aeschylus” The whole passage is quoted in Plato’s
“Republic,” end of book II. (G.).)
Yea, he will repress his tears for Achilles and Agamemnon, while they are resented as mourning after their death, and stretching forth their limber and feeble hands to express their desire to live again. And if at any time the charms of poetry transport him into any disquieting passions, he will quickly say to himself, as Homer very elegantly (considering the propension of that sex to listen after fables) says in his Necyia, or relation of the state of the dead —
But from the dark dominions speed thy way,
And climb the steep ascent to upper day;
To thy chaste bride the wondrous story tell,
The woes, the horrors, and the laws of hell.
(“Odyssey,” xi. 223.)
Such things as I have touched upon are those which the poets willingly feign. But more there are which they do not feign, but believing themselves as their own proper judgments, they put fictitious colors upon them to ingratiate them to us. As when Homer says of Jupiter —
Jove lifts the golden balances, that show
The faces of mortal men, and things below.
Here each contending hero’s lot he tries,
And weighs with equal hand their destinies
Low sinks the scale surcharged with Hector’s fate;
Heavy with death it sinks, and hell receives the weight.
(“Iliad,” xxii. 210.)
To this fable Aeschylus hath accommodated a whole tragedy which he calls Psychostasia, wherein he introduceth Thetis and Aurora standing by Jupiter’s balances, and deprecating each of them the death of her son engaged in a duel. Now there is no man but sees that this fable is a creature of the poet’s fancy, designed to delight or scare the reader. But this other passage —
Great Jove is made the treasurer of wars;
(Ibid. iv. 84.)
and this other also —
When a god means a noble house to raze,
He frames one rather than he’ll want a cause:
(From the “Niobe” of Aeschylus, Frag. 151.)
these passages, I say, express their judgment and belief who thereby discover and suggest to us the ignorant or mistaken apprehensions they had of the Deities. Moreover, almost every one knows nowadays, that the portentous fancies and contrivances of stories concerning the state of the dead are accommodated to popular apprehensions — that the spectres and phantasms of burning rivers and horrid regions and terrible tortures expressed by frightful names are all mixed with fable and fiction, as poison with food; and that neither Homer nor Pindar nor Sophocles ever believed themselves when they wrote at this rate:—
There endless floods of shady darkness stream
From the vast caves, where mother Night doth teem;
There ghosts o’er the vast ocean’s waves did glide,
By the Leucadian promontory’s side;
(“Odyssey,” xxiv. 11.)
There from th’ unfathomed gulf th’ infernal lake
Through narrow straits recurring tides doth make.
And yet, as many of them as deplore death as a lamentable thing, or the want of burial after death as a calamitous condition, are wont to break out into expressions of this nature:—
O pass not by, my friend; nor leave me here
Without a grave, and on that grave a tear;
(“Odyssey,” xi. 72.)
Then to the ghosts the mournful soul did fly,
Sore grieved in midst of youth and strength to die;
(“Iliad,” xvi. 856.)
’Tis sweet to see the light. O spare me then,
Till I arrive at th’ usual age of men:
Nor force my unfledged soul from hence, to know
The doleful state of dismal shades below.
(Euripides, “Iphigenia at Aulus,” 1218.)
These, I say, are the speeches of men persuaded of these things, as being possessed by erroneous opinions; and therefore they touch us the more nearly and torment us inwardly, because we ourselves are full of the same impotent passion from which they were uttered. To fortify us therefore against expressions of this nature, let this principle continually ring in our ears, that poetry is not at all solicitous to keep to the strict measure of truth. And indeed, as to what that truth in these matters is, even those men themselves who make it their only study to learn and search it out confess that they can hardly discover any certain footsteps to guide them in that inquiry. Let us therefore have these verses of Empedocles, in this case, at hand:—
No sight of man’s so clear, no ear so quick,
No mind so piercing, that’s not here to seek;
as also those of Xenophanes:—
The truth about the gods and ghosts, no man
E’er was or shall be that determine can;
and lastly, that passage concerning Socrates, in Plato, where he by the solemnity of an oath disclaims all knowledge of those things. For those who perceive that the searching into such matters makes the heads of philosophers themselves giddy cannot but be the less inclined to regard what poets say concerning them.
And we shall fix our young men more if, when we enter him in the poets, we first describe poetry to him and tell him that it is an imitating art and is in many respects like unto painting; not only acquainting him with that common saying, that poetry is vocal painting and painting silent poetry, but showing him, moreover, that when we see a lizard or an ape or the face of a Thersites in a picture, we are surprised with pleasure and wonder at it, not because of any beauty in the things, but for the likeness of the draught. For it is repugnant to the nature of that which is itself foul to be at the same time fair; and therefore it is the imitation — be the thing imitated beautiful or ugly — that, in case it do express it to the life, is commanded; and on the contrary, if the imitation make a foul thing to appear fair, it is dispraised because it observes not decency and likeness. Now some painters there are that paint uncomely actions; as Timotheus drew Medea killing her children; Theon, Orestes murdering his mother; and Parrhasius, Ulysses counterfeiting madness; yea, Chaerephanes expressed in picture the unchaste converse of women with men. Now in such cases a young man is to be familiarly acquainted with this notion, that, when men praise such pictures, they praise not the actions represented but only the painter’s art which doth so lively express what was designed in them. Wherefore, in like manner, seeing poetry many times describes by imitation foul actions and unseemly passions and manners, the young student must not in such descriptions (although performed never so cleverly and commendably) believe all that is said as true or embrace it as good, but give its due commendation so far only as it suits the subject treated of. For as, when we hear the grunting of hogs and the shrieking of pulleys and the rustling of wind and the roaring of seas, we are, it may be, disturbed and displeased, and yet when we hear any one imitating these or the like noises handsomely (as Parmenio did that of an hog, and Theodorus that of a pulley), we are well pleased; and as we avoid (as an unpleasing spectacle) the sight of sick persons and of a man full of ulcers, and yet are delighted to be spectators of the Philoctetes of Aristophon and the Jocasta of Silanion, wherein such wasting and dying persons are well acted; so must the young scholar, when he reads in a poem of Thersites the buffoon or Sisyphus the whoremaster or Batrachus the bawd speaking or doing anything, so praise the artificial managery of the poet, adapting the expressions to the persons, as withal to look on the discourses and actions so expressed as odious and abominable. For the goodness of things themselves differs much from the goodness of the imitation of them; the goodness of the latter consisting only in propriety and aptness to represent the former. Whence to foul acts foul expressions are most suitable and proper. As the shoes of Demonides the cripple (which, when he had lost them, he wished might suit the feet of him that stole them) were but poor shoes, but yet fit for him; so we may say of such expressions as these:—
If t’is necessary an unjust act to do,
It is best to do it for a throne;
(Euripides, “Phoenissae,” 524.)
Get the repute of Just,
And in it do all things whence gain may come;
A talent dowry! Could I
Sleep, or live, if thee I should neglect?
And should I not in hell tormented be,
Could I be guilty of such sacrilege?
These, it is true, are wicked as well as false speeches, but yet are decent enough in the mouth of an Eteocles, an Ixion, and a griping usurer. If therefore we mind our children that the poets write not such things as praising and approving them, but do really account them base and vicious and therefore accommodate such speeches to base and vicious persons, they will never be damnified by them from the esteem they have of the poets in whom they meet with them. But, on the contrary, the suspicions insinuated into them of the persons will render the words and actions ascribed to them suspected for evil, because proceeding from such evil men. And of this nature is Homer’s representation of Paris, when he describes him running out of the battle into Helen’s bed. For in that he attributes no such indecent act to any other, but only to that incontinent and adulterous person, he evidently declares that he intends that relation to import a disgrace and reproach to such intemperance.
In such passages therefore we are carefully to observe whether or not the poet himself do anywhere give any intimation that he dislikes the things he makes such persons say; which, in the prologue to his Thais Menander does, in these words:—
Therefore, my Muse, describe me now a whore,
Fair, bold, and furnished with a nimble tongue;
One that ne’er scruples to do lovers wrong;
That always craves, and denied shuts her door;
That truly loves no man, yet, for her ends,
Affection true to every man pretends.
But Homer of all the poets does it best. For he doth beforehand, as it were, bespeak dislike of the evil things and approbation of the good things he utters. Of the latter take these instances:—
He readily did the occasion take,
And sweet and comfortable words he spake;
(“Odyssey,” vi. 148.)
By him he stood, and with soft speeches quelled
The wrath which in his heated bosom swelled.
(“Iliad,” ii. 180.)
And for the former, he so performs it as in a manner solemnly to forbid us to use or heed such speeches as those he mentions, as being foolish and wicked. For example, being to tell us how uncivilly Agamemnon treated the priest, he premises these words of his own —
Not so Atrides: he with kingly pride
Repulsed the sacred sire, and thus replied;
(Ibid. i. 24.)
intimating the insolency and unbecomingness of his answer. And when he attributes this passionate speech to Achilles —
O monster, mix’d of insolence and fear,
Thou dog in forehead, and in heart a deer!
(Ibid. i. 225.)
he accompanies it with this censure —
Nor yet the rage his boiling breast forsook,
Which thus redoubling on Atrides broke;
(Ibid. i. 223.)
for it was unlikely that speaking in such anger he should observe any rules of decency.
And he passeth like censures on actions. As on Achilles’s foul usage of Hector’s carcass —
Gloomy he said, and (horrible to view)
Before the bier the bleeding Hector threw.
(“Iliad,” xxiii. 24.)
And in like manner he doth very decently shut up relations of things said or done, by adding some sentence wherein he declares his judgment of them. As when he personates some of the gods saying, on the occasion of the adultery of Mars and Venus discovered by Vulcan’s artifice —
See the swift god o’ertaken by the lame!
Thus ill acts prosper not, but end in shame.
(“Odyssey,” viii. 329.)
And thus concerning Hector’s insolent boasting he says —
With such big words his mind proud Hector eased,
But venerable Juno he displeased.
(“Iliad,” viii. 198.)
And when he speaks of Pandarus’s shooting, he adds —
He heard, and madly at the motion pleased,
His polish’d bow with hasty rashness seized.
(Ibid. iv. 104.)
Now these verbal intimations of the minds and judgments of poets are not difficult to be understood by any one that will heedfully observe them. But besides these, they give us other hints from actions. As Euripides is reported, when some blamed him for bringing such an impious and flagitious villain as Ixion upon the stage, to have given this answer: But yet I brought him not off till I had fastened him to a torturing wheel. This same way of teaching by mute actions is to be found in Homer also, affording us useful contemplations upon those very fables which are usually most disliked in him. These some men offer force to, that they may reduce them to allegories (which the ancients called [Greek omitted]), and tell us that Venus committing adultery with Mars, discovered by the Sun, is to be understood thus: that when the star called Venus is in conjunction with that which hath the name of Mars, bastardly births are produced, and by the Sun’s rising and discovering them they are not concealed. So will they have Juno’s dressing herself so accurately to tempt Jupiter, and her making use of the girdle of Venus to inflame his love, to be nothing else but the purification of that part of the air which draweth nearest to the nature of fire. As if we were not told the meaning of those fables far better by the poet himself. For he teacheth us in that of Venus, if we heed it, that light music and wanton songs and discourses which suggest to men obscene fancies debauch their manners, and incline them to an unmanly way of living in luxury and wantonness, of continually haunting the company of women, and of being
Given to fashions, that their garb may please,
Hot baths, and couches where they loll at case.
And therefore also he brings in Ulysses directing the musician thus —
Leave this, and sing the horse, out of whose womb
The gallant knights that conquered Troy did come;
(“Odyssey,” viii. 249 and 492.)
evidently teaching us that poets and musicians ought to receive the arguments of their songs from sober and understanding men. And in the other fable of Juno he excellently shows that the conversation of women with men, and the favors they receive from them procured by sorcery, witchcraft, or other unlawful arts, are not only short, unstable, and soon cloying, but also in the issue easily turned to loathing and displeasure, when once the pleasure is over. For so Jupiter there threatens Juno, when he tells her —
Hear this, remember, and our fury dread,
Nor pull the unwilling vengeance on thy head;
Lest arts and blandishments successless prove
Thy soft deceits and well dissembled love.
(“Iliad,” xv. 32.)
For the fiction and representation of evil acts, when it withal acquaints us with the shame and damage befalling the doers, hurts not but rather profits him that reads them. For which end philosophers make use of examples for our instruction and correction out of historical collections; and poets do the very same thing, but with this difference, that they invent fabulous examples themselves. There was one Melanthius, who (whether in jest or earnest he said it, it matters not much) affirmed that the city of Athens owed its preservation to the dissensions and factions that were among the orators, giving withal this reason for his assertion, that thereby they were kept from inclining all of them to one side, so that by means of the differences among those statesmen there were always some that drew the saw the right way for the defeating of destructive counsels. And thus it is too in the contradictions among poets, which, by lessening the credit of what they say, render them the less powerful to do mischief; and therefore, when comparing one saying with another we discover their contrariety, we ought to adhere to the better side. As in these instances:—
The gods, my son, deceive poor men oft-times.
ANS. ’Tis easy, sir, on God to lay our crimes.
’Tis comfort to thee to be rich, is’t not!
ANS. No, sir, ’tis bad to be a wealthy sot.
Die rather than such toilsome pains to take.
ANS. To call God’s service toil’s a foul mistake.
Such contrarieties as these are easily solved, if (as I said) we teach youth to judge aright and to give the better saying preference. But if we chance to meet with any absurd passages without any others at their heels to confute them, we are then to overthrow them with such others as elsewhere are to be found in the same author. Nor must we be offended with the poet or grieved at him, but only at the speeches themselves, which he utters either according to the vulgar manner of speaking or, it may be, but in drollery. So, when thou readest in Homer of gods thrown out of heaven headlong one by another, or gods wounded by men and quarrelling and brawling with each other, thou mayest readily, if thou wilt, say to him —
Sure thy invention here was sorely out,
Or thou hadst said far better things, no doubt;
(“Iliad,” viii. 358.)
yea, and thou dost so elsewhere, and according as thou thinkest, to wit, in these passages of thine:—
The gods, removed from all that men doth grieve,
A quiet and contented life do live.
Herein the immortal gods forever blest
Feel endless joys and undisturbed rest.
The gods, who have themselves no cause to grieve,
For wretched man a web of sorrow weave.
(Ibid. vi. 138; “Odyssey,” vi. 46; “Iliad,” xxiv, 526.)
For these argue sound and true opinions of the gods; but those other were only feigned to raise passions in men. Again, when Euripides speaks at this rate —
The gods are better than we men by far,
And yet by them we oft deceived are —
may do well to quote him elsewhere against himself where he says better —
If gods do wrong, surely no gods there are.
So also, when Pindar, saith bitterly and keenly,
No law forbids us anything to do,
Whereby a mischief may befall a foe,
tell him: But, Pindar, thou thyself sayest elsewhere,
The pleasure which injurious acts attends
Always in bitter consequences ends.
And when Sophocles speaks thus,
Sweet is the gain, wherein to lie and cheat
Adds the repute of wit to what we get,
tell him: But we have heard thee say far otherwise,
When the account’s cast up, the gain’s but poor
Which by a lying tongue augments the store.
And as to what he saith of riches, to wit:—
Wealth, where it minds to go, meets with no stay;
For where it finds not, it can make a way;
Many fair offers doth the poor let go,
And lose his talent because his purse is low;
The fair tongue makes, where wealth can purchase it,
The foul face beautiful, the fool a wit:—
against this the reader may set in opposition divers other sayings of the same author. For example,
From honor poverty doth not debar,
Where poor men virtuous and deserving are.
Whate’er fools think, a man is ne’er the worse
If he be wise, though with an empty purse.
The comfort which he gets who wealth enjoys,
The vexing care by which ’tis kept destroys.
And Menander also somewhere magnifies a voluptuous life, and inflames the minds of vain persons with these amorous strains,
The glorious sun no living thing doth see,
But what’s a slave to love as well as we.
But yet elsewhere, on the other side, he fastens on us and pulls us back to the love of virtue, and checks the rage of lust, when he says thus,
The life that is dishonorably spent,
Be it ne’er so pleasant, yields no true content.
For these lines are contrary to the former, as they are also better and more profitable; so that by comparing them considerately one cannot but either be inclined to the better side, or at least flag in the belief of the worse.
But now, supposing that any of the poets themselves afford no such correcting passages to solve what they have said amiss, it will then be advisable to confront them with the contrary sayings of other famous men, and therewith to sway the scales of our judgment to the better side. As, when Alexis tempts to debauchery in these verses,
The wise man knows what of all things is best,
Whilst choosing pleasure he slights all the rest.
He thinks life’s joys complete in these three sorts,
To drink and eat, and follow wanton sports;
And what besides seems to pretend to pleasure,
If it betide him, counts it over measure,
we must remember that Socrates said the contrary, to wit: that they are bad men who live that they may eat and drink, whereas good men eat and drink that they may live. And against the man that wrote in this manner,
He that designs to encounter with a knave,
An equal stock of knavery must have,
seeing he herein advises us to follow other vicious examples, that of Diogenes may well be returned, who being asked by what means a man might revenge himself upon his enemy, answered, By becoming himself a good and honest man. And the same Diogenes may be quoted also against Sophocles, who, writing of the sacred mysteries, caused great grief and despair to multitudes of men:—
Most happy they whose eyes are blest to see
The mysteries which here contained be,
Before they die! For only they have joy.
In th’ other world; the rest all ills annoy.
This passage being read to Diogenes, What then! says he, shall the condition of Pataecion, the notorious robber, after death be better than that of Epaminondas, merely for his being initiated in these mysteries? In like manner, when one Timotheus on the theatre, singing of the Goddess Diana, called her furious, raging, possessed, mad, Cinesias suddenly interrupted him, May thy daughter, Timotheus, be such a goddess! And witty also was that of Bion to Theognis, who said —
One cannot say nor do, if poor he be;
His tongue is bound to th’ peace, as well as he.
(“Theognis,” vss. 177, 178.)
How comes it to pass then, said he, Theognis that thou thyself being so poor pratest and gratest our ears in this manner?
Nor are we to omit, in our reading those hints which, from some other words or phrases bordering on those that offend us, may help to rectify our apprehensions. But as physicians use cantharides, believing that, though their bodies be deadly poison, yet their feet and wings are medicinal and are antidotes to the poison itself, so must we deal with poems. If any noun or verb near at hand may assist to the correction of any such saying, and preserve us from putting a bad construction upon it, we should take hold of it and employ it to assist a more favorable interpretation. As some do in reference to those verses of Homer —
Sorrows and tears most commonly are seen
To be the gods’ rewards to wretched men:—
The gods, who have no cause themselves to grieve,
For wretched man a web of sorrow weave.
(“Odyssey,” iv. 197; “Iliad,” xxiv. 526.)
For, they say, he says not of men simply, or of all men, that the gods weave for them the fatal web of a sorrowful life, but he affirms it only of foolish and imprudent men, whom, because their vices make them such, he therefore calls wretched and miserable.
Another way whereby those passages which are suspicious in poets maybe transferred to a better sense may be taken from the ordinary use of words, which a young man ought indeed to be more exercised in than in the use of strange and obscure terms. For it will be a point of philology which it will not be unprofitable to him to understand, that when he meets with [Greek omitted] in a poet, that word means an EVIL DEATH; for the Macedonians use the word [Greek omitted] to signify DEATH. So the Aeolians call victory gotten by patient endurance of hardships [Greek omitted] and the Dryopians call daemons [Greek omitted].
But of all things it is most necessary, and no less profitable if we design to receive profit and not hurt from the poets, that we understand how they make use of the names of gods, as also of the terms of Evil and Good; and what they mean by Soul and Fate; and whether these words be always taken by them in one and the same sense or rather in various senses, as also many other words are. For so the word [Greek omitted] sometimes signifies a MATERIAL HOUSE, as, Into the high-roofed house; and sometimes ESTATE, as, My house is devoured. So the word [Greek omitted] sometimes signifies life, and sometimes wealth. And [Greek omitted] is sometimes taken for being uneasy and disquieted in mind, as in
[Greek omitted] (“Iliad,” v. 352.)
and elsewhere for boasting and rejoicing, as in
[Greek omitted] (“Odyssey,” xviii. 333.)
In like manner [Greek omitted] signifies either to MOVE, as in Euripides when he saith,
or TO SIT, as in Sophocles when he writes thus,
[Greek omitted] (Sophocles, “Oedipus Tyranus,” 2.)
It is elegant also when they fit to the present matter, as grammarians teach, the use of words which have another signification. As here:—
For here [Greek omitted] signifies TO PRAISE (instead of [Greek omitted]), and TO PRAISE is used for TO REFUSE. So in conversation it is common with us to say, [Greek omitted], IT IS WELL (i.e., NO, I THANK YOU), and to bid anything FAREWELL [Greek omitted]; by which forms of speech we refuse a thing which we do not want, or receive it not, but still with a civil compliment. So also some say that Proserpina is called [Greek omitted] in the notion of [Greek omitted], TO BE DEPRECATED, because death is by all men shunned.
And the like distinction of words we ought to observe also in things more weighty and serious. To begin with the gods, we should teach our youth that poets, when they use the names of gods, sometimes mean properly the Divine Beings so called, but otherwhiles understand by those names certain powers of which the gods are the donors and authors, they having first led us into the use of them by their own practice. As when Archilochus prays,
King Vulcan, hear thy suppliant, and grant
That what thou’rt wont to give and I to want,
it is plain that he means the god himself whom he invokes. But when elsewhere he bewails the drowning of his sister’s husband, who had not obtained lawful burial, and says,
Had Vulcan his fair limbs to ashes turned,
I for his loss had with less passion mourned,
he gives the name of Vulcan to the fire and not to the Deity. Again, Euripides, when he says,
No; by the glorious stars I swear,
And bloody Mars and Jupiter,
(Euripides, “Phoenissae,” 1006.)
means the gods themselves who bare those names. But when Sophocles saith,
Blind Mars doth mortal men’s affairs confound,
As the swine’s snout doth quite deface the ground,
we are to understand the word Mars to denote not the god so called, but war. And by the same word we are to understand also weapons made of hardened brass, in those verses of Homer,
These, are the gallant men whose noble blood
Keen Mars did shed near swift Scamander’s flood.
(“Iliad,” vii. 329.)
Wherefore, in conformity to the instances given, we must conceive and bear in mind that by the names of Jupiter also sometimes they mean the god himself, sometimes Fortune, and oftentimes also Fate. For when they say —
Great Jupiter, who from the lofty hill
Of Ida govern’st all the world at will;
(“Iliad,” iii. 276.)
That wrath which hurled to Pluto’s gloomy realm
The souls of mighty chiefs:—
Such was the sovereign doom, and such the will of Jove;
(Ibid. i. 3 and 5.)
For who (but who himself too fondly loves)
Dares lay his wisdom in the scale with Jove’s? —
they understand Jupiter himself. But when they ascribe the event of all things done to Jupiter as the cause, saying of him —
Many brave souls to hell Achilles sent,
And Jove’s design accomplished in th’ event —
they mean by Jove no more but Fate. For the poet doth not conceive that God contrives mischief against mankind, but he soundly declares the mere necessity of the things themselves, to wit, that prosperity and victory are destined by Fate to cities and armies and commanders who govern themselves with sobriety, but if they give way to passions and commit errors, thereby dividing and crumbling themselves into factions, as those of whom the poet speaks did, they do unhandsome actions, and thereby create great disturbances, such as are attended with sad consequences.
For to all unadvised acts, in fine,
The Fates unhappy issues do assign.
But when Hesiod brings in Prometheus thus counselling his brother Epimetheus,
Brother, if Jove to thee a present make,
Take heed that from his hands thou nothing take,
(Hesiod, “Works and Days,” 86.)
he useth the name of Jove to express Fortune; for he calls the good things which come by her (such as riches, and marriages, and empires, and indeed all external things the enjoyment whereof is profitable to only them who know how to use them well) the gifts of Jove. And therefore he adviseth Epimetheus (an ill man, and a fool withal) to stand in fear of and to guard himself from prosperity, as that which would be hurtful and destructive to him.
Again, where he saith,
Reproach thou not a man for being poor;
His poverty’s God’s gift, as is thy store,
(Hesiod “Works and Days,” 717.)
he calls that which befalls men by Fortune God’s gift, and intimates that it is an unworthy thing to reproach any man for that poverty which he falls into by Fortune, whereas poverty is then only a matter of disgrace and reproach when it is attendant on sloth and idleness, or wantonness and prodigality. For, before the name of Fortune was used, they knew there was a powerful cause, which moved irregularly and unlimitedly and with such a force that no human reason could avoid it; and this cause they called by the names of gods. So we are wont to call divers things and qualities and discourses, and even men themselves, divine. And thus may we rectify many such sayings concerning Jupiter as would otherwise seem very absurd. As these, for instance:—
Before Jove’s door two fatal hogsheads, filled
With human fortunes, good and bad luck yield. —
Of violated oaths Jove took no care,
But spitefully both parties crushed by war:—
To Greeks and Trojans both this was the rise
Of Mischief, suitable to Jove’s device.
(“Iliad,” xxiv. 527; vii. 69; “Odyssey,” viii. 81.)
These passages we are to interpret as spoken concerning Fortune or Fate, of the casuality of both which no account can be given by us, nor do their effects fall under our power. But where anything is said of Jupiter that is suitable, rational, and probable, there we are to conceive that the names of that god is used properly. As in these instances:—
Through others’ ranks he conquering did range,
But shunned with Ajax any blows t’ exchange;
But Jove’s displeasure on him he had brought,
Had he with one so much his better fought.
(“Iliad,” xi. 540.)
For though great matters are Jove’s special care,
Small things t’ inferior daemons trusted are.
And other words there are which the poets remove and translate from their proper sense by accommodation to various things, which deserve also our serious notice. Such a one, for instance, is [Greek omitted], VIRTUE. For because virtue does not only render men prudent, just, and good, both in their words and deeds, but also oftentimes purchaseth to them honor and power, therefore they call likewise these by that name. So we are wont to call both the olive-tree and the fruit [Greek omitted], and the oak-tree and its acorn [Greek omitted] communicating the name of the one to the other. Therefore, when our young man reads in the poets such passages as these —
This law th’ immortal gods to us have set,
That none arrive at virtue but by sweat;
(Hesiod, “Works and Days,” 289.)
The adverse troops then did the Grecians stout
By their mere virtue profligate and rout;
(“Iliad,” xi. 90.)
If now the Fates determined have our death,
To virtue we’ll consign our parting breath; —
let him presently conceive that these things are spoken of that most excellent and divine habit in us which we understand to be no other than right reason, or the highest attainment of the reasonable nature, and most agreeable to the constitution thereof. And again, when he reads this,
Of virtue Jupiter to one gives more,
And lessens, when he lifts, another’s store;
Virtue and honor upon wealth attend;
(Ibid. xx. 242; Hesiod “Works and Days,” 313.)
let him not sit down in an astonishing admiration of rich men, as if they were enabled by their wealth to purchase virtue, nor let him imagine that it is in the power of Fortune to increase or lessen his own wisdom; but let him conceive that the poet by virtue meant either glory or power or prosperity or something of like import. For poets use the same ambiguity also in the word [Greek omitted], EVIL, which sometimes in them properly signifies a wicked and malicious disposition of mind, as in that of Hesiod,
Evil is soon acquired; for everywhere
There’s plenty on’t and t’all men’s dwellings near;
(Hesiod, “Works and Days,” 287.)
and sometimes some evil accident or misfortune, as when Homer says,
Sore evils, when they haunt us in our prime,
Hasten old age on us before our time.
(“Odyessy,” xix. 360.)
So also in the word [Greek omitted], he would be sorely deceived who should imagine that, wheresoever he meets with it in poets, it means (as it does in philosophy) a perfect habitual enjoyment of all good things or the leading a life every way agreeable to Nature, and that they do not withal by the abuse of such words call rich men happy or blessed, and power or glory felicity. For, though Homer rightly useth terms of that nature in this passage —
Though of such great estates I am possest,
Yet with true inward joy I am not blest;
(Ibid. iv. 93.)
and Menander in this —
So great’s th’ estate I am endowed withal:
All say I’m rich, but none me happy call; —
yet Euripides discourseth more confusedly and perplexedly when he writes after this manner —
I do not want a happy life that is tedious;
And, man, why praisest thou
Th’ unjust beatitude of tyranny?
(Euripides, “Medea,” 598; Phoenissae,” 549.)
except, as I said, we allow him the use of these words in a metaphorical and abusive meaning. But enough hath been spoken of these matters.
Nevertheless, this principle is not once only but often to be inculcated and pressed on young men, that poetry when it undertakes a fictitious argument by way of imitation, though it make use of such ornament and illustration as suit the actions and manners treated of, yet disclaims not all likelihood of truth, seeing the force of imitation, in order to the persuading of men, lies in probability. Wherefore such imitation as does not altogether shake hands with truth carries along with it certain signs of virtue and vice mixed together in the actions which it doth represent. And of this nature is Homer’s poetry, which totally bids adieu to Stoicism, the principles whereof will not admit any vice to come near where virtue is, nor virtue to have anything to do where any vice lodgeth, but affirms that he that is not a wise man can do nothing well, and he that is so can do nothing amiss. Thus they determine in the schools. But in human actions and the affairs of common life the judgment of Euripides is verified, that
Virtue and vice ne’er separately exist,
But in the same acts with each other twist.
(From the “Aeolus” of Euripides.)
Next, it is to be observed that poetry, waiving the truth of things, does most labor to beautify its fictions with variety and multiplicity of contrivance. For variety bestows upon fable all that is pathetical, unusual, and surprising, and thereby makes it more taking and graceful; whereas what is void of variety is unsuitable to the nature of fable, and so raiseth no passions at all. Upon which design of variety it is, that the poets never represent the same persons always victorious or prosperous or acting with the same constant tenor of virtue; — yea, even the gods themselves, when they engage in human actions, are not represented as free from passions and errors; — lest, for the want of some difficulties. and cross passages, their poems should be destitute of that briskness which is requisite to move and astonish the minds of men.
These things therefore so standing, we should, when we enter a young man into the study of the poets, endeavor to free his mind from that degree of esteem of the good and great personages in them described as may incline him to think them to be mirrors of wisdom and justice, the chief of princes, and the exemplary measures of all virtue and goodness. For he will receive much prejudice, if he shall approve and admire all that comes from such persons as great, if he dislike nothing in them himself, nor will endure to hear others blame them, though for such words and actions as the following passages import:—
Oh! would to all the immortal powers above,
Apollo, Pallas, and almighty Jove!
That not one Trojan might be left alive,
And not a Greek of all the race survive.
Might only we the vast destruction shun,
And only we destroy the accursed town!
Her breast all gore, with lamentable cries,
The bleeding innocent Cassandra dies,
Murdered by Clytemnestra’s faithless hand:
Lie with thy father’s whore, my mother said,
That she th’ old man may loathe; and I obeyed:
Of all the gods, O father Jove, there’s none
Thus given to mischief but thyself alone.
(“Iliad,” xvi. 97; “Odyssey,” xi. 421; “Iliad,” ix, 452;
Ibid. iii, 365.)
Our young man is to be taught not to commend such things as these, no, nor to show the nimbleness of his wit or subtlety in maintaining argument by finding out plausible colors and pretences to varnish over a bad matter. But we should teach him rather to judge that poetry is an imitation of the manners and lives of such men as are not perfectly pure and unblameable, but such as are tinctured with passions, misled by false opinions, and muffled with ignorance; though oftentimes they may, by the help of a good natural temper, change them for better qualities. For the young man’s mind, being thus prepared and disposed, will receive no damage by such passages when he meets with them in poems, but will on the one side be elevated with rapture at those things which are well said or done, and on the other, will not entertain but dislike those which are of a contrary character. But he that admires and is transported with everything, as having his judgment enslaved by the esteem he hath for the names of heroes, will be unawares wheedled into many evil things, and be guilty of the same folly with those who imitate the crookedness of Plato or the stammering of Aristotle. Neither must he carry himself timorously herein, nor, like a superstitious person in a temple, tremblingly adore all he meets with; but use himself to such confidence as may enable him openly to pronounce, This was ill or incongruously said, and, That was bravely and gallantly spoken. For example, Achilles in Homer, being offended at the spinning out that war by delays, wherein he was desirous by feats of arms to purchase to himself glory, calls the soldiers together when there was an epidemical disease among them. But having himself some smattering skill in physic, and perceiving after the ninth day, which useth to be decretory in such cases, that the disease was no usual one nor proceeding from ordinary causes, when he stands up to speak, he waives applying himself to the soldiers, and addresseth himself as a councillor to the general, thus:—
Why leave we not the fatal Trojan shore,
And measure back the seas we cross’d before?
(For this and the four following quotations, see
“Iliad,” i. 59, 90, 220, 349; ix, 458.)
And he spake well, and with due moderation and decorum. But when the soothsayer Chalcas had told him that he feared the wrath of the most potent among the Grecians, after an oath that while he lived no man should lay violent hands on him, he adds, but not with like wisdom and moderation,
Not e’en the chief by whom our hosts are led,
The king of kings, shall touch that sacred head;
in which speech he declares his low opinion or rather his contempt of his chief commander. And then, being farther provoked, he drew his weapon with a design to kill him, which attempt was neither good nor expedient. And therefore by and by he repented his rashness —
He said, observant of the blue-eyed maid;
Then in the sheath returned the shining blade;
wherein again he did rightly and worthily, in that, though he could not altogether quell his passion, yet he restrained and reduced it under the command of reason, before it brake forth into such an irreparable act of mischief. Again, even Agamemnon himself talks in that assembly ridiculously, but carries himself more gravely and more like a prince in the matter of Chryseis. For whereas Achilles, when his Briseis was taken away from him,
In sullenness withdraws from all his friends,
And in his tent his time lamenting spends;
Agamemnon himself hands into the ship, delivers to her friends, and so sends from him, the woman concerning whom a little before he declared that he loved her better than his wife; and in that action did nothing unbecoming or savoring of fond affection. Also Phoenix, when his father bitterly cursed him for having to do with one that was his own harlot, says,
Him in my rage I purposed to have killed,
But that my hand some god in kindness held;
And minded me that, Greeks would taunting say,
Lo, here’s the man that did his father slay.
It is true that Aristarchus was afraid to permit these verses to stand in the poet, and therefore censured them to be expunged. But they were inserted by Homer very aptly to the occasion of Phoenix’s instructing Achilles what a pernicious thing anger is, and what foul acts men do by its instigation, while they are capable neither of making use of their own reason nor of hearing the counsel of others. To which end he also introduceth Meleager at first highly offended with his citizens, and afterwards pacified; justly therein reprehending disordered passions, and praising it as a good and profitable thing not to yield to them, but to resist and overcome them, and to repent when one hath been overcome by them.
Now in these instances the difference is manifest. But where a like clear judgment cannot be passed, there we are to settle the young man’s mind thus, by way of distinction. If Nausicaa, having cast her eyes upon Ulysses, a stranger, and feeling the same passion for him as Calypso had before, did (as one that was ripe for a husband) out of wantonness talk with her maidens at this foolish rate —
O Heaven! in my connubial hour decree
This man my spouse, or such a spouse as he!
(“Odyssey,” vi. 254.)
she is blameworthy for her impudence and incontinence. But if, perceiving the man’s breeding by his discourse, and admiring the prudence of his addresses, she rather wisheth to have such a one for a husband than a merchant or a dancing gallant of her fellow-citizens, she is to be commended. And when Ulysses is represented as pleased with Penelope’s jocular conversation with her wooers, and at their presenting her with rich garments and other ornaments,
Because she cunningly the fools cajoled,
And bartered light words for their heavy gold;
(“Odyssey,” xvii, 282.)
if that joy were occasioned by greediness and covetousness, he discovers himself to be a more sordid prostituter of his own life than Poliager is wont to be represented on the stage to have been, of whom it is said —
Happy man he, whose wife, like Capricorn,
Stores him with riches from a golden horn!
But if through foresight he thought thereby to get them the more within his power, as being lulled asleep in security for the future by the hopes she gave them at present, this rejoicing, joined with confidence in his wife, was rational. Again, when he is brought in numbering the goods which the Phaeacians had set on shore together with himself and departed; if indeed, being himself left in such a solitude, so ignorant where he was, and having no security there for his own person, he is yet solicitous for his goods, lest
The sly Phaeacians, when they stole to sea,
Had stolen some part of what they brought away;
(Ibid. xiii. 216.)
the covetousness of the man deserved in truth to be pitied, or rather abhorred. But if, as some say in his defence, being doubtful whether or no the place where he was landed were Ithaca, he made use of the just tale of his goods to infer thence the honesty of the Phaeacians — because it was not likely they would expose him in a strange place and leave him there with his goods by him untouched, so as to get nothing by their dishonesty — then he makes use of a very fit test for this purpose, and deserves commendation for his wisdom in that action. Some also there are who condemn that passage of the putting him on shore when he was asleep, if it really so happened, and they tell us that the people of Tuscany have still a traditional story among them concerning Ulysses, that he was naturally sleepy, and therefore a man whom many people could not freely converse with. But if his sleep was but shammed, and he made use of this pretence only of a natural infirmity, by counterfeiting a nap, to hide the strait he was in at the time in his thoughts, betwixt the shame of sending away the Phaeacians without giving them a friendly collation and hospitable gifts, and the fear he had of being discovered to his enemies by the treating such a company of men together, they then approve it.
Now, by showing young men these things, we shall preserve them from being carried away to any corruption in their manners, and dispose them to the election and imitation of those that are good, as being before instructed readily to disapprove those and commend these. But this ought with the most care to be done in the reading of tragedies wherein probable and subtle speeches are made use of in the most foul and wicked actions. For that is not always true which Sophocles saith, that
From evil acts good words can never come.
For even he himself is wont to apply pleasant reasonings and plausible arguments to those manners and actions which are wicked or unbecoming. And in another of his fellow-tragedians, we may see even Phaedra herself represented as justifying her unlawful affection for Hippolytus by accusing Theseus of ill-carriage towards her. And in his Troades, he allows Helen the same liberty of speech against Hecuba, whom she judgeth to be more worthy of punishment than herself for her adultery, because she was the mother of Paris that tempted her thereto. A young man therefore must not be accustomed to think anything of that nature handsomely or wittily spoken, nor to be pleased with such colorable inventions; but rather more to abhor such words as tend to the defence of wanton acts than the very acts themselves.
And lastly, it will be useful likewise to inquire into the cause why each thing is said. For so Cato, when he was a boy, though he was wont to be very observant of all his master’s commands, yet withal used to ask the cause or reason why he so commanded. But poets are not to be obeyed as pedagogues and promulgators of laws are, except they have reason to back what they say. And that they will not want, when they speak well; and if they speak ill, what they say will appear vain and frivolous. But nowadays most young men very briskly demand the reason of such trivial speeches as these, and inquire in what sense they are spoken:—
It bodes ill, when vessels you set up,
To put the ladle on the mixing-cup.
Who from his chariot to another’s leaps,
Seldom his seat without a combat keeps.
(Hesiod “Works and Days,” 744; “Iliad,” iv. 306.)
But to those of greater moment they give credence without examination, as to those that follow:—
The boldest men are daunted oftentimes,
When they’re reproached with their parents’ crimes:
(Euripides, “Hippolytus,” 424.)
When any man is crushed by adverse fate,
His spirit should be low as his estate.
And yet such speeches relate to manners, and disquiet men’s lives by begetting in them evil opinions and unworthy sentiments, except they have learned to return answer to each of them thus: “Wherefore is it necessary that a man who is crushed by adverse fate should have a dejected spirit? Yea, why rather should he not struggle against Fortune, and raise himself above the pressures of his low circumstances? Why, if I myself be a good and wise son of an evil and foolish father, does it not rather become me to bear myself confidently upon the account of my own virtue, than to be dejected and dispirited because of my father’s defects?” For he that can encounter such speeches and oppose them after this manner, not yielding himself up to be overset with the blast of every saying, but approving that speech of Heraclitus, that
Whate’er is said, though void of sense and wit,
The size of a fool’s intellect doth fit,
will reject many such things as falsely and idly spoken.
These things therefore may be of use to preserve us from the hurt we might get by the study of poems.
Now, as on a vine the fruit oftentimes lies concealed and hidden under its large leaves and luxuriant branches, so in the poet’s phrases and fictions that encompass them there are also many profitable and useful things concealed from the view of young men. This, however, ought not to be suffered; nor should we be led away from things themselves thus, but rather adhere to such of them as tend to the promoting of virtue and the well forming of our manners. It will not be altogether useless, therefore, to treat briefly in the next place of passages of that nature. Wherein I intend to touch only at some particulars, leaving all longer discussion, and the trimming up and furnishing them with a multitude of instances, to those who write more for display and ostentation.
First, therefore, let our young man be taught to understand good and bad manners and persons, and from thence apply his mind to the words and deeds which the poet decently assigns to either of them. For example, Achilles, though in some wrath, speaks to Agamemnon thus decently:—
Nor, when we take a Trojan town, can I
With thee in spoils and splendid prizes vie;
(For this and the five following quotations,
see “Iliad,” i. 163; ii. 226; i. 128; ii. 231;
iv. 402 and 404.)
whereas Thersites to the same person speaks reproachfully in this manner:—
’Tis thine whate’er the warrior’s breast inflames,
The golden spoil, thine the lovely dames.
With all the wealth our wars and blood bestow,
Thy tents are crowded and thy chests o’erflow.
Again, Achilles thus:—
Whene’er, by Jove’s decree, our conquering powers
Shall humble to the dust Troy’s lofty towers;
but Thersites thus:—
Whom I or some Greek else as captive bring.
Again, Diomedes, when Agamemnon taking a view of the army spoke reproachfully to him,
To his hard words forbore to make reply,
For the respect he bare to majesty;
whereas Sthenelus, a man of small note, replies on him thus:—
Sir, when you know the truth, what need to lie?
For with our fathers we for valor vie.
Now the observation of such difference will teach the young man the decency of a modest and moderate temper, and the unbecoming nauseousness of the contrary vices of boasting and cracking of a man’s own worth. And it is worth while also to take notice of the demeanor of Agamemnon in the same place. For he passeth by Sthenelus unspoken to; but perceiving Ulysses to be offended, he neglects not him, but applies himself to answer him:—
Struck with his generous wrath, the king replies.
(“Iliad,” iv. 357. For the four following, see “Iliad,” ix. 34
and 70; iv. 431; x. 325.)
For to have apologized to every one had been too servile and misbecoming the dignity of his person; whereas equally to have neglected every one had been an act of insolence and imprudence. And very handsome it is that Diomedes, though in the heat of the battle he answers the king only with silence, yet after the battle was over useth more liberty towards him, speaking thus:—
You called me coward, sir, before the Greeks.
It is expedient also to take notice of the different carriage of a wise man and of a soothsayer popularly courting the multitude. For Chalcas very unseasonably makes no scruple to traduce the king before the people, as having been the cause of the pestilence that was befallen them. But Nestor, intending to bring in a discourse concerning the reconciling Achilles to him, that he might not seem to charge Agamemnon before the multitude with the miscarriage his passion had occasioned, only adviseth him thus:—
But thou, O king, to council call the old. . . .
Wise weighty counsels aid a state distressed,
And such a monarch as can choose the best;
which done, accordingly after supper he sends his ambassadors. Now this speech of Nestor tended to the rectifying of what he had before done amiss; but that of Chalcas, only to accuse and disparage him.
There is likewise consideration to be had of the different manners of nations, such as these. The Trojans enter into battle with loud outcries and great fierceness; but in the army of the Greeks,
Sedate and silent move the numerous bands;
No sound, no whisper, but the chief’s commands;
Those only heard, with awe the rest obey.
For when soldiers are about to engage an enemy, the awe they stand in of their officers is an argument both of courage and obedience. For which purpose Plato teacheth us that we ought to inure ourselves to fear, blame and disgrace more than labor and danger. And Cato was wont to say that he liked men that were apt to blush better than those that looked pale.
Moreover, there is a particular character to be noted of the men who undertake for any action. For Dolon thus promiseth:—
I’ll pass through all their host in a disguise
To their flag-ship, where she at anchor lies.
But Diomedes promiseth nothing, but only tells them he shall fear the less if they send a companion with him; whereby is intimated, that discreet foresight is Grecian and civil, but rash confidence is barbarous and evil; and the former is therefore to be imitated, and the latter to be avoided.
It is a matter too of no unprofitable consideration, how the minds of the Trojans and of Hector too were affected when he and Ajax were about to engage in a single combat. For Aeschylus, when, upon one of the fighters at fisticuffs in the Isthmian games receiving a blow on the face, there was made a great outcry among the people, said: “What a thing is practice! See how the lookers-on only cry out, but the man that received the stroke is silent.” But when the poet tells us, that the Greeks rejoiced when they saw Ajax in his glistering armor, but
The Trojans’ knees for very fear did quake,
And even Hector’s heart began to ache;
(“Iliad,” vii. 215. For the three following,
see “Iliad,” ii. 220; v. 26 and 231.)
who is there that wonders not at this difference — when the heart of him that was to run the risk of the combat only beats inwardly, as if he were to undertake a mere wrestling or running match, but the very bodies of the spectators tremble and shake, out of the kindness and fear which they had for their king?
In the same poet also we may observe the difference betwixt the humor of a coward and a valiant man. For Thersites
Against Achilles a great malice had,
And wise Ulysses he did hate as bad;
but Ajax is always represented as friendly to Achilles; and particularly he speaks thus to Hector concerning him:—
Hector I approach my arm, and singly know
What strength thou hast, and what the Grecian foe.
Achilles shuns the fight; yet some there are
Not void of soul, and not unskill’d in war:
wherein he insinuates the high commendation of that valiant man. And in what follows, he speaks like handsome things of his fellow-soldiers in general, thus:—
Whole troops of heroes Greece has yet to boast,
And sends thee one, a sample of her host;
wherein he doth not boast himself to be the only or the best champion, but one of those, among many others, who were fit to undertake that combat.
What hath been said is sufficient upon the point of dissimilitudes; except we think fit to add this, that many of the Trojans came into the enemy’s power alive, but none of the Grecians; and that many Trojans supplicated to their enemies — as (for instance) Adrastus, the sons of Antimachus, Lycaon — and even Hector himself entreats Achilles for a sepulture; but not one of these doth so, as judging it barbarous to supplicate to a foe in the field, and more Greek-like either to conquer or die.
But as, in the same plant, the bee feeds on the flower, the goat on the bud, the hog on the root, and other living creatures on the seed and the fruit; so in reading of poems, one man singleth out the historical part, another dwells upon the elegancy and fit disposal of words, as Aristophanes says of Euripides —
His gallant language runs so smooth and round,
That I am ravisht with th’ harmonious sound;
(See “Aristophanes,” Frag. 397.)
but others, to whom this part of my discourse is directed, mind only such things as are useful to the bettering of manners. And such we are to put in mind that it is an absurd thing, that those who delight in fables should not let anything slip them of the vain and extravagant stories they find in poets, and that those who affect language should pass over nothing that is elegantly and floridly expressed; and that only the lovers of honor and virtue, who apply themselves to the study of poems not for delight but for instruction’s sake, should slightly and negligently observe what is spoken in them relating to valor, temperance, or justice. Of this nature is the following:—
And stand we deedless, O eternal shame!
Till Hector’s arm involve the ships in flame?
Haste, let us join, and combat side by side.
(“Iliad,” xi. 313. For the four following see
“Odyssey,” iii. 52; “Iliad,” xxiv. 560 and 584;
“Odyssey,” xvi. 274.)
For to see a man of the greatest wisdom in danger of being totally cut off with all those that take part with him, and yet affected less with fear of death than of shame and dishonor, must needs excite in a young man a passionate affection for virtue. And this,
Joyed was the Goddess, for she much did prize
A man that was alike both just and wise,
teacheth us to infer that the Deity delights not in a rich or a proper or a strong man, but in one that is furnished with wisdom and justice. Again, when the same goddess (Minerva) saith that the reason why she did not desert or neglect Ulysses was that he was
Gentle, of ready wit, of prudent mind,
she therein tells us that, of all things pertaining to us, nothing is dear to the gods and godlike but our virtue, seeing like naturally delights in like.
And seeing, moreover, that it both seemeth and really is a great thing to be able to moderate a man’s anger, but a greater by far to guard a man’s self beforehand by prudence, that he fall not into it nor be surprised by it, therefore also such passages as tend that way are not slightly to be represented to the readers; for example, that Achilles himself — who was a man of no great forbearance, nor inclined to such meekness — yet admonishes Priam to be calm and not to provoke him, thus,
Move me no more (Achilles thus replies,
While kindling anger sparkled in his eyes),
Nor seek by tears my steady soul to bend:
To yield thy Hector I myself intend:
Cease; lest, neglectful of high Jove’s command,
I show thee, king, thou tread’st on hostile land;
and that he himself first washeth and decently covereth the body of Hector and then puts it into a chariot, to prevent his father’s seeing it so unworthily mangled as it was —
Lest the unhappy sire,
Provoked to passion, once more rouse to ire
The stern Pelides; and nor sacred age,
Nor Jove’s command, should check the rising rage.
For it is a piece of admirable prudence for a man so prone to anger, as being by nature hasty and furious, to understand himself so well as to set a guard upon his own inclinations, and by avoiding provocations to keep his passion at due distance by the use of reason, lest he should be unawares surprised by it. And after the same manner must the man that is apt to be drunken forearm himself against that vice; and he that is given to wantonness, against lust, as Agesilaus refused to receive a kiss from a beautiful person addressing to him, and Cyrus would not so much as endure to see Panthea. Whereas, on the contrary, those that are not virtuously bred are wont to gather fuel to inflame their passions, and voluntarily to abandon themselves to those temptations to which of themselves they are endangered. But Ulysses does not only restrain his own anger, but (perceiving by the discourse of his son Telemachus, that through indignation conceived against such evil men he was greatly provoked) he blunts his passion too beforehand, and composeth him to calmness and patience, thus:—
There, if base scorn insult my reverend age,
Bear it, my son! repress thy rising rage.
If outraged, cease that outrage to repel;
Bear it, my son! howe’er thy heart rebel.
For as men are not wont to put bridles on their horses when they are running in full speed, but bring them bridled beforehand to the race; so do they use to preoccupy and predispose the minds of those persons with rational considerations to enable them to encounter passion, whom they perceive to be too mettlesome and unmanageable upon the sight of provoking objects.
Furthermore, the young man is not altogether to neglect names themselves when he meets with them; though he is not obliged to give much heed to such idle descants as those of Cleanthes, who, while he professeth himself an interpreter, plays the trifler, as in these passages of Homer: [Greek omitted], (“Iliad,” iii. 320; xvi. 233.) For he will needs read the two of these words joined into one, and make them [Greek omitted] for that the air evaporated from the earth by exhalation [Greek omitted] is so called. Yea, and Chrysippus too, though he does not so trifle, yet is very jejune, while he hunts after improbable etymologies. As when he will need force the words [Greek omitted] to import Jupiter’s excellent faculty in speaking and powerfulness to persuade thereby.
But such things as these are fitter to be left to the examination of grammarians and we are rather to insist upon such passages as are both profitable and persuasive. Such, for instance, as these; —
My early youth was bred to martial pains,
My soul impels me to the embattled plains!
How skill’d he was in each obliging art;
The mildest manners, and the gentlest heart.
(Ibid. vi. 444; xvii. 671.)
For while the author tells us that fortitude may be taught, and that an obliging and graceful way of conversing with others is to be gotten by art and the use of reason, he exhorts us not to neglect the improvement of ourselves, but by observing our teachers’ instructions to learn a becoming carriage, as knowing that clownishness and cowardice argue ill-breeding and ignorance. And very suitable to what hath been said is that which is said of Jupiter and Neptune:—
Gods of one source, of one ethereal race,
Alike divine, and heaven their native place;
But Jove the greater; first born of the skies,
And more than men or Gods supremely wise.
(“Iliad,” xiii. 354.)
For the poet therein pronounceth wisdom to be the most divine and royal quality of all; as placing therein the greatest excellency of Jupiter himself, and judging all virtues else to be necessarily consequent thereunto. We are also to accustom a young man attentively to hear such things as these:—
Urge him with truth to frame his fair replies:
And sure he will, for wisdom never lies:
The praise of wisdom, in thy youth obtain’d,
An act so rash, Antilochus, has stain’d:
Say, is it just, my friend, that Hector’s ear
From such a warrior such a speech should hear?
I deemed thee once the wisest of thy kind,
But ill this insult suits a prudent mind.
(“Odyssey,” iii. 20; “Iliad,” xxiii. 570; xvii. 170.)
These speeches teach us that it is beneath wise men to lie or to deal otherwise than fairly, even in games, or to blame other men without just cause. And when the poet attributes Pindarus’s violation of the truce to his folly, he withal declares his judgment that a wise man will not be guilty of an unjust action. The like may we also infer concerning continence, taking our ground for it from these passages:—
For him Antaea burn’d with lawless flame,
And strove to tempt him from the paths of fame:
In vain she tempted the relentless youth,
Endued with wisdom, sacred fear, and truth:
At first, with worthy shame and decent pride,
The royal dame, his lawless suit denied!
For virtue’s image yet possessed her mind:
(“Iliad,” vi. 160; “Odyssey,” iii. 265.)
in which speeches the poet assigns wisdom to be the cause of continence. And when in exhortations made to encourage soldiers to fight, he speaks in this manner:—
What mean you, Lycians? Stand! O stand, for shame!
Yet each reflect who prizes fame or breath,
On endless infamy, on instant death;
For, lo! the fated time, the appointed shore;
Hark! the gates burst, the brazen barriers roar!
(“Iliad,” xvi. 422; xiii. 121.)
he seems to intimate that prudent men are valiant men; because they fear the shame of base actions, and can trample on pleasures and stand their ground in the greatest hazards. Whence Timotheus, in the play called Persae, takes occasion handsomely to exhort the Grecians thus:—
Brave soldiers of just shame in awe should stand;
For the blushing face oft helps the fighting hand.
And Aeschylus also makes it a point of wisdom not to be blown up with pride when a man is honored, nor to be moved or elevated with the acclamations of a multitude, writing thus of Amphiaraus:—
His shield no emblem bears; his generous soul
Wishes to be, not to appear, the best;
While the deep furrows of his noble mind
Harvests of wise and prudent counsel bear.
(See note in the same passage of
Aeschylus (Sept. 591), i. 210. (G).)
For it is the part of a wise man to value himself upon the consciousness of his own true worth and excellency.
Whereas, therefore, all inward perfections are reducible to wisdom, it appears that all sorts of virtue and learning are included in it
Again, boys may be instructed, by reading the poets as they ought, to draw even from those passages that are most suspected as wicked and absurd something that is useful and profitable; as the bee is taught by Nature to gather the sweetest and most pleasant honey from the harshest flowers and sharpest thorns. It does indeed at the first blush cast a shrewd suspicion on Agmemnon of taking a bribe, when Homer tells us that he discharged that rich man from the wars who presented him with his fleet mare Aethe:—
Whom rich Echepolus, more rich than brave,
To ‘scape the wars, to Agamemnon gave
(Aethe her name), at home to end his days;
Base wealth preferring to eternal praise.
(“Iliad,” xxiii. 297.)
Yet, as saith Aristotle, it was well done of him to prefer a good beast before such a man. For, the truth is, a dog or ass is of more value than a timorous and cowardly man that wallows in wealth and luxury. Again, Thetis seems to do indecently, when she exhorts her son to follow his pleasures and minds him of companying with women. But even here, on the other side, the continency of Achilles is worthy to be considered; who, though he dearly loved Briseis — newly returned to him too — yet, when he knew his life to be near its end, does not hasten to the fruition of pleasures, nor, when he mourns for his friend Patroclus, does he (as most men are wont) shut himself up from all business and neglect his duty, but only bars himself from recreations for his sorrow’s sake, while yet he gives himself up to action and military employments. And Archilochus is not praiseworthy either, who, in the midst of his mourning for his sister’s husband drowned in the sea, contrives to dispel his grief by drinking and merriment. And yet he gives this plausible reason to justify that practice of his,
To drink and dance, rather than mourn, I choose;
Nor wrong I him, whom mourning can’t reduce.
For, if he judged himself to do nothing amiss when he followed sports and banquets, sure, we shall not do worse, if in whatever circumstances we follow the study of philosophy, or manage public affairs, or go to the market or to the Academy, or follow our husbandry. Wherefore those corrections also are not to be rejected which Cleanthes and Antisthenes have made use of. For Antisthenes, seeing the Athenians all in a tumult in the theatre, and justly, upon the pronunciation of this verse —
Except what men think wrong, there’s nothing ill,
(From the “Aeolus” of Euripides, Frag. 19.)
presently subjoined this corrective,
What’s wrong is so — believe men what they will.
And Cleanthes, hearing this passage concerning wealth:—
Great is th’ advantage that great wealth attends,
For oft with it we purchase health and friends,
(Euripides, “Electra,” 428.)
presently altered it thus:
Great disadvantage oft attends on wealth;
We purchase whores with’t and destroy our health.
And Zeno corrected that of Sophocles,
The man that in a tyrant’s palace dwells
His liberty for’s entertainment sells,
after this manner:—
No: if he came in free, he cannot lose
His liberty, though in a tyrant’s house;
meaning by a free man one that is undaunted and magnanimous, and one of a spirit too great to stoop beneath itself. And why may not we also, by some such acclamations as those, call off young men to the better side, by using some things spoken by poets after the same manner? For example, it is said,
’Tis all that in this life one can require,
To hit the mark he aims at in desire.
To which we may reply thus:—
’Tis false; except one level his desire
At what’s expedient, and no more require.
For it is an unhappy thing and not to be wished, for a man to obtain and be master of what he desires if it be inexpedient. Again this saying,
Thou, Agamemnon, must thyself prepare
Of joy and grief by turns to take thy share,
Thy father, Atreus, sure, ne’er thee begat,
To be an unchanged favorite of Fate:
(Euripides, “Iphigenia at Aulus,” 29.)
we may thus invert:—
Thy father, Atreus, never thee begat,
To be an unchanged favorite of Fate:
Therefore, if moderate thy fortunes are,
Thou shouldst rejoice always, and grief forbear.
Again it is said,
Alas! this ill comes from the powers divine
That oft we see what’s good, yet it decline.
(From the “Chrysippus” of Euripides, Frag. 838.)
Yea, rather, say we, it is a brutish and irrational and wretched fault of ours, that when we understand better things, we are carried away to the pursuit of those which are worse, through our intemperance and effeminacy. Again, one says,
For not the teacher’s speech but practice moves.
Yea, rather, say we, both the speech and practice — or the practice by the means of speech — as the horse is managed with the bridle, and the ship with the helm. For virtue hath no instrument so suitable and agreeable to human nature to work on men withal, as that of rational discourse. Again, we meet with this character of some person:—
A. Is he more inclined to male or female love?
B. He bends both ways, where beauty moves.
But it had been better said thus:—
He’s flexible to both, where virtue moves.
For it is no commendation of a man’s dexterity to be tossed up and down as pleasure and beauty move him, but an argument rather of a weak and unstable disposition. Once more, this speech,
Religion damps the courage of our minds,
And ev’n wise men to cowardice inclines,
is by no means to be allowed; but rather the contrary,
Religion truly fortifies men’s minds,
And a wise man to valiant acts inclines,
and gives not occasion of fear to any but weak and foolish persons and such as are ungrateful to the Deity, who are apt to look on that divine power and principle which is the cause of all good with suspicion and jealousy, as being hurtful unto them. And so much for that which I call correction of poets’ sayings.
There is yet another way of improving poems, taught us well by Chrysippus; which is, by accommodation of any saying, to transfer that which is useful and serviceable in it to divers things of the same kind. For whereas Hesiod saith,
If but a cow miscarry, the common fame
Upon the next ill neighbor lays the blame;
(Hesiod, “Work and Days,” 348.)
the same may be applied to a man’s dog or ass or any other beast of his which is liable to the like mischance. Again, Euripides saith,
How can that man be called a slave, who slights
Ev’n death itself, which servile spirits frights?
the like whereof may be said of hard labor or painful sickness. For as physicians, finding by experience the force of any medicine in the cure of some one disease, make use of it by accommodation, proportionably to every other disease of affinity thereto, so are we to deal with such speeches as are of a common import and apt to communicate their value to other things; we must not confine them to that one thing only to which they were at first adapted, but transfer them to all other of like nature, and accustom young men by many parallel instances to see the communicableness of them, and exercise the promptness of their wits in such applications so that when Menander says,
Happy is he who wealth and wisdom hath,
they may be able to judge that the same is fitly applicable to glory and authority and eloquence also. And the reproof which Ulysses gives Achilles, when he found him sitting in Scyrus in the apartment of the young ladies,
Thou, who from noblest Greeks deriv’st thy race,
Dost thou with spinning wool thy birth disgrace?
may be as well given to the prodigal, to him that undertakes any dishonest way of living, yea, to the slothful and unlearned person, thus:—
Thou, who from noblest Greeks deriv’st thy race,
Dost thou with fuddling thy great birth disgrace?
or dost thou spend thy time in dicing, or quail-striking, (The word here used [Greek omitted] denotes a game among the Grecians, which Suidas describes to be the setting of quails in a round compass or ring and striking at the heads of them; and he that in the ring struck one had liberty to strike at the rest in order, but he that missed was obliged to set up quails for others; and this they did by turns.) or deal in adulterate wares or griping usury, not minding anything that is great and worthy thy noble extraction? So when they read,
For wealth, the God most served, I little care,
Since the worst men his favors often wear,
(From the “Aeolus,” of Euripides, Frag. 20.)
they may be able to infer, therefore, as little regard is to be had to glory and bodily beauty and princely robes and priestly garlands, all which also we see to be the enjoyments of very bad men. Again, when they read this passage,
A coward father propagates his vice,
And gets a son heir to his cowardice,
they may in truth apply the same to intemperance, to superstition, to envy, and all other diseases of men’s minds. Again, whereas it is handsomely said of Homer,
Unhappy Paris, fairest to behold!
Hector, of noble form.
(“Iliad,” iii. 39; xvii. 142.)
for herein he shows that a man who hath no greater excellency than that of beauty to commend him deserves to have it mentioned with contempt and ignominy — such expressions we should make use of in like cases to repress the insolence of such as bear themselves high upon the account of such things as are of no real value, and to teach young men to look upon such compellations as “O thou richest of men,” and “O thou that excellest in feasting, in multitudes of attendants, in herds of cattle, yea, and in eloquent speaking itself,” to be (as they are indeed) expressions that import reproach and infamy. For, in truth, a man that designs to excel ought to endeavor it in those things that are in themselves most excellent, and to become chief in the chiefest, and great in the greatest things. Whereas glory that ariseth from things in themselves small and inconsiderable is inglorious and contemptible. To mind us whereof we shall never be at a loss for instances, if, in reading Homer especially, we observe how he applieth the expressions that import praise or disgrace; wherein we have clear proof that he makes small account of the good things either of the body or Fortune. And first of all, in meetings and salutations, men do not call others fair or rich or strong, but use such terms of commendation as these:—
Son of Laertes, from great Jove deriving
Thy pedigree, and skilled in wise contriving;
Hector, thou son of Priam, whose advice
With wisest Jove’s men count of equal price;
Achilles, son of Peleus, whom all story
Shall mention as the Grecians greatest glory;
Divine Patroclus, for thy worth thou art,
Of all the friends I have, lodged next my heart.
(“Iliad,” ii. 173; vii. 47; xix. 216; xi. 608.)
And moreover, when they speak disgracefully of any person, they touch not at bodily defects, but direct all their reproaches to vicious actions; as for instance:—
A dogged-looking, drunken beast thou art,
And in thy bosom hast a deer’s faint heart;
Ajax at brawling valiant still,
Whose tongue is used to speaking ill;
A tongue so loose hung, and so vain withal,
Idomeneus, becomes thee not at all;
Ajax thy tongue doth oft offend;
For of thy boasting there’s no end.
(Ibid. i. 225; xxiii. 483 and 474–479; xiii. 824.)
Lastly, when Ulysses reproacheth Thersites, he objecteth not to him his lameness nor his baldness nor his hunched back, but the vicious quality of indiscreet babbling. On the other side, when Juno means to express a dalliance or motherly fondness to her son Vulcan, she courts him with an epithet taken from his halting, thus,
Rouse thee, my limping son!
(Ibid, xxi. 331.)
In this instance, Homer does (as it were) deride those who are ashamed of their lameness or blindness, as not thinking anything a disgrace that is not in itself disgraceful, nor any person liable to a reproach for that which is not imputable to himself but to Fortune. These two great advantages may be made by those who frequently study poets; — the learning moderation, to keep them from unseasonable and foolish reproaching others with their misfortunes, when they themselves enjoy a constant current of prosperity; and magnanimity, that under variety of accidents they be not dejected nor disturbed, but meekly bear the being scoffed at, reproached, and drolled upon. Especially, let them have that saying of Philemon ready at hand in such cases:—
That spirit’s well in tune, whose sweet repose
No railer’s tongue can ever discompose.
And yet, if one that so rails do himself merit reprehension, thou mayst take occasion to retort upon him his own vices and inordinate passions; as when Adrastus in the tragedy is assaulted thus by Alcmaeon,
Thy sister’s one that did her husband kill,
he returns him this answer,
But thou thyself thy mother’s blood did spill.
For as they who scourge a man’s garments do not touch the body, so those that turn other men’s evil fortunes or mean births to matter of reproach do only with vanity and folly enough lash their external circumstances, but touch not their internal part, the soul, nor those things which truly need correction and reproof.
Moreover, as we have above taught you to abate and lessen the credit of evil and hurtful poems by setting in opposition to them the famous speeches and sentences of such worthy men as have managed public affairs, so will it be useful to us, where we find any things in them of civil and profitable import, to improve and strengthen them by testimonies and proofs taken from philosophers, withal giving these the credit of being the first inventors of them. For this is both just and profitable to be done, seeing by this means such sayings receive an additional strength and esteem, when it appears that what is spoken on the stage or sung to the harp or occurs in a scholar’s lesson is agreeable to the doctrines of Pythagoras and Plato, and that the sentences of Chile and Bias tend to the same issue with those that are found in the authors which children read. Therefore must we industriously show them that these poetical sentences,
Not these, O daughter, are thy proper cares,
Thee milder arts befit, and softer wars;
Sweet smiles are thine, and kind endearing charms;
To Mars and Pallas leave the deeds of arms;
Jove’s angry with thee, when thy unmanaged rage
With those that overmatch thee doth engage;
(“Iliad,” v. 248; xi. 543.)
differ not in substance but bear plainly the same sense with that philosophical sentence, Know thyself, And these
Fools, who by wrong seek to augment their store,
And know not how much half than all is more;
Of counsel giv’n to mischievous intents,
The man that gives it most of all repents;
(Hesiod, “Works and Days,” 40 and 266.)
are of near kin to what we find in the determination of Plato, in his books entitled Gorgias and Concerning the Commonwealth, to wit, that it is worse to do than to suffer injury, and that a man more endamageth himself when he hurts another, than he would be damnified if he were the sufferer. And that of Aeschylus,
Cheer up, friend; sorrows, when they highest climb,
What they exceed in measure want in time,
we must inform them, is but the same famous sentence which is so much admired in Epicurus, that great griefs are but short, and those that are of long continuance are but small. The former clause whereof is that which Aeschylus here saith expressly, and the latter but the consequent of that. For if a great and intense sorrow do not last, then that which doth last is not great nor hard to be borne. And those words of Thespis,
Seest not how Jove — because he cannot lie
Nor vaunt nor laugh at impious drollery,
And pleasure’s charms are things to him unknown —
Among the gods wears the imperial crown?
wherein differ they from what Plato says, that the divine nature is remote from both joy and grief? And that saying of Bacchylides,
Virtue alone doth lasting honor gain,
But men of basest souls oft wealth attain;
and those of Euripides much of the same import,
Hence temperance in my esteem excels,
Because it constantly with good men dwells;
However you may strive for honor
And you may seem to have secured by wealth virtue,
Good men will place you among the miserable;
do they not evidently confirm to us what the philosophers say of riches and other external good things, that without virtue they are fruitless and unprofitable enjoyments?
Now thus to accommodate and reconcile poetry to the doctrines of philosophy strips it of its fabulous and personated parts, and makes those things which it delivers usefully to acquire also the reputation of gravity; and over and above, it inclines the soul of a young man to receive the impressions of philosophical precepts. For he will hereby be enabled to come to them not altogether destitute of some sort of relish of them, not as to things that he has heard nothing of before, nor with an head confusedly full of the false notions which he hath sucked in from the daily tattle of his mother and nurse — yea, sometimes too of his father and pedant — who have been wont to speak of rich men as the happy men and mention them always with honor, and to express themselves concerning death and pain with horror, and to look on virtue without riches and glory as a thing of nought and not to be desired. Whence it comes to pass, that when such youths first do hear things of a quite contrary nature from philosophers, they are surprised with a kind of amazement, trouble, and stupid astonishment, which makes them afraid to entertain or endure them, except they be dealt with as those who come out of very great darkness into the light of the bright sun, that is, be first accustomed for a while to behold those doctrines in fabulous authors, as in a kind of false light, which hath but a moderate brightness and is easy to be looked on and borne without disturbance to the weak sight. For having before heard or read from poets such things as these are —
Mourn one’s birth, as the entrance of all ills;
But joy at death, as that which finishes misery;
Of worldly things a mortal needs but two;
A drink of water and the gift of Ceres:
O tyranny, to barbarous nations dear!
This in all human happiness is chief,
To know as little as we can of grief;
they are the less disturbed and offended when they hear from philosophers that no man ought to be overconcerned about death; that riches are limited to the necessities of nature; that the happiness of man’s life doth not consist in the abundance of wealth or vastness of employments or height of authority and power, but in freedom from sorrow, in moderation of passions, and in such a temper of mind as measures all things by the use of Nature.
Wherefore, upon all these accounts, as well as for all the reasons before mentioned, youth stands in need of good government to manage it in the reading of poetry, that being free from all prejudicate opinions, and rather instructed beforehand in conformity thereunto, it may with more calmness, friendliness, and familiarity pass from thence to the study of philosophy.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:59