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and figurative expression, and the majesty of the heroic verse.
But all this, being divine and surprising, may quite ruin all probability: therefore the poet should take a peculiar care as to that point, since his chief aim is to instruct, and without probability any action is less likely to persuade.
Lastly, since precepts ought to be concise 3, to be the more easily conceived, and less oppress the memory, and since nothing can be more effectual to this end than proposing one single idea, and collecting all things so well together, as to be present to our minds all at once; therefore the poets have reduced all to one single action 4, under one and the same design, and in a body whose members and parts should be homogeneous.
What we have observed of the nature of the epic poem gives us a just idea of it, and we may define it thus:
The epic poem is a discourse invented by art, to form the manners, by such instructions as are disguised under the allegories of some one important action, which is related in verse, after a probable, diverting, and surprising manner.'
THE FABLE OF THE ILIAD.
In every design which a man deliberately undertakes, the end he proposes is the first thing in his mind, and that by which he governs the whole work,
3 Quicquid præcipies esto brevis, ut citò dicta Percipiant animi dociles, teneantque fideles.'
+ Denique sit quodvis simplex duntaxat, et unum.
and all its parts: thus, since the end of the epic poem is to regulate the manners, it is with this first view the poet ought to begin.
But there is a great difference between the philosophical and the poetical doctrine of manners. The schoolmen content themselves with treating of virtues and vices in general: the instructions they give are proper for all states of people, and for all ages. But the poet has a nearer regard to his own country, and the necessities of his own nation. With this design he makes choice of some piece of morality, the most proper and just he can imagine; and in order to press this home, he makes less use of the force of reasoning than of the power of insinuation: accommodating himself to the particular customs and inclinations of those who are to be the subject, or the readers, of his work.
Let us now see how Homer has acquitted himself in these respects.
He saw the Grecians, for whom he designed his poem, were divided into as many states as they had capital cities. Each was a body politic apart, and had its form of government independent from all the rest. And yet these distinct states were very often obliged to unite together in one body against their common enemies. These were two very different sorts of government, such as could not be comprehended in one maxim of morality, and in one single poem.
The poet therefore has made two distinct fables of them. The one is for Greece in general, united into one body, but composed of parts independent on each other; and the other for each particular state, considered as they were in time of peace, without the former circumstances and the necessity of being united.
As for the first sort of government, in the union,
or rather in the confederacy, of many independent states, experience has always made it appear, 'That nothing so much causes success as a due subordination, and a right understanding among the chief commanders. And, on the other hand, the inevitable ruin of such confederacies proceeds from the heats, jealousies, and ambition, of the different leaders, and the discontents of submitting to a single general.' All sorts of states, and in particular the Grecians, had dearly experienced this truth. So that the most useful and necessary instruction that could be given them, was, to lay before their eyes the loss which both the people and the princes must of necessity suffer, by the ambition, discord, and obstinacy, of the latter.
Homer then has taken for the foundation of his fable this great truth; that a misunderstanding between princes is the ruin of their own states. sing (says he) the anger of Achilles, so pernicious to the Grecians, and the cause of so many heroes' deaths, occasioned by the discord and separation of Agamemnon and that prince.'
But that this truth may be completely and fully known, there is need of a second to support it. It is necessary in such a design, not only to represent the confederate states at first disagreeing among themselves, and from thence unfortunate, but to show the same states afterwards reconciled and united, and of consequence victorious.
Let us now see how he has joined all these in one general action.
'Several princes independent on one another were united against a common enemy. The person whom they had elected their general, offers an affront to the most valiant of all the confederates. This offended prince is so far provoked as to relinquish the union, and obstinately refuse to fight for the common cause.
This misunderstanding gives the enemy such an advantage, that the allies are very near quitting their design with dishonour. He himself who made the separation is not exempt from sharing the misfortune which he brought upon his party: for having permitted his intimate friend to succour them in a great necessity, this friend is killed by the enemy's general. Thus the contending princes, being both made wiser at their own cost, are reconciled, and unite again: then this valiant prince not only obtains the victory in the public cause, but revenges bis private wrongs by killing with his own hands the author of the death of his friend.'
This is the first platform of the poem, and the fiction which reduces into one important and universal action all the particulars upon which it turns.
In the next place, it must be rendered probable by the circumstances of times, places, and persons: some persons must be found out, already known by history or otherwise, whom we may with probability make the actors and personages of this fable. Homer has made choice of the siege of Troy, and feigned that this action happened there. To a phantom of his brain, whom he would paint valiant and choleric, he has given the name of Achilles; that of Agamemnon to his general; that of Hector to the enemy's commander; and so to the rest.
Besides, he was obliged to accommodate himself to the manners customs, and genius of the Greeks his auditors, the better to make them attend to the instruction of his poem, and to gain their approbation by praising them; so that they might the better forgive him the representation of their own faults in some of his chief personages. He admirably discharges all these duties, by making these brave princes and those victorious people all Grecians, and the fathers of those he had a mind to commend.,
But not being content, in a work of such length, to propose only the principal point of the moral, and to fill up the rest with useless ornaments and foreign incidents, he extends this moral by all its necessary consequences. As, for instance, in the subject before us, it is not enough to know, that a good understanding ought always to be maintained among confederates; it is likewise of equal importance, that if there happen any division, care must be taken to keep it secret from the enemy, that their ignorance of this advantage may prevent their making use of it. And in the second place, when their concord is but counterfeit and only in appearance, one should never press the enemy too closely; for this would discover the weakness which we ought to conceal from them.
The episode of Patroclus most admirably furnishes us with these two instructions; for when he appeared in the arms of Achilles, the Trojans, who took him for that prince now reconciled and united to the confederates, immediately gave ground, and quitted the advantages they had before over the Greeks. But Patroclus, who should have been contented with this success, presses upon Hector too boldly, and by obliging him to fight, soon discovers that it was not the true Achilles who was clad in his armour, but a hero of much inferior prowess. Są that Hector kills him, and regains those advantages which the Trojans had lost, on the opinion that Achilles was reconciled.
THE FABLE OF THE ODYSSEY.
THE Odyssey was not designed, like the Iliad, for the instruction of all the states of Greece joined in one body, but for each state in particular. As a state is