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There he arriving round about doth fie,
No. IX.-WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 8th, 1819.
MORE NEWS OF ULYSSES. Talking the other day with a friend about Dante, he observed, that whenever so great a poet told us any thing in addition or continuation of an ancient story, he had a right to be regarded as classical authority. For instance, said he, when he tells us of that characteristic death of Ulysses in one of the books of his Inferno, we ought to receive the information as authentic, and be glad that we have more news of Ulysses than we looked for.
We thought this a happy remark, and instantly turned with him to the passage in question ; for not having read Dante regulary, we had passed it over so slightly as not to remember it. Yet it is a striking one, as the reader will see. The last account of Ulysses upon which we may fairly reckon, in the ancient poets, is his sudden reappearance before the suitors at Ithaca, and his consummate and godlike victory over their crest-fallen insolence. There is something more told of him, it is true, before the Odyssey concludes; but with the exception of his visit to his aged father, our memory scarcely wishes to retain it; nor does it controvert the general impression left upon us, that the wandering hero is victorious orer his domestic enemies; and reposes at last, and for life, in the bosom of his family.
The lesser poets however could not let him alone. Homer leaves the general impression upon one's mind, as to the close of his life ; but there are plenty of obscurer fables about it still.
We have specimens in modern times of this propensity never to have done with a good story; which is natural enough, though not very wise; nor are the best writers likely to meddle with it. Thus Cervantes was plagued with a spurious Quixote; and our circulating libraries have the adventures of Tom Jones in his Married State. The ancient writers on the present subject, availing themselves of an obscure prophecy of Tiresias, who tells Ulysses on his visit to hell, that his old enemy the sea would be the death of him at last, bring over the sea Telegonus, his son by the goddess Circe, who gets into a scuffle with the Ithacans, and kills his father unknowingly. It is added, that Telegonus afterwards returned to his mother's island, taking Penelope and his balf-brother Telemachus with him; and here a singular arrangement takes place, more after the fashion of a modern Catholic dynasty, than an ancient heathen one: for while Edipus was fated to undergo such dreadful misfortunes for marrying his mother without the knowledge of either party, Minerva herself comes down from heaven, on the present occasion, to order Telegonus, the son of Ulysses, to marry his father's wife; the other son, at the same time, making a suitable match with his father's mistress, Circe. Telemachus seems to have had the best of this extraordinary bargain, for Circe was a goddess, consequently always young; and yet to perplex these windings-up still more, Telemachus is represented by some as marying Circe's daughter, and killing his immortal mother-in-law. Nor does the character of the chaste and enduring Penelope escape in the confusion. Instead of waiting her husband's return in that patient manner, she is reported to have been overhospitable to all the suitors; the consequence of which was a son called Pan, being no less a personage than the god Pan himself, or Nature; a fiction, as Lord Bacon says, “applied very absurdly and indiscreetly." There are different stories respecting her lovers; but it is reported that when Ulysses returned from Troy, he divorced her for incontinence; and that she fled, and passed her latter days in Mantinea. Some even go so far as to say, that her father Icarius had attempted to destroy her when young, because the oracle had told him that she would be the most dissolute of the family. This was probably invented by the comic writers out of a buffoon malignity; for there are men, so foolishly incredulous with regard to principle, that the reputation of it, even in a fiction, makes them impatient.
Now it is impossible to say whether Dante would have left Ulysses quietly with Penelope after all his sufferings, had he known them as described in Homer. The old Florentine, though wilful enough when he wanted to dispose of a modern's fate, had great veneration for his ancient predecessors. At all events, he was not acquainted with Homer's works. They did not make their way again into Italy till a little later. But there were Latin writers extant, who might have informed him of the other stories relative to Ulysses ; and he saw nothing in them, to hinder him from giving the great wanderer a death of his own.
He has accordingly, with great attention to nature, made him impatient of staying at home, after a life of such adventure and excitement. , But we will relate the story in his own order. He begins it with one of his most romantic pieces of wildness. The poet and his guide Virgil are making the best of their difficult path along a ridge of the craggy rock, that overhangs the eighth gulph of hell; when Dante, looking down, sees the abyss before him full of flickering lights; as numerous, he says, as the fire-flies, which a peasant, reposing on a hill, sees filling the valley, of a hot evening. Every flame shot about separately; and he knew that some terrible mystery or other accompanied it. As he leaned down from the rock, grasping one of the crags, in order to look closer, his guide who perceived his earnestness, said, “Within those fires are spirits ; every one swathed
in what is burning him.” Dante told him, that he had already guessed as much ; and pointing to one of them in particular, asked who was in that fire, which was divided at top, as though it had ascended from the funeral-pile of the hating Theban brothers. “ Within that,” answered Virgil, are Diomed and Ulysses ; who speed together now to their own misery, as they used to do to that of others.” They were suffering the penalty of the various frauds they had perpetrated in concert ; such as the contrivance of the Trojan horse, and the plunder of the Palladium. Dante entreats with the greatest earnestness, that if those who are within the sparkling horror can speak, it may be made to come near. Virgil says it shall; but begs the Florentine nut to question it himself; as the spirits, being Greek, might be shy of holding discourse with him. When the flame has come near enough to be spoken to, Virgil addresses the “two within one fire ;” and requests them, if he ever deserved any thing of them as a poet, great or little, that they would not go away, till one of them had told him how he came into that extremity.
At this, says Dante, the greater horn of the old fire began to lap hither and thither, murmuring; like a flame struggling with the wind. The top then, yearning to and fro, like a tongue trying to speak, threw out a voice, and said : “When I departed from Circe, who withdrew me to her for more than a year in the neighbourhood of Gaieta, before Æneas had so named it; neither the sweet company of my son, nor pious affection of my old father, nor the long-owed love with which I ought to have gladdened Penelope, could conquer the ardour that was in me to become wise in knowledge of the world, of man's vices and his virtue. I put forth into the great open deep with only one bark, and the small remaining crew by whom I had not been left. I saw the two shores on either side, as far as Spain and Morocco; and the island of Sardinia, and the other isles which the sea there bathes round about. Slowly we went, my companions and I, for we were old; till at last we came to that narrow outlet, where Hercules set up his pillars, that no man might go further. I left Seville on the right hand : on the other I had left Ceuta. () brothers, said 1, who through a hundred thousand perils are at length arrived at the west, deny not to the short waking day that yet remains to our senses, an insight into the unpeopled world, setting your backs upon the sun.
Consider the stock from which ye sprang: ye were not made to live like the brute beasts, but to follow virtue and knowledge. I so sharpened my companions with this little speech on our way, that it would have been difficult for me to have withheld them, if I would. We left the morning right in our stern, and made wings of our oars for the idle flight, always gaining upon the left. The night now beheld all the stars of the other pole; while our own was so low, that it arose not out of the ocean-floor. Five times the light had risen underneath the moon, and five times fallen, since we put forth
upon the great deep; when we descried a dim mountain in the distance, which appeared higher to me than ever I had seen any before. We rejoiced, and as soon mourned: for there sprung a whirlwind
from the new land, and struck the foremost frame of our vessel. Three times, with all the waters, it whirled us round; at the fourth it dashed the stern up in air, and the prow downwards ; till, as seemed fit to others, the ocean closed above our heads."
Tre volte il fè girar con tutte l' acque :
Infin ch 'l mar fu sopra noi richiuso. Why poor Ulysses should find himself in hell after his immersion, and be condemned to a swathing of eternal fire, while St. Dominic, who deluged Christianity with fire and blood, is called a Cherubic Light, the Papist, not the poet, must explain. He puts all the Pagans in hell, because however good some of them may have been, they lived before Christ, and could not worship God properly-(debitamente). But he laments their state, and represents them as suffering a mitigated punishment: they only live in a state of perpetual desire without hope (sol di tanto offesi)! A sufficing misery, it must be allowed; but compared with the horrors he fancies for heretics and others, undoubtedly a great relief. Dante, throughout his extraordinary work, gives many evidences of great natural sensibility; and his countenance, as handed down to us, as well as the shadestruck gravity of his poetry in general, shews the cuts and disquietudes of heart he must have endured. But unless the occasional hell of his own troubles, and his conciousness of the mutability of all things, helped him to discover the brevity of individual suffering as a particular, and the lastingness of nature's benevolence as an universal; and thus gave his poem an intention beyond what appears upon the surface; we must conclude, that a bigoted education, and the fierce party politics in which he was a leader and sufferer, obscured the kind greatness of his spirit. It is always to be recollected however, as Mr. Coleridge has observed somewhere in other words, that when men consign each other to eternal punishment and such like horrors, their belief is rather a venting of present impatience and dislike, than any thing which they take it for. The fiercest Papist or Calvinist only flatters himself (a strange flatt too!) that he could behold a fellow creature tumbling and shrieking about in eternal fire. He would begin shrieking himself in a few minutes; and think that he and all heaven ought to pass away, rather than that one such agony should continue. Tertullian himself, when he longed to behold the enemies of his faith burning and liquefying, only meant, without knowing it, that he was in an excessive rage at not convincing every body that read him. Yet, in the mean time, these notions disturb humanity, and degrade the Divine Spirit.
FAR COUNTRIES. Imagination, though no mean thing, is not a proud one. If it looks down from its wings upon common-places, it only the more perceives the vastness of the region about it. The infinity into which it's flight carries it, might indeed throw back upon it a too great sense of insignificance, did not Beauty or Moral Justice, with it's equal eye, look through that blank aspect vf power, and reassure it; shewing it that there is a power as much above power itself, as the thought that reaches to all, is to the hand that can touch only thus far.
But we do not wish to get into this tempting region of speculation, just now. We only intend to shew the particular instance, in which imagination instinctively displays it's natural humility: we mean, in the fondness which imaginative times and people have shewn for what is personally remote from them; for what is opposed to their own individual consciousness, even in range of space, in farness of situation.
There is no surer mark of á vain people than their treating other nations with contempt, especially those of whom they know least. It is better to verify the proverb, and take every thing unknown for magnificent, rather than predetermine it to be worthless.
The gain is greater. The instinct is more judicious. When we mention the French as an instance, we do not mean to be invidious. Most nations have their good as well as bad features, and in Vanity Fair there are mány booths.
The French, not long ago, praised one of their neighbours so highly, that the latter is suspected to have lost as much modesty, as the former gained by it. But they did this as a set-off against their own despots and bigots. When they again became the greatest power in Europe, they had a relapse of their old egotism. The French, though an amiable and intelligent people, are not an imagiginative one. The greatest height they go is in a balloon. They get no farther than France, let them go where they will. They the great circle and are still at home,” like the squirrel in his rolling
Instead of going to Nature in their poetry, they would make her come to them, and dress herself at their last new toilet. In practical philosophy and metaphysics, they divest themselves of gross prejudices, and then think they are in as graceful a state of nakedness as Adam and Eve.
At the time when the French had this fit upon them of praising the English (which was nevertheless the honester one of the two), they took to praising the Chinese for numberless unknown qualities, This seems a contradiction to the near-sightedness we speak of: but the reason they praised them was, that the Chinese had the merit of unbounded religious toleration; a great and extraordinaryone certainly, and not the less so, for having been, to all appearance, the work of one man. All the romance of China, such as it was,-any thing in which they differed from the French, their dress, their porcelain towers, their Great Wall, was nothing. It was the particular agreement with the philosophers.
It happened curiously enough, that they could not have selected for their panegyric a nation apparently more contemptuous of others ; or at least more self-satisfied and unimagnative. The Chinese are cunning and ingenious; and have a great talent at bowing out am