Sidor som bilder
PDF
ePub

NUGÆ LITERARIÆ:

ETC., ETC.

ON THE ISIAC MYSTERIES.

The Classical Mythology, partly by being commonly introduced to the mind at the period when imagination is most ardently susceptible, and ill controlled by judgment,-partly by being the almost constant subject of the highest arts,-has been at all times a favourite study, and still proves a fascinating theme. Long since the forms and devices of painting have perished, which we know was formerly devoted to such representations. This is, in some respects, the most perfect of all the imitative inventions, because, by mingling colour with expression, it can most accurately copy nature. It can give not only the tear, but the pathos which dims every feature; not only the smile, but the light which it casts over every portion of the counte

Zeuxis is said by Quintilian, in the tenth chapter of his last book on Oratory, to have been generally called the Lawgiver : because all felt it to be necessary to adopt his likenesses or impersonations of heroes and the superior divinities. Parrhasius boasted that he was born to paint the gods themselves, and declared, that if Hercules did not favour him with sittings, he kept appointments with him in his dreams. The Anadyomene, or Venus rising out of the sea, is related to have been so exquisite, that in it Apelles left all his other works at an

nance.

B

immeasurable distance ; it was purchased by Augustus of the people of Cos, the native isle of the artist, and was placed in the temple of Julius Cæsar at Rome. But whatever may be the perfection of painting, and the triumph of its ancient master-pieces, its productions are necessarily frail. Even the fresco but slightly survives the moveable picture, in many instances moulders before it ; and the worm has often defaced the panel while the canvas has been spared. The youthful enthusiasm is sufficiently kindled by the notices of those transcendent consummate works, by the applause of contemporary nations, as well as by the award of critics and the suffrage of historians in their favour,—though the specimens themselves cannot be adduced to justify this fulness and unanimity of praise. But there is a sister art of more rigid durability. It selects for its material the granite and porphyry and the least oxydising simple or composite metals. Statuary may include sculpture and casting: in both the Greeks excelled. But the pale marble of Hymettus and Pantelicus,or the blue-veined, as if that tinge were just traced on it to match the human skin, found in the mines of Paros, -were the substances preferred. The proudest elevation ever attained by this creative skill was in its bodying out of imaginary superhuman existences. These remain, after thousands of years, the archetypes, rather than the fulfilments, of the most poetic conceptions. It may be doubted whether the bard owes not more to these models than these models to the bard. They are fabrications which the original soul must claim. They inspire the sentiment, not merely elicit it. They enact the laws, instead of obeying them. They lead the march, nor look behind them on the retinue. The Belvidere Apollo, the Medicean Venus, the Farnese Hercules, continue to excite a species of idolatry. That “ Sun in human limbs arrayed,”—that Cytheræa of chastest beauty,—that Alcides with a presence of power which disdains the club,--that monument of Glycon's genius whose name is on it, and to which probably Horace refers in the first epistle of his first book, where he says that no one should forego the precautions of health,

“Quia desperes invicti membra Glyconis :"

these inimitable marvels of majesty, tenderness, and heroic strength, are too well fitted to call forth emotions favourable to the superstition over which they preside and throw their extenuating magic. If we, of more sober years and mellowed judgments, have much to chastise and control in our admiration, how shall we be surprised that the youth trembles and holds his very breath before these silent but awe-striking images? or that the fragments and mutilations of temples,their broken crumbling cornices, pediments, and friezes,—the dismembered hand, the rude torso,-are in the esteem of the school-boy of a higher form, a venerable heap, ruins in which the genius of Paganism yet lingers, and whence as from a shrine, not quite deserted, she sends forth a voice of command as well as a sigh of sadness ? Phidias, it was observed, carved his gods more justly than he did the human figure. He wrought much in ivory with inlayings of gold. His Minerva of Athens, his Jupiter Olympius in Elis, were colossi which won the homage of the world. Ranges of the most beautiful statues were set against the deep blue of the Attic sky,—for the external atmosphere of that region was too mild to do them any injury,—and they would assume a great variety of expressions beneath the different lights and shadows of the day, until they seemed, now pleased, then sullen, and “in act to speak.” But it is not in sculpture that Mythology was only preserved. Eloquence, unsurpassed examples of which have been handed down to us,-rhetorical, but the severe rhetoric of nature,—whose words are never thought of until the mind has received all the sentiment, and then are felt to be most worthy of it,—that perfect eloquence which smote tyrants to the heart, and burst open the gates of liberty for mankind,was greatly aided and enriched by the supposed presence and witness and sympathy of the deities. The orator made frequent use of them ;-turning to their effigies in temple and in grove, he urged his appeal, — implored their grace and threatened their vengeance,-commanded nations to arms or melted them to tears,—and by the celestial powers was the behest enforced or the vow adjured. The oaths of the Mehercle order were not the only ones ; but invocations of the most solemn and even terrific kinds abound in their writings, giving their apostrophes an irresistible force and sway.— The Epic borrowed largely from these ideal beings. The machines, to take the phrase of Bossuet, are celestial interventions. Horace, in a well-known couplet, denounces this agency in any crisis which does not strictly demand it. It is well for his consistency that he has allowed that Homer sometimes nods. The truth is, that the divine appearances are the rule, and not the reserve, of the ancient epopee. The reader expects them. The associations of those times, alone could redeem them from a certain clumsiness of contrivance. Often they might complain that the historic poet, -as Leicester in the rehearsal of Puff, -had not "settled how they were to get off.” The exit is as ungraceful, as the entrance was constrained. All we, however, inculcate is, that these fables were interwoven with the whole of the ancient literature, and must have therefore been most influential on the national mind. Tragedy in Greece partook of a public institution. Its writers agreed to uphold the religion of the country. Whether their policy was sound or not, they not only brought the divinities on the stage, but made them take an easy part in the dialogue. They are the actors, the dramatis personæ, themselves. Apollo is one of the interlocutors in the Orestes of Euripedes. Minerva appears and speaks in the Aias Mastigophorus of Sophocles. Æschylus filled the proscenium with the Eumenides. Scarcely, indeed, was there a connection, a reference, of any kind but it was impressed with this character : every scene was sacred, every hour festive, every object divine.-Nor was this influence weakened by any disclaimer of the wise and good. Occasionally a comedy might take some freedom with the presumed rulers of our earth and race. Aristophanes did not always spare them, but then he made up for this temerity by his lampoon on those who were at all disabused of popular error, and by always administering flattery to popular delusion. The religionist forgave his impiety as a licensed jest, because that jest was aimed at those who were pouring too strong a light into the recesses and retreats of ignorance. And we must not forget that Philosophy was equally servile in its professed adoption of the general creed. Plato in his lo treats at length on the Poetic furor. He there, by the mouth of Socrates, avers that poets are inspired by the divine afflatus to the very loss of their own selfpossession, comparing them to the Corybantes; that they are the interpreters of the gods ; and that their exact unanimity, in all their theological allusions, establishes the identity of the source from which they must have derived them. The conversation was to reprove the rhapsodists of that period, but he does it by arguing the highest illapse, maintaining that the poets were the instruments of heaven, “gifted with the same powers as the priests of the oracles, and other prophets.” And every tyro knows that vates in Latin signifies poet and prophet according to the connection, and frequently both at the same time: and that vates is formed from drins, the latter syllables of

προPrins, a prophet, by the change of the labials $ and v. How strong, then, was the hold which this system obtained on all the science, art, and polite learning, and even purest philosophy, of an age which, so far as man was the sole agent, seems to have culminated above any succeeding one; and of a people who would allow no alternative but Barbarian, or Greek! How taste stole thence its embellishment and reasoning acquired its confirmation ! How it entered into every constitution of society and office of life! It was a universal element or principle diffused as air, subtile as light, binding as attraction !

The spectacle of Olympus swells upon us very gorgeously. We think that we behold some lofty summit of crystals rising into the azure and splendour of mid-heaven. It is aerial, with. out an earthly base. There expands the dome of the Celestial ! Like as Ovid records of the palace of the sun, the workmanship exceeds the substance, however costly, out of which it is formed. The year is but a spring, and the spring is no delay of harvest. The woof of Ormus and the dye of Tyre in vain would emulate these tissues. Architecture builds itself up with gold and gem. The choicest incense loads each gale. The amaranth casts its shade and scatters its breath. Music flows from sightless lyres. The nectar cannot fail. Ambrosia grows with inexhaustible

« FöregåendeFortsätt »