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Bulfinch's Mythology The Age of Fable

Page: 194

The prevailing opinion of the learned, at this time, seems to be that the framework and much of the structure of the poems belong to Homer, but that there are numerous interpolations and additions by other hands.

The date assigned to Homer, on the authority of Herodotus, is 850 B.C., but a range of two or three centuries must be given for the various conjectures of critics.

VIRGIL

Virgil, called also by his surname, Maro, from whose poem of the AEneid we have taken the story of AEneas, was one of the great poets who made the reign of the Roman emperor, Augustus, so celebrated, under the name of the Augustan age. Virgil was born in Mantua in the year 70 B.C. His great poem is ranked next to those of Homer, in the highest class of poetical composition, the Epic. Virgil is far inferior to Homer in originality and invention, but superior to him in correctness and elegance. To critics of English lineage Milton alone of modern poets seems worthy to be classed with these illustrious ancients. His poem of Paradise Lost, from which we have borrowed so many illustrations, is in many respects equal, in some superior, to either of the great works of antiquity. The following epigram of Dryden characterizes the three poets with as much truth as it is usual to find in such pointed criticism:

ON MILTON

  "Three poets in three different ages born.
  Greece, Italy, and England did adorn.
  The first in loftiness of soul surpassed,
  The next in majesty, in both the last.
  The force of nature could no further go;
  To make a third she joined the other two."

From Cowper's Table Talk:

  "Ages elapsed ere Homer's lamp appeared,
  And ages ere the Mantuan swan was heard.
  To carry nature lengths unknown before,
  To give a Milton birth, asked ages more.
  Thus genius rose and set at ordered times,
  And shot a dayspring into distant climes,
  Ennobling every region that he chose;
  He sunk in Greece, in Italy he rose,
  And, tedious years of Gothic darkness past,
  Emerged all splendor in our isle at last.
  Thus lovely halcyons dive into the main,
  Then show far off their shining plumes again."

OVID

Often alluded to in poetry by his other name of Naso, was born in the year 43 B.C. He was educated for public life and held some offices of considerable dignity, but poetry was his delight, and he early resolved to devote himself to it. He accordingly sought the society of the contemporary poets, and was acquainted with Horace and saw Virgil, though the latter died when Ovid was yet too young and undistinguished to have formed his acquaintance. Ovid spent an easy life at Rome in the enjoyment of a competent income. He was intimate with the family of Augustus, the emperor, and it is supposed that some serious offence given to some member of that family was the cause of an event which reversed the poet's happy circumstances and clouded all the latter portion of his life. At the age of fifty he was banished from Rome, and ordered to betake himself to Tomi, on the borders of the Black Sea. Here, among the barbarous people and in a severe climate, the poet, who had been accustomed to all the pleasures of a luxurious capital and the society of his most distinguished contemporaries, spent the last ten years of his life, worn out with grief and anxiety. His only consolation in exile was to address his wife and absent friends, and his letters were all poetical. Though these poems (The Tristia and Letters from Pontus) have no other topic than the poet's sorrows, his exquisite taste and fruitful invention have redeemed them from the charge of being tedious, and they are read with pleasure and even with sympathy.


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