Page images
PDF
EPUB

love into the hearts of Aeneas and the Queen. At length after many questions Dido asks Aeneas to repeat to her the whole story of his adventures.

In the second book he accordingly relates the sack of Troy and his escape. In the third he continues the story, recounting all his wanderings since, till he reached Africa.

Book IV. tells of the love, desertion, despair and suicide of the Carthaginian queen.

The fifth book is an interlude, giving an account of games held in Sicily, whither a storm drives them, on their way from Carthage to Italy. At last however Aeneas departs, leaving the weak and half-hearted behind, and reaches the promised land.

One of the most effective portions of the Aeneid is his descent to Hades by the lake of Avernus near Naples, where he meets his dead father, Anchises, who shews him the souls of the future great men of Rome. He then emerges from the realms below and rejoins his fleet.

Reaching at length the coast of Latinum, he discovers by a sign that this is his fated home. He sends to the king Latinus to offer peace, which is at first agreed to, and Aeneas is betrothed to Lavinia, daughter of the king; but difficulties arise, the gods interfere, and Turnus, king of the Rutules, who is a suitor of Lavinia, induces Latinus to join him in war against the Trojans.

Aeneas meanwhile sails up the Tiber, and makes alliance with the Arcadian Euander, who is king of a small tribe on the site of the future Rome.

Euander advises him to seek aid from the Etruscans of Caere, which he does. The war is begun. After much bloodshed, in which Pallas son of Euander, and the terrible Tuscan king Mezentius, are slain, it is at last agreed that the issue shall be decided by single combat between Aeneas and Turnus. luno tries to interfere; but at length the heroes meet, and Aeneas grapples and slays Turnus.

a

[ocr errors]

Note on the Similes. The following are the similes in this book:(1) Line 148 Neptune stills the tempesť as a great and good

man stills a sedition by look and word. (2) 430 The busy toil of building Carthage like the busy

toil of a beehive. (3) 497 Dido comes to the temple, like Diana on the

hills. (4) 592 Venus adds beauty to Aeneas, as the artist to

ivory, silver, or marble. In studying these similes we see at once what they add to the poem in the way of ornament or picturesque suggestiveness. The fourth simile excepted, which is given in a passing touch, and not elaborated, the rest are all of them beautiful or impressive pictures.

But in most of these similes the point of the comparison is more or less obvious: a god stilling a storm like a man stilling a tumult (1): the active life of a city like the active life of a hive (2): a beautiful woman advancing like a beautiful goddess (3).

The resemblances are such as easily occur to anyone's mind : the thing compared is prominent, it lies on the surface: the simile is an ornament rather than a true illustration. The art is shewn in the workmanship rather than in the choice of the comparison: in the vividness, beauty, and the truth of its details.

And we must also observe that the details have often no bearing on the comparison. For example in (1) the great citizen is 'reverend for worth and service'-not much like the relation of Neptune to the waves! The riot is stilled by his look, whereas Neptune chides the winds roundly.

So in (2) the details of the hive bear no resemblance (naturally) to the details of the city life: there is nothing in the Carthage-description corresponding to 'leading out the young' or 'packing the honey' or 'driving away the drones. In (4) even the main point of the comparison is a little obscure and inappropriate: the goddess shedding beauty on the hero

:

Aeneas is not much like an artist framing ivory in boxwood or gilding marble. And in (3) we have an extreme case: for Dido is going majestically to the temple surrounded with youths: Diana is circled with a troop of nymphs, and 'plies the dance': and has a quiver on her shoulder: and her proud mother watches her. There is in fact no resemblance, save in the point that both are beautiful figures advancing. In all these cases the details are irrelevant to the comparison; they are worked out independently. The resemblance turns on one or two points and those commonplace.

This is what we may call the primitive use of the simile, as it is employed in Homer, and imitated in many poets since. There is however a modern use of the simile which is quite different. If we open Shelley we read

“The golden gates of Sleep unbar
Where strength and beauty, met together,
Kindle their image like a star

In a sea of glassy weather.Here there is nothing obvious in the comparison: we should never have thought, without the aid of the poet's superb imagination, of comparing the union of love to a star mirrored in the smooth sea: and yet there is a profound appropriateness, not only in the image, but in all the suggestions of it: the beauty, the isolation from others, the reflection of the brilliance, the infinity, the serenity. Or again,

"Life like a dome of many-coloured glass
Stains the white radiance of Eternity

Until Death tramples it to fragments.Here too the comparison is not at all obvious: it is fetched from far by the poet's deeper insight and quicker sensibility: and it is splendidly illustrative all through: the bright colours compared with the pure white light resembling the chequered shifting imperfect beauties of life compared with the changeless perfection of eternity: the narrow limited dome and the endless vault of heaven give another equally deep contrast: and lastly, the perishable glass contrasted with the eternal spaces of the universe.

The more such similes are studied, the richer light is thrown on the comparison: they are not, like Vergil's, poetic miniature pictures to be enjoyed independently; they are profound luminous resemblances, a permanent addition to our fancy and insight, for which we are grateful to the higher gifts of the poet.

I have said so much, to make it clear, that what Vergil aims at in his similes is something quite different (and in one sense far less) than what the modern poet (especially the lyric poet) aspires to: for in order to appreciate the true poetic success of Vergil, it is clearly necessary to understand his object, and so avoid the mistake of judging him by an erroneous standard.

a

Note on the First Book. The First book, though not equal in interest to the tragedy of Dido's death in the Fourth, nor the splendid vision of the lower realms, the meeting with Anchises, and the glories of Rome to be, which are given in the Sixth : yet remains one of the finer books of this beautiful

poem. Besides the stately exordium with the true Roman ring about the closing line

'So hard a work was it to build the race of Rome,' we have the fine description of the storm, and the quieting of the storm : and though in the remainder of the book there is not much incident of the more important and significant kind, there are many beautiful and effective passages. Among these are the prophecy by Iuppiter of the future fate of Rome: the vision of Venus as a Tyrian maid, and her son's recognition of her as she departed: the very beautiful passage about the carving of the Trojan story on Iuno's temple, and Aeneas' feelings as he saw it: the parting of the cloud and the fine outburst of thanks to Dido uttered by Aeneas : and finally the idea of the substitution of the God of Love for Ascanius, and all the details with which it is so powerfully and beautifully worked out, preparing us for the disastrous love and the tragedy of Book IV.

And apart from the main beauties of conception and description in Vergil, there is another and more peculiar quality which only the greatest masters possess: and that is the art by

[ocr errors]

which quite simple things said naturally of the actors and
actions in his drama seem to have a wider significance, to
touch deeper springs in our nature, and to haunt the memory
with a charm which we cannot quite explain?. These abound
in the First book, and the following are a few instances among
many.
Line 33 Tantae molis erat Romanam condere gentem.

46 ast ego, quae divom incedo regina...
151 tum pietate gravem ac meritis si forte virum quem

conspexere, silent...
199 o socii, neque enim ignari sumus ante malorum,

o passi graviora, dabit deus his quoque finem.
„ 203 forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.
, 253 hic pietatis honos?...
» 278 his ego nec metas rerum nec tempora pono,

imperium sine fine dedi. 327 o quam te memorem, virgo?' namque haud tibi voltus

mortalis... „ 405 et vera incessu patuit dea... ,, 461 ...sunt hic etiam sua praemia laudi

sunt lacrimae rerum, et mentem mortalia tangunt. ·, 475 infelix puer atque inpar congressus Achilli. 603 di tibi, si qua pios respectant numina, si quid

usquam iustitia est et mens sibi conscia recti. A word should be also said about the two unfinished lines 534 and 560. It is well known as an old tradition that the poet was surprised by his last illness before he had time to revise the Aeneid to his satisfaction, and expressed a wish that it should be burned. This story, precious as a proof of Vergil's ideal standard of workmanship, is to some extent borne out by indications of inconsistencies, weaknesses, and incomplete polish in parts of the great poem, though less in the earlier than in the later books. And these incomplete lines, which occur in all the books of the Aeneid, and generally in greater number than here,

1 So Dr Newman speaks of Vergil's 'single words and phrases, his pathetic half-lines giving utterance, as the voice of Nature herself, to that pain and weariness yet hope of better things, which is the experience of her children in every time.'

« PreviousContinue »