Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

princes that the Thebans are preparing to march out in order to attack them; and that it is in vain for them to deliberate any longer concerning the continuance of the war.

We have next the description of a battle between the Thebans under Creon, and the confederate Greeks under Theseus. This battle is full of the spirit of Homer. We shall not trouble our reader with particulars, which would appear insipid in prose, especially if compared to the lively poetry of our author. We shall only transcribe one passage, as a specimen of his happy choice of circumstances.

Next Arcas, Cleon, valiant Chromius, died;
With Dares, to the Spartan chiefs allied.
And Phomius, whom the gods, in early youth,
Had form’d for virtue and the love of truth;
His gen'rous soul to noble deeds they turn’d,
And love to mankind in his bosom burn'd.
Cold through his throat the hilling weapon glides,
And on his neck the waving locks divides.
His fate the Graces mourn'd. The Gods above,
Who fit around the starry throne of Jove,
On high Olympus, bending from the skies,
His fate beheld with forrow-streaming eyes.
Pallas, alone, unaltered and serene,
With secret triumph saw the mournful scene :
Not hard of heart; for none of all the powers,
In earth or ocean, or th’ Olympian towers,
Holds equal sympathy with human grief,
Or with a freer hand bestows relief;
But conscious that a mind by virtue steel'd,
To no impresion of distress will yield;

That,

That, ftill unconquered, in its awful hour
O'er death it triumphs with immortal pow'r.

The battle ends with advantage to the confederate Greeks; but the approach of night prevents their total victory.

Creon, King of Thebes, fends next an embassy to the confederate Greeks, desiring a truce of seven days, in order to bury the dead. Diomede, impatient to return home, and stimulated by jealousy, violently opposes this overture, but is over-ruled by the other princes; and the truce is concluded. The author, in imitation of Homer, and the other ancient poets, takes here an opportunity of describing games celebrated for honouring the dead. The games he has chofen are different from those which are to be found among the ancients, and the incidents are new and curious.

Diomede took no share in these games : his impatient spirit could not brook the delay which arose from the truce : he pretends that he consented not to it, and is not included in it: he, therefore, proposes to his troops to attack the Thebans while they are employed in performing the funeral rites of the dead; but is opposed in this design by Deiphobus, his tutor, who represents to him in the severest terms, the rafhness and iniquity of his proposal. After some altercation Diomede, impatient of contradiction in his favourite object, and stung by the free reproaches of his tutor, breaks out into a vio.

lent

1

lent passion, and throws his fpear at Deiphobus, which pierced him to the heart.

This incident, which is apt to surprise us, seems to have been copied by our author, from that circuinstance in the life of Alexander, where this heroic conqueror, moved by a sudden passion, stabs Clytus, his ancient friend, by whom his life had been formerly saved in battle, The repentance of Diomede is equal to that of Alexander. No fooner had he struck the fatal blow than his

eyes are opened: he is sensible of his guilt and shame : he refuses all consolation : abstains even from food, and shuts himself up alone in his tent. His followers, amazed at the violence of his passion, keep at a distance from him; all but Cassandra, who enters his tent with a potion, which she had

prepared for him. While she stands before him alone, her timidity and passion betray her sex; and Diomede immediately perceives her to be Cassandra, who had followed him to the camp under a warlike disguise. As his repentance for the murder of Deiphobus was now the ruling passion in his breast, he is not moved by tenderness for Cassandra ; on the contrary, he confiders her as the cause, how. ever innocent, of the murder of his friend and of his own guilt; and he treats her with such coldness that she retires in confusion. She even leaves the camp, and resolves to return to her father in Etolia ; but is taken on the road by a party of Thebans, who carry her to Creon. That tyrant determines to make the most political use of the

incident:

incident: he sends privately a message to Diomede, threatening to put Cassandra to death, if that hero would not agree to a separate truce with Thebes. This proposal is at first rejected by Diomede, who threatens immediate destruction to Creon, and all his race. Nothing can be more artfully managed by the poet than this incident. We shall hear him in his own words.

Sternly the hero ended, and resign'd
To fierce disorder, all his mighty mind.
Already in his thoughts, with vengeful hands,
He dealt destruction 'midst the Theban bands,
In fancy saw the tottering turrets fall,
And led his warriors o'er the leveli'd wall.
Rous'd with the thought, from his high feat he sprung;
And grasp'd the sword, which on a column hung ;
The shining blade he balanc’d thrice in air;
His launces next he view'd, and armour fair.
When, hanging 'midst the costly panoply,
A scarf embroider'd met the hero's eye,
Which fair Cassandra's skilful hands had wrought;
A present for her lord, in secret brought,
That day, when first he led his martial train
In arms, to combat on the Theban plain.
As some strong charm, which magic founds compose,
Suspends a downward torrent as it flows;
Checks in the precipice its headlong course,
And calls it trembling upwards to its source:
Such feem’d the robe, which, to the hero's eyes,
Made the fair artist in her charms to rise.
His rage suspended in its full career,
To love resigns, to grief and tender fear.
Glad would he now his former words revoke,
And change the purpose which in wrath he spoke;
From hottile lands his captive fair to gain,
From fate to save her, or the servile chain :

But pride and shame the fond design suppress'd;
Silent he stood, and lock'd it in his breast.
Yet had the wary Theban well divin'd,
By symptoms sure, cach motion of his mind:
With joy he saw the heat of rage suppress’d,
And thus again his artful words address’d.

The truce is concluded for twenty days; but the perfidious Creon, hoping that Diomede would be over-awed by the danger of his mistress, resolves to surprise the Greeks; and accordingly makes a sudden attack upon them, breaks into their camp, and carries every thing before him. Diomede at first stands neuter; but when Ulysses suggefs to him, that, after the defeat of the confederate Greeks, he has no security; and that so treacherous a prince as Creon will not spare, much less restore, Cassandra, - he takes to arms, assaults the Thebans, and obliges them to seek shelter within their walls. Creon, in revenge, puts Cassandra to death, and shews her head over the walls. The sight so inflames Dio. mede, that he attacks Thebes with double fury, takes the town by scalade, and gratifies his vengeance by the death of Creon.

This is a short abstract of the story, on which the new poem is founded. The reader may, perhaps, conjecture (what I am not very anxious to conceal) that the execution of the Epigoniad is better than the design, the poetry superior to the fable, and the colouring of the particular parts more excellent than the general plan of the whole. Of all the great epic poems which have been the

admiration

« ZurückWeiter »