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Albus ut obscuro deterget nubila coelo
Sæpe Notus, neque parturit imbres
Tristitiam, vitæque labores
As Notus often, when the welkin lowers,
The analogy, it must be confessed, is not very striking ; but nevertheless it is not altogether void of propriety. The poet reasons thus: as the south wind, though generally attended with rain, is often known to dispel the clouds, and render the weather serene; so do you, though generally on the rack of thought, remember to relax sometimes, and drown your cares in wine. As the south wind is not always moist, so you ought not always to be dry.
A few instances of inaccuracy, or mediocrity, can never derogate from the superlative merit of Homer and Virgil, whose poems are the great magazines, replete with every species of beauty and magnificence, particularly abounding with similes, which astonish, delight, and transport the reader.
Every simile ought not only to be well adapted to the subject, but also to include every excellence of description, and to be coloured with the warmest tints of poetry. Nothing can be more happily hit off than the following in the Georgics, to which the poet compares Orpheus lamenting his lost Eurydice.
Qualis populeâ morens Philomela sub umbra
Observans nido implumes detraxit; at illa
So Philomela, from th' umbrageous wood,
Here we not only find the most scrupulous propriety, and the happiest choice, in comparing the Thracian bard to Philomel the poet of the grove; but also the most beautiful description, containing a fine touch of the pathos, in which last particular indeed Virgil, in our opinion, excels all other poets, whether ancient or modern.
One would imagine that nature had exhausted itself, in order to embellish the poems of Homer, Virgil, and Milton, with similes and metaphors. The first of these very often uses the comparison of the wind, the whirlwind, the hail, the torrent, to express the rapidity of his combatants; but when he comes to describe the velocity of the immortal horses that drew the chariot of Juno, he raises his ideas to the subject, and, as Longinus observes, measures every leap by the whole breadth of the horizon.
"Όσσον δ' ήεροειδές ανήρ δεν οφθαλμοίσιν
For as a watchman from some rock on high
The celerity of this goddess seems to be a favourite idea with the poet; for in another place he compares it to the thought of a traveller revolving in his mind the different places he had seen, and passing through them in imagination more swift than the lightning flies from east to west.
Homer's best similes have been copied by Virgil, and almost every succeeding poet, howsoever they may have varied in the manner of expression. In the third book of the Iliad, Menelaus seeing Paris, is compared to a hungry lion espying a hind or a goat:
"Ωστε λέων έχάρη μεγάλη επι σώματι κύρσας
So joys the lion, if a branching deer
The Mantuan bard, in the tenth book of the Æneid, applies the same simile to Mezentius, when he beholds Acron in the battle.
Impastus stabula alta leo ceu sæpe peragrans
Then as a hungry lion, who beholds
he shakes his rising mane:
He grins, and opens wide his greedy jaws,
The reader will perceive that Virgil has improved the simile in one particular, and in another fallen short of his original. The description of the lion shaking his mane, opening his hideous jaws distained with the blood of his
great and picturesque; but on the other hand, he has omitted the circumstance of devouring it without being intimidated, or restrained by the dogs and youths that surround him; a circumstance that adds greatly to our idea of his strength, intrepidity, and importance.
Of all the figures in poetry, that called the hyperbole, is managed with the greatest difficulty. The hyperbole is an exaggeration with which the muse is indulged for the better illustration of her subject, when she is warmed into enthusiasm. Quintilian calls it an ornament of the bolder kind. Demetrius Phalereus is still more severe. He says the hyperbole is of all forms of speech the most frigid; Mélotadě η Υπερβολή ψυχρ’ τατον πάντων; but this must be understood with some grains of allowance. Poetry is animated by the passions; and all the passions exaggerate. Passion itself is a magnifying medium. There are beautiful instances of the hyperbole in the Scripture, which a reader of sensibility cannot read without being strongly affected. The difficulty lies in choosing such hyperboles as the subject will admit of; for, according to the definition of Theophrastus, the frigid in style is that which exceeds the expression suitable to the subject. The judgment does not revolt against Homer for representing the horses of Ericthonius running over the standing corn without breaking off the heads, because the whole is considered as a fable, and the north wind is represented as their sire; but the imagination is a little startled, when Virgil, in imitation of this hyperbole, exhibits Camilla as flying over it without even touching the tops:
Illa vel intactæ segetis per summa volaret
This elegant author, we are afraid, has upon some other occasions degenerated into the frigid, in straining to improve upon
great master. Homer in the Odyssey, a work which Longinus does not scruple to charge with bearing the marks of old age, describes a storm in which all the four winds were concerned together.
Συν δ' 'Ευρός τε, Νοτός τ' έπεσε, Ζεφυρός σε δυσαής,
We know that such a contention of contrary blasts could not possibly exist in nature; for even in hurricanes the winds blow alternately from different points of the compass. Nevertheless Virgil adopts the description, and adds to its extravagance.
Incubuere mari, totumque à sedibus imis