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On the Fables of Antiquity.
To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine.
THOUGH the fables of the ancients are, in their fecret meaning, utility, and construction, the most beautiful and admirable pieces of compofition which the mind of man is capable of framing, yet nothing has been fo little understood, or fo fhamefully abufed. Of the truth of this obfervation, the philofophic part of your readers will, I perfuade myfelf, be fully convinced, by comparing the following explanations of fome of thefe fables, with thofe given by the Abbé Banier, and other modern writers on mythology, in thofe ridiculous and contemptible publications called Pantheons.
That thefe moderns, indeed, fhould have grofsly erred in their interpretation of ancient fables, is by no means wonderful, if we confider that they appear to have been ignorant that theie fab.es were invented by theological poets, and adopted by intellectual philofophers t; and, confequently, that their meaning can only be unfolded by recurring to the theology and intellectual philofophy of the ancients.
It is, indeed, eafy for ingenious men to give an explanation of an ancient fable, which to the fuperficial obferver fhall pear to be the precife meaning which its inventor defigned to convey, though it be in reality very far from the truth. This may be eatly accounted for by confidering, that ail fables are images of truths, but those of the ancients of truths with which but few are acquainted. Hence, like pictures of unknown perfons, they become the fubjects of endless conjecture and abfurd opinion, from the fimilitude which every one fancies he discovers in them to objects with which he has been for a long time familiar. He who understands the explanations given by the Platonic philofophers of thefe fables, will fubfcribe to the truth of this obfervation; as it is impofiible that thefe interpretations could fo wonderfully harmonize with the external or apparent meaning of the fabies, without being the true explanations of their latent fenfe. Even Lord Bacon himself, though he faw enough to be convinced that thefe fables were replete with the highest wisdom of which he had any conception, yet was far from penetrating the profound meaning they contain. He has, indeed, done all in attempting to unfold them that
Orpheus, Homer, Hefiod, &e.
great genius, without the affiftance of intellectual philofophy is able to effect: but the most piercing fagacity, the most brilliant wit, and the most exquisite subtilty of thought, without this assistance, are here of no avail.
This being premifed, it will be neceffary, in the first place, to obferve, that between us and the highest god there are certain mighty powers, which, though rooted in, yet poffefs energies diftin&t from their ineffable caufe; for we, in reality, are nothing more than the dregs of the univerfe. Thefe mighty powers are called by the poets a golden chain, on account of their connection with each other, and incorruptible nature. thefe powers you may call intelle&tual; Now, the first of the fecond vivific; the third peonian, and fo on, which the ancients defiring to fignify to us by names, have fymbolically denominated. Hence, fays Olympiodorus (in M.S. Comment. in Georgiam) we ought not to be disturbed on hearing fuch names as a Saturnian power, the power Jupiter, and fuch-like, but explore the things to which they allude. Thus, for inftance, by a Saturnian power rooted in the firft caufe, understand a pure intellect: for Kesvos, or Saturn, is xogos vous, i. e. • xavages, or a pure intelle&t. hence we call all thofe that are pure and He adds, virgins, xogai. On this account, too, poets 24 Saturn devoured his children, and afterfay, that wards again fent them into the light, because intellect is converted to itself, feeks itself, and is itfelf fought: but he again refunds them, becaufe intellect not only feeks and procreates, but produces into light and profits. Hence, likewife, Saturn is called ayxons, or inflected courfel, because an inflected figure verges to itself.
Again, as there is nothing difordered and novel in intellect, they reprefent Saturn as an old man, and as flow in his motion: and hence it is that aftrologers fay, that fuch as have Saturn well fituated in their nativity are prudent and endued with intelle&.
In the next place, the ancient theologists called life by the name of Jupiter, to whom they gave a twofold appellation, die and , fignifying, by these names, that he gives life through himself +. Farther
*So in Hefiod in his Theogony.
+ Thefe etymologies of Saturn and Jupiter, are given by Plato in the Cratylus; a dialogue in which he every where etymologifes agreeably
Mr. Taylor on the Fables of Antiquity.
Farther ftill, they affert that the fun is drawn by four horfes, and that he is perpetually young, fignifying by this his power, which is motive of the whole of nature fubject to his dominion, his fourfold converfions, and the vigour of his energies. But they fay that the moon is drawn by two bulls: by two, on account of her increafe and diminution; but by bulls, because as thefe till the ground, fo the moon governs all thofe parts which furround the earth.
I perfuade myself every liberal and intelligent mind will immediately perceive the propriety and accuracy of the above interpretations; and be convinced, from this fpecimen, that the fables of the ancients are replete with a meaning no lefs interefting than nov no lefs beautiful than fublime.
That your readers may be ftill farther convinced of this, I fhall fubjoin the divihon of fables given by the Platonic philofopher Salluft, in his elegant Treatife on the Gods and the World: "Of fables, fome are theological, others phyfical, others, animafic (or belonging to foul) others material, and, laftly, others mixed from thefe.
that these are dedicated to the gods, in the fame manner as herbs, ftones, and animals, is the part of wife men; but to call them gods, is alone the province of mad men; unless we fpeak in the fame manner as when, from eftablished cuftom, we call the orb of the fun, and its rays, the fun itself.
"But we may perceive the mixed kind of fable, as well in many other particu lars, as in the fable which relates that Difcord, at a banquet of the gods, threw a golden apple, and that a difpute about it arifing among the goddeffes, they were fent by Jupiter to take the judgment of Paris, who, charmed with the beauty of Venus, gave her the apple in preference to the reft. For in this fable the banquet denotes the fupermundane powers of the gods; and on this account they fubfift in conjunction with each other: but the golden apple denotes the world, which, on account of its compofition from contrary natures, is not improperly faid to be thrown by Difcord, or Strife. But again, fince different gifts are imparted to the world by different gods, they appear to conteft with each other for the apple. And a foul living according to fenfe (for this is Paris) not perceiving other powers in the univerfe, afferts that the contended apple fubfifts alone through the beauty of Venus."
If the intellectual philofophy, then, is alone the true key to ancient mythology, furely nothing can be more ridiculous than the attempt of the Abbé Banier, to explain ancient fables by hiftory; not to mention that his interpretations are always trifling, and frequently impertiment; are neither calculated to intruct nor amufe; and are equally remote from elegance and truth. That this is not mere declamation, the following instance from his Mythology, will, I perfuade myfelf, abundantly evince: "I fhall make it appear (fays he +) that the Minotaur, with Pafipar, and the reft of that fable, contain nothing but an intrigue of the queen of Crete with a captain named Taurus; and the artifice of Dædalus, only a fly confident." Let the reader contraft with this, the following explanation of this fable, given by Olympiodorus in his MS. Commentary on the Gorgias of Plato: "The Minotaur fignifies the
By this is to be understood, powers which are wholly unconnected with every thing of a corporeal nature.
+ Vol. I, of the tranflation of his Mytho. logy, P. 29.
Answers to Queries....Poetry of Spain.
favage paffions which our nature contains: -ing of a peal, he will be convinced of the the thread which Ariadne gave to The- power of bells, to communicate their vi. feus, a certain divine power connected brations to folid bodies. A. B. with him and the labyrinth, the obliquity and abundant variety of life. The. feus therefore being one of the most excellent characters, vanquished this impe
diment, and freed others together with
To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine.
the fame page of your Magazine for laft month there are two queries from correfpondents, which betray a degree of ignorance of the moft common places of philofophy, that one would hardly have expected to meet with at the present day from any perfon who had at all turned his mind to that ftudy, and from thofe who had not, fuch questions are not to be expected.
Mr. W. E. if he had ever attended to the Lavoisierian chemistry, as he is pleafed to term it, must have known that azote is found in confiderable quantities in a very large tribe of plants, viz. all the cruciform, which comprehends the wild-crefs, muftard, &c. found in every pasture; and the experiments of Bertholt, prove that it is also prefent in a very great variety of other vegetables. It is ftrange indeed that any man who ever perceived the fimell of putrid cabbage, should affert that azote exifts in no vegetable whatever. But even allowing this negation, let us attend to Lavoifier's own words; "Azote is one of the principles most abundantly diffufed through nature. Combined with caloric, it forms azotic gaz, which conftitutes two-thirds of the common atmospheric air." Might not then any quantity of it be combined with the animal organization, by the act of refpiration, which is fo often repeated during life, even if none were received by the
To Mr. E. L's query about the bell, it is fufficient to obferve that the vibrations of the air within the glass-receiver, are communicated to the receiver itself, and by that means to the external air. The accuracy of this experiment is doubted by many ingenious philofophers, but on other grounds than thofe ftated by E. L. If your correfpondent will apply his hand to the walls of a fteeple during the ring
To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine.
PERMIT me to correct fome errors in my account of Lupercio and Bartolome Leonardo. I afferted, from the Parnafo Espanol, that no edition of their works had been printed fince that of Zaragofa, 1634: I have now procured. one published fince the Parnafo. Don Ramon Fernandez, the editor, has prefixed a fenfible preface: "One of the principal caufes," he says, " of the bad tafte obfervable in the greater part of the poetry of the prefent day, is the fcarceness of good authors, who might ferve as models to our youth; while the multiplied editions of the corruptors of our poetry are in the hands of all, maintaining and perpetuating a bad tafte." He remarks the vague eulogies lavifhed upon the Spanish poets by their editors, applying to them indifcriminately the phrases of purity, elegance, enthufiafm, beauty, &c. and proceeds to point out the cha racteristic and peculiar merit of the two Argenfolas. In this preface there is a very curious trait of the national vanity. After mentioning the rich and harmonious verfification of these authors, he adds, this has at all times been an endowment peculiar to the Spanish poets, for if we confider well, we fhall find that they gave a harmony and eafe to the La in metres which is not to be met with in the poets anterior to Lucan and Seneca. The choruffes of the three genuine tragedies of this great tragedian, incomparably exceed thofe of Horace in their flowingnefs and harmony; and the excellent hexameters of Lucan, have, in these points, a great advantage over thofe of Virgil. And even what Cicero fays of the Cordovan poets confirms this, though fome, from wrongly understanding the paffage, interpret it as a reproach: for Tully, in this place, fpeaks only of their pronunciation and accent, which to Roman ears, accuftomed only to fweetnefs, might appear ftrange and harth; this by no means proves that their veries were bad or deficient in harmony; instead of this I prefume, that the too great fwell and fullness of the Spanifh poets, that loquiore rotundo, that os magna fonaturum, which Horace fo much
* Cordubæ natis poctis pingue quiddam cantibus atque peregrinum. Cicer. pro Archia. C 2 recommends
Difcoveries not cafual....Godwin's Effay on English Style. [Jan;
recommends, and which fince the Greeks none have executed better than the Spaniards; this I conceive to be what appeared unpleasant to Cicero, whofe ears were accustomed to verfes little more harmonious than thofe of Ennius.
The epiftle from which an extract was printed in your Magazine, is given by the prefent editor to Francifco de Rioje. I know not whether the reafons he affigns are fufficient to afcertain the author, but they certainly prove that it could not have been written by Bartolome Leonardo :
I have selected three fonnets as characteristic of these authors, the two first are by Lupercio:
Thou art determined to be beautiful, Lyris and, Lyris, either thou art mad, Or haft no looking-glafs; doft thou not know Thy paint-beplafter'd forehead, broad and bare,
With not a grey lock left, thy mouth fo black,
That with a random hand blind Fortune deals
Content with what I am; the founding names Of glory tempt not me; nor is there ought In glittering grandeur that provokes one wish Beyond my peaceful ftate. What tho' I boast No trapping that the multitude adores In common with the great; enough for me That naked, like the mighty of the earth, I came into the world, and that like them I must defcend into the grave, the house For all appointed; for the space between, What more of happiness have I to feek Than that dear woman's love, whofe truth I
And whofe fond heart is fatisfied with me?
From Bartolome Leonardo.
Fabius, to think that God hath in the lines Of the right hand difclofed the things to come, And in the wrinkles of the skin pourtrayed, As in a map, the way of human life, This is to follow with the multitude Error or ignorance, their common guides; Yet furely I allow that God has placed Our fate in our own hands, or evil or good Even as we make it: tell me, Fabius, Ar't not a king thyfelf ?-when envying not The lot of kings, no idle with disturbs Thy quiet life; when, a felf-govern'd man, No laws exift to thee; and when no change With which the will of Heaven may vifit thee, Can break the even calmnefs of thy foul?
To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine.
IT is a common obfervation, that almost
all great difcoveries have been fumbled upon by chance: a multitude of inftances might eafily be cited, to confirm its truth. Now I have, with concern, heard this fact employed, as an argument, to difcourage eager fcientific refearch: "Why not truft to that chance which has ftruck out the most valuable inventions of past ages? Why withdraw from the ordinary duties and pleasures of life, to bufy one's felf in vain investigations, which are, most probably, to end in ridiculous disappointment?”
To me it occurs, that this reasoning, which, to lazy ignorance, appears but too fpecious, might be filenced for ever, if it could be afcertained, that ufeful inventions and difcoveries have become continually more numerous. precifely in proportion as the general mass of human knowledge has been angmented and diffused, and as the thirst of literary and fcientific curiofity bas become more impatient, and has been excited fill in a greater number of minds. But I know no very promifing means of afcertaining this, other than to intreat you to put the queftion, through the channel of your Magazine, "Whether our useful inventions and difcoveries have not been multiplied, in proportion as our knowledge has been enlarged?”
Pray oblige me by putting this queftion. I have little doubt but your hoft of enlightened correfpondents may easily furnith fuch anfwers as fhall for ever fix the general truth upon this not unimportant point.
I am, fir, your conftant reader,
FRI ND TO
University of Glasgow, Dec. 17, 1797.
To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine.
PROFESS myself a very warm admirer of the writings of Mr. WILLIAM GODWIN. He has feized fome of the most important truths in morality, with a lynx-eyed intuition, powerful to pierce through every obfcurity, and to fingle out its object at once, however numberless the myriads of others among which it may be entangled. The reader of his book's feels, on many occafions, as if he were vigorous intuition; and can difcern the fuddenly gifted with the author's own truth of his most valuable principles, without the toil and perplexity of reafon
On English Weights.
ing. In eloquence, this writer diftinguilhes himself by an irrefiftible energy, which he feems to derive from an enthu. fiaftic conviction of the truth and high importance of the doctrines which he teaches. If fparing in imagery, if rarely fuccessful in lengthened ratiocination, he is eminently excellent in fentiments, and he feems to know all the genuine emotions and language of all the higher paffions.
But Mr. GODWIN'S erudition, and even his power of reafoning, in cafes of very complex and tedious deduction, are very unequal to the ardent, impaffioned force of his genius. A remarkable proof of this appears in his Effay on English Style. He there fuppofes it to be a prevalent opinion, maintained, in particular, by Johnion, and other philologifts of high authority, that the English ftyle written in the last century, and even at a time fo remote as in the age of Queen Elizabeth, was, in all refpes, more perfect than that of our contemporaries. This opinion he ftrives to combat and destroy by a long induction of paffages from the eminent writers of fix different periods, from the reign of Elizabeth to the end of that of George II.
Now the opinion against which he fo laboriously fights, never was maintained by any critic. JOHNSON and LoWTH have taught only, "that the writings of the authors of the last century, and of the age of Elizabeth, contain an immenfe treajure of words and phrafes, fufficient to exprefs, in speech or written compofition, even all, or almoft, all our prefent knowledge; and that we should do more wifely, to feek our terms and phrafes out of that treafure, than continually to debafe our ftyle by words and idioms affectedly introduced from other languages, not richer than our own." Mr. GODWIN has certainly not refuted this opinion; and I fuppofe it is what will not quickly be done by any perfon.
As little do his quotations and his afterifks appear to me to evince the badnefs of thofe ftyles which he condemns; even his own admirable style, and thofe of his moft eminent cotemporaries, are not much more fecure against fuch minute criticism, than the ftyles of SHAKSPEARE, or our tranf lation of the Bible; befides, the colouring of words and phrafes partakes of the changing, fugitive nature of that of REYNOLDS's portraits. I fhould undertake, too, to produce, from every one of the writers cited by GonwIN, inttances of correct and elegant writing, to confront his examples of incorrectnels. H. R.
Jan. 3, 1798.
To the Editor of the Monthly Magazine.
THE following remarks upon our English weights, are fubmitted to the confideration of your correfpondent, J. R. not under the idea of their conveying to him that learned and correct information which he folicits, but on the contingency of their fupplying him with fome facts that may have escaped his own researches, and with the additional view of contributing to the gratification of fuch of your readers as are lefs acquainted with the fubject; the great difficulty of which will, I truft, apologize for the errors that I may commit.
It appears to have been a favourite object with the legiflators of the middle ages, to accomplish equality, or unity, in weights and measures. Thus, in the laws of the Lombards, we find, "De menfuris, ut fecundum juffionem noftram equales fiant." In the capitulary of Charlemagne, "Unufquifque habeat quam menfuram & æquales modios;" and again, “Ut æquales menfuras & rectas & pondera jufta & æqualia omnes habeant." In Magna Charta, "Una menfura vitis fit per totum regnum noftrum & una menfura cerevitia & una menfura bladi; de ponderibus vero fit ficut de menfuris." This claufe, or the fubftance of it, is repeated in many of our fubfequent ftatutes; but the numerous regulations upon this fubject, unequivocally prove the impoffibility of effecting fo jutt and laudable a purpose, and yet leave us quite in the dark with respect to what had occurred to prevent it. The obftruction may partly have arifen from the difficulty of obtaining a common medium; and therefore, in all countries, there must have been a perpetual variation, both in weights and meafures. In France, there were scarcely two cities to be found in which they agreed.
The next thing to be examined, is the origin and progreffion of the various alterations that have been made in our weights.
It has been afferted, but I believe without any proof, that William I, upon his arrival in England, changed the weights of his newly-acquired dominiens, and introduced thofe of Normandy, and particularly the troy weight.-Although it is not impoffible that the troy weight might have been known to the Normans, from their ancient connection with Champagne, yet this weight does not appear in our ftatutes, as will be hereafter shown, until a much later period; befides, it appears,