Page images

which they are found, as any other part of those odes. We would fain bespeak the attention of our readers to this point, because it is one of much nicety, and by far the most important of all to a right understanding of the admirable art of this great and peculiar poet.

The Greeks of Pindar's age had little history, as that word was understood by Thucydides and Xenophon, and what they had was neither great nor interesting. But they had what served the purposes of poetry a thousand times better, an inexhaustible treasure of mythic history, common, as being Greek, to all Greece, yet peculiarly popular in parts in the different regions of Greece. It partook so much of history as to seem real, and so much of fable, as to seem miraculous; it was at once familiar and venerable. Like Homer's chain, it linked heaven and earth, time past and present, the gods and men in mysterious union together. It was sometimes Ionian, sometimes Doric; it belonged to states and to families; it embraced the islands and the continent; it followed the colonist to Asia, to Africa, to Sicily; and yet, whencesoever it sprang, whithersoever it went, it was national, holy, and revered. Whatever of lovely, beautiful, or grand, Greek genius could conceive or execute, was all canonized therein by time and popular respect; and so multiplied were the instances, and so extensive the localities of these legends, that examples of every quality or fortune, interesting from similitude of character or identity of origin, were never wanting to a poet of imagination. It is hard for us in these days to assume the old Greek mind; few rightly understand its peculiar moods of thought and feeling; fewer still can actualize those moods in their own consciousness. We have nothing like the mythic history of the Greek; our heroes of romance are either well known to be fictitious personages altogether, or else the historical part of their existence is in such immediate contrast with the fabulous, that the licence of their chroniclers becomes even more conspicuous. Brute, or Arthur, or Lancelot, excite no feeling of consanguinity in Englishmen; and fiction associated with the names of Alfred, or William, or Richard, can hardly fail to provoke the incredulus odi of criticism. But with the Greeks it was otherwise. The Homeric and Hesiodic poems, and the vast body of cyclic verse-now lost -constituted their Bible and their national history; no part of it was popularly deemed fictitious, nor was there any collateral record to interfere with the interpolations or new shapings of the skilful poet. Pindar more than once gives a peculiar edition of an old fable, not as his own invention, but as being the truth ; just as an English judge overrules a prior decision, not as being unwise or unjust, but as not being in fact the law. There was

this advantage in the mythic and heroic history of the Greeks, that the poet might select fables more or less ancient, general, or revered, as the character of his immediate subject might require, and yet it was easy to give to the most modern or familiar of them a connexion with antiquity, and an exaltation of tone when such were needed. Witness the different shades thrown over Hercules, and compare the Pindaric Jason, Achilles, or Ajax, with the portraiture of those heroes in Homer and the Tragedians.

No man seems to have been more deeply learned in the mythic history of his country than Pindar. He was a profound divine; the purposes of his poetry compelled him to adopt the popular system, and his own temper led him to uphold it. Pindar was a devout man, and could not put up with the dreary abstractions of the old mundane theory. He was full of love, and had a worshipping spirit, and needed deities with human sympathies, although with superhuman powers. In another age of the world, Pindar would have been a fervent Christian; he would not have courted (nor cajoled) reform mobs; he might perchance have fallen into toryism. He was accordingly a great antiquarian, a reverer of times past, an upholder of the wisdom of his ancestors. Hence it is, that we get an insight into his intention and principle in those mythic narratives of which the critics complain-and this we take to bethe exhibiting of an ideal image or example of the ethic theme of the ode. The poet states or alludes to the virtue or fortune of the victor in direct terms; then he passes into a mythic legend, generally connected by locality or kindred with his hero's country or family, in which legend is set forth, as in a brilliant mirror, the similar virtue or fortune of some famous ancestor, human or divine-but magnified in dimensions and, brightened in colouring, by every effort of a daring, although solemn, imagination. Thus in each ode the victor was made to gaze upon a magic lookingglass, which, like our Merlin's,

' vertue had to show in perfect sight
Whatever thing was in the world contaynd
Betwixt the lowest earth and heaven's hight,
So that it to the looker appertaynd;

Whatever foe had wrought, or frend had faynd,
Therein discovered was, ne ought mote pas,
Forthy it round and hollow-shaped was,
Like to the world itself, and seemd a world of glas.'

-Faëry Queene. A'world' it may well be called; for imperfect as our collection of the Epinician Odes is, there is hardly a fable in the whole Greek mythology, some shred or fragment of which may not be discovered in Pindar's magic orb. The particular legends are not introduced



troduced wantonly; they are all, without exception, connected with the victor in the contest upon one or other of several principles of association. In general the mythus arises naturally out of the family history of the hero, or of his tribe, or his city or country; less often it is founded upon the site of the games in which the prize was won,-as, for instance, in the first and third Olympics, and in a few others; and still more rarely the connexion is entirely, or in part, moral,—as in the magnificent first Pythian, where Typhoeus is introduced generally as an example of pride punished, but with a particular application to Hiero, who had built a town at the foot of Etna-imposta Typhoo-and who had ordered himself to be proclaimed victor as an Etnean citizen. And Pindar usually observes this tasteful distinction-that when he means to admonish or reprehend, as he does whenever he sees fit, he takes his mythus from a foreign soil or an indifferent source, and never, but in one instance, brings up any of the victor's own kindred to shame him; whereas, when the poet is for praise, as of course he more commonly is, he in almost every case selects his fable from a quarter which will be honourable and interesting to his patron at the same time. He warns by Typhoeus or Ixion; he commends by saying 'Thus that great man your mother's progenitor acted under similar circumstances; you have his blood in your veins; do the same!' Once, as we hinted above, in the fifth Nemean, he falls upon a foul spot in the victor's family annals; he just touches it, and then waives it in his characteristic

manner :

[blocks in formation]


By reverence check'd, I leave untold
A mighty deed less just than bold;
How from their home they forth are gone;

What angry Genius drives them on,

When from Enone forth the race of heroes flies.

Here will I pause. Her simple brow

Not every truth may harmless show,
And to be silent well to know
Doth often mark the wise.'-Cary.

We have said that Pindar first states the real, and then exhibits his ideal counterpart. We do not, however, mean that he always


commences his odes with the first, and proceeds, in mere order of time, to the second. That precision was no more necessary to his total composition, than it is that any subject should literally precede its predicate in a verbal proposition. He often enough inverts the natural order, and sometimes complicates it in a highly artificial way. But the common method of the Pindaric Ode is as thus,—A—B—A; that is, it begins with the direct or actual -then takes up the mythic or ideal-and concludes by a resumption and exaltation of the actual with which it set out. The first Olympic is upon this plan. A more elaborate construction is as thus, A-B-C-B-A: what we mean by this cabala is, that or A

the principal mythus, or B, is sometimes broken into two parts, and either a minor mythus-C—is inserted, or the direct theme -A—resumed in the interspace; whilst the whole, 'cycle and epicycle, orb in orb,' is embraced within the sphere of the fundamental proposition. But enough of this-which we fear will tire all who are not such apasionados of Pindar as we confess to be. Besides, our master himself has admonished us well

βαιὰ ἐν μακροῖσι ποικίλλειν, ἀκοὰ


One word more. Amongst the many distinguishing qualities of Pindar's poetry, the most peculiar, as we partly hinted before, is the view which it presents of the Greek mythology. It is neither the gross, tangible anthropomorphism of the Iliad, nor the allegory of the Neo-Platonists, and least of all, the dark, inexorable destiny of the Tragedians. Pindar's faith is in the popular creed; he adheres with devout ardour to the dwellers on Olympus, and looks upon the earth-born Titans as angels justly fallen. We have no doubt he regarded the Prometheus Bound' of his great contemporary as a very irreligious work.

[blocks in formation]

Yet, although Pindar was strictly orthodox-nay, decidedly a high-churchman of the establishment of his country-his temper was so devout and his taste so exquisitely pure, that, perhaps unconsciously to himself, the popular system became in his hands refined and spiritualized-to the utmost possible extent consistent with the demand of poetry for distinc t and sensuous images. This is so apparent that it can hardly esca pe the observation of the most cursory reader of this great poet. Compare the Homeric Neptune's four strides to Ege, and his charioting thence over the glad ocean to Troy-a passage of first-rate splendour-with the ὁ δ ̓ αὐτῷ

πὰς ποσὶ σχεδὸν φάνη

or the


τεφθέγξατο δ ̓ ἀρτιεπὴς
πατρία ὄσσα -

of the same divinity in Pindar. In these and many similar passages, a power of instantaneous apparition is ascribed to the gods; they do not wait for their carriages, neither do they keep their suppliant in suspense, while they are dressing or arming themselves, neither do they convert themselves into bird, beast, or element; they are there and not there with a thought; they come and go as spirits should, in a mystery, although they are visible and tangible, in their own shapes, as Greek spirits had a right to be. They never rebel against Jupiter, nor do they quarrel or fight with each other. They have no Greek or Trojan factions, and instead of persecuting man and stimulating war, they assist him against the evils of nature, and are best pleased with the arts of peace. True it is, the male divinities still retain their ancient prerogative of gallantry, but Pindar imputes no similar weakness to the goddesses of Olympus; and the union of mortal women with gods is mentioned with a modest reverence. It is evident that Pindar had a sense of the scandalous nature of some of the old stories, and was anxious to purify the system which he loved, from the just objections which the rising scepticism of the physical philosophers was ready to urge against it. The old mundane religion of powers or functions was his abhorrence; he required living personal godsbeings superior to man, but capable of sympathizing with himsuch as should link him with heaven, and ennoble him with celestial consanguinities, instead of degrading him without hope, as the puny after-growth of the exhausted earth. Of the popular religion so idealized, Pindar assumed the poetic priesthood; the prayers and praise which he offers have a sacerdotal tone; and there is a caution, a shrinking from irreverent language, which seems to imply an official necessity on his part, for superior indi

« PreviousContinue »