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ON SOME OF THE FOREGOING STORIES
IN OVID'S METAMORPHOSES.
ON THE STORY OF PHAETON.
HE story of Phaeton is told with a greater air of majesty and grandeur than any
other in all Ovid. It is indeed the most important subject he treats of, except the deluge ; and I cannot but believe that this is the conflagration he hints at in the first
“ Esse quoque in fatis reminiscitur affore tempus “ Quo mare, quo tellus, correptaque regia cæli
“ Ardeat, et mundi moles operosa laboret ;” (though the learned apply those verses to the future burning of the world) for it fully answers that description, if the
" --Cæli miserere tui, circumspice utrumque,
• Fumat uterque polus “ Fumat uterque polus"- -comes up to “ correptaque “ Regia coeli”-Besides, it is Ovid's custom to prepare the reader for a following story, by giving some intimations of it in a foregoing one, which was more particularly necessary to be done before he led us into so strange a story as this he is now upon. P. 106. 1. 7.
For in the portal, &c.] We have here the picture of the universe drawn in little. N2
“ Ægeona suis immania terga lacertis.” Ægeon makes a diverting figure in it.
6 -Facies non omnibus una,
" Nec diverfa tamen : qualem decet esse fororem.”
“-Circum caput omne micantes
P. 107. 1. 27. And flung the blaze, &c.] It gives us a great image of Phæbus, that the youth was forced to look on him at a distance, and not able to approach him until he had lain aside the circle of rays that caft such glory about his head. And indeed we may every where observe in Ovid, that he never fails of a due loftiness in his ideas, though he wants it in his words. And this I think infinitely better than to have fublime expressions and mean thoughts, which is generally the true character of Claudian and Statius. But this is not considered by them who run down Ovid in the gross, for a low middle way of writing.
What can be more simple and unadorned, than his description of Enceladus in the sixth book ?
« Nititur ille quidem, pugnatque resurgere sæpe,
Degravat Ætna caput, sub quâ resupinus arenas “ Ejectat, flammamque fero vomit ore Typhæus." But the image we have here is truly great and sublime, of a giant vomiting out a tempest of fire, and heaving up all Sicily, with the body of an island upon his breast, and a vast promontory on either arm.
There are few books that have had worse commentators on them than Ovid's Metamorphoses. Those of the graver fort have been wholly taken up in the Mythologies; and think they have appeared very judicious, if they have fewn us out of an old author that Ovid is mistaken in a pedigree, or has turned fuch a person into a wolf that ought to have been made a tiger. O. thers have employed themselves on what never entered into the poet's thoughts, in adapting a dull moral to every story, and making the persons of his poems to be only nicknames for such virtues or vices; particularly the pious commentator, Alexander Ross, has dived deeper into our Author's design than any of the rest ; for he discovers in him the greatest mysteries of the Christian religion, and finds almost in every page some typical representation of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But if these writers have gone too deep, others have been wholly employed in the surfact, most of them serving only to help out a school-boy in the construing part; or if they go out of their way, it is only to mark out the gnome of the author, as they call
them, which are generally the heaviest pieces of a poet, distinguished from the rest by Italian characters. The best of Ovid's expositors is he that wrote for the Dauphin's use, who has very well shewn the meaning of the author, but feldom reflects on his beauties or imperfections ; for in most places he rather acts the geographer than the critic, and, instead of pointing out the fineness of a description, only tells you in what part of the world the place is situated. I shall therefore only consider Ovid under the character of a poet, and endeavour to fhew him impartially, without the usual prejudice of a translator: which I am the more willing to do, because I believe such a comment would give the reader a truer taste of poetry than a comment on any other poet would do ; for, in reflecting on the ancient poets, men think they may venture to praise all they meet with in fome, and scarce any thing in others; but Ovid is confeít to have a mixture of both kinds, to have something of the best and worst poets, and by consequence to be the fairest subject for criticism.
P. 108. 1. 8. My son, says he, &c.] Phæbus's speech is very nobly usher'd in, with the “ Terque quaterque “ concutiens illustre caput”—and well represents the danger and dificulty of the undertaking; but that which is its peculiar beauty, and makes it truly Ovid's, is the representing thein ju father would to his young son; “ Per tamen adversi gradieris cornua tauri,
Hæmoniofque arcus, violentique ora leonis, “ Sævaque circuitu curvantem brachia longo '" Scorpion, atque aliter curyantem brachia cancrum.”
one while he scares him with bugbears in the way, .
rector Olympi, « Qui fera terribili jaculetur fulmina dextrâ, “ Non agat hos currus ; et quid Jove majus habetur?" “ Deprecor hoc unum quod vero nomine pæna, “ Non honor eft. Pænam, Phaeton, pro munere pofcis." And in other places perfectly tattles like a father, which
makes the length of the speech very natural, and concludes with all the fondness and concera, of a tender parent. " ---Patrio pater efle metu probor; aspice vultus “ Ecce meos : utinamque oculus in pectore pofles, ! Inserere, & patrias intus deprendere curas! &c."
P. 110. 1. 13. A golden axle, &c.] Ovid has more turns and repetitions in his words than any of the Latin poets, which are always wonderfuily ealy and natural in him, The repetition of Aureus, and the transition to Argenteus, in the description of the chariot, give these verses a great sweetness and majesty : “ Aureus axis erat, temo aureus, aurea fummæ • Curvatura rotæ ; radiorum argenteus ordo."
P. 111. l. 7. Drive them not on directly, &c.] Se, veral have endeavoured to vindicate Ovid against the old objection, that he mistakes the annual for the diurnal motion of the sun. The Dauphin's notes tell us that Ovid knew very well the fun did not pass through all the signs he names in one day, but that he makes Phæbus mention them only to frighten Phaeton from the undertaking. But though this may answer for what Phæbus lays in his first speech, it can