Imagens da página

date of its composition is not known; but from the peculiar style of its barbarisms, it is obviously a work of the middle ages. The pretended translation is ascribed to Cornelius Nepos, who is made to inscribe it, in a regular dedication, to his brotherhistorian, Sallust. It is nothing more than a meagre summary, compiled for the most part from the classical authors, and differing less from the received accounts than might be supposed : the principal difference respects the character of Palamedes, who is here represented as a factious demagogue, raised by his intrigues to the supreme power, and at length slain by the hand of Troilus, whose prowess, and not that of Hector, rouses Achilles from the inaction which his jealousy of Palamedes, and his passion for Polyxena, had caused; Hector and Patroclus having been both slain at an earlier period of the war. Of the style, language, and matter of the composition, the following is a tolerable specimen.

Tempus pugnæ supervenit. Agamemnon, Menelaus, Diomedes, Ajax, exercitum educunt. Contra Trojani. Fit magna cædes, pugnatur acriter, uterque exercitus inter se sæviunt. Troilus Menelaum sauciat, multos interficit, Argivos in castra fugat; nox prælium dirimit. Postera die Troilus et Alexander exercitum educunt. Contra omnes Argivi prodeunt: acriter utrinque pugnatur. Troilus Diomedem sauciat: in Agamemnonem impressionem facit, necnon faciem ipsius sauciat, Argivos cædit. Per aliquot dies pugnatur acriter, multa millia hominum ex utraque parte trucidantur. Agamemnon ut vidit majorem partem exercitụs se quotidie amittere, (a process, by the way, which would quickly reduce it to none at all) neque sufficere posse, mittit inducias petere in sex menses. Priamus concilium cogit, indicat Argivorum legationem, &c. &c.

The author concludes with some curious arithmetical returns, extracted in part, as he informs us, from the Trojan gazettes.

Pugnatum est annis x. mensibus viii. diebus xii. Ad Trojam ruerunt ex Argivis, sicut acta diurna indicant, quæ Dares Phrygius descripsit, DCCCVI. millia hominum ad oppidi proditionem. Ex Trojanis cclxxvir. millia hominum. Æneas profectus navibus quibus Alexander in Græciam venit,' numero xxit. quem omnis hominum ætas circiter III. M. ccc. secula est, Antenorem secuti sunt duo millia et quingenti. An-, dromacham et Helenum mille ducenti.

Such as it is, however, the work of the pretended Dares, in conjunction with one of more magnitude and higher pretensions, both as to manner and matter, ascribed to Dictys of Crete, was considered during many ages as the only trustworthy authority for Trojan history. On these, or works derived from them

' From this account, compared with those of Homer and Virgil, it appears that some of these vessels must have lasted about thirty years.

both the histories and the fictions of later writers were founded. Among other testimonies to the estimation in which the present production was held, a kind of paraphrase of the whole was written, in Latin verse, by a learned English ecclesiastic of the thirteenth century,' known only by his canonical name, Joseph of Exeter ; of whom nothing more seems to be remembered, than that he wrote several Latin works; and was honored with the patronage of Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, and of our victorious Richard Cour de Lion, the latter of whom he accompanied to the Holy Land, and celebrated his exploits in the battle of Antioch. The present poem, the only one of his productions which has been noticed by subsequent scholars, is generally, and justly, considered as an extraordinary specimen of pure Latinity in a barbarous age. The study of ancient literature was just then beginning to revive after a slumber of many ages. Of this improvement England appears to have had her full share ; and the Latin writers of our country, in the age before us, are observed to be uniformly superior in elegance to those on the continent. Even in Petrarch's heroic poem, written two centuries later, many more barbarisms occur than in the work of Joseph of Exeter. We think, indeed, that he is apt to abuse his command of the language ; pouring forth lavishly, and without much selection, words, phrases, and turns of expression, as if in ostentation of his proficiency, or rather like one delighted in the exercise of his own powers, and pleasing himself with the reflection of his favorite writers in his own composition. With the more ordinary Latin poets he was obviously familiar ;2 and he blends their styles together in a somewhat confused manner, without sufficiently discriminating between the diction of different ages, between epic and didactic, serious and sarcastic. He is exceedingly fond of moralising in the form of proverbs. The plan of his poeın is peculiarly injudicious ; it is nothing more than an expansion of the original in verse, indulging occasionally in descriptive detail, but in no instance either altering or adding to the story; thus sacrificing the dignity of history, without attaining the iuterest of fiction. The events, instead of being connected with one another like the parts of a machine, follow each other like individuals in a crowd, each apparently caring little for the movements or purposes of that


[ocr errors]

He florished about 1210—1226. ? His favorites appear to be Ovid and Claudian. Statius is also among his models.

which preceded, or of that which follows it. Owing to this unfortunate narrowness of design, which operates as a constantly recurring check upon his genius, and the few opportunities which it allows him of developing his powers, it is difficult to discover where his strength lay. Had he, instead of rendering the whole history into verse, selected some particular portion of it as matter for poetical amplification, he might have produced something worthy of remembrance. Even as it is, however, the poem of Joseph of Exeter is entitled to honorable notice for its fertility of fancy, its copiousness of language, its beauty of versification, and its ease and vigor of manner; to say nothing of its comparative excellence as regards the writings of the age in which it appeared. With the exception of some happily expressed moral sentences, he succeeds best in description, in which he appears to delight; here, however, as elsewhere, we are annoyed by frequent vulgarisms, conceits, or exaggerations, savoring of the bad taste of the age. Thus, in the outset, alluding to his own youth (to which by the way some of the defects of his poem are to be ascribed):

Mento canescant alii, nos mente; capillo,

Nos animo. "The meeting of a river with the sea :

furit ille, feroxque Potandas incestat aquas, bilemque refundit

In vada blanda suum. The figure of Zephyr impregnating the sails of a vessel, ought not perhaps to be reckoned among extravagancies. Of the first recorded sea-fight he says:

Cunabula Mavors
Cypridis infestat arinis, et Lemnius igne.
Tunc primum bellis rubuit mare. Sanguinis illas
Murex hausit opes, quas nonduin oblitus in annos

Præsentes meminit, regumque expendit in usum. It is a pity that good words should be so wasted, as they are in the following description of a restoration of calm :

Ilicet irato bibulæ Thaumantidos arcu
Cæruleum mirante jubar, ventoque sereno
In risum redeunte polo, letersa meretur
Juno Jovem, atque hilari solatur fentia vultu
Nubila, proscriptoque Noto, lenique susurro

Dante vias, majora petit suspiria classis.
Of a storm :

subito egressos inopino turbine turbat Nimborum pincerna, Notus.

In the following description of an onset he has forestalled great modern poet :

Pulvere crescit ager, putrique in nube sepultam
Prætexit caligo diem, nec civibus hostes
Internosse datum, donec revocante serenum

Cuspide sanguineos campus consedit in imbres.
Memnon is slain by Achilles :

Eoo viscera regi
Fraxineo perfossa stylo.

So of another unfortunate warrior:

Cardine jam clauso socios poscebat Iolas
Ingressum ; periere preces, en Pelias hasta

Transactum affigit foribus, portæque maritat. Such passages are certainly in the worst taste possible; yet they argue any thing but want of ingenuity, even as the tangle and fantastic distortions of forest-trees bespeak the luxuriance of their growth: besides that such faults, from their very nature, can only be committed by one who has a consummate command over the language in which he writes, and wields it with the freedom of a native. He is likewise very daring in the invention of new words and phrases. To sum up, his principal merits are facility, abundance, terseness of expression, and an easy and unconstrained manner; and if his deficiency in depth, and the want of aim in his poem, prevent us from subscribing to the hyperbolical encomiums which have been passed on him by some modern scholars, a little partiality of admiration may be excused with regard to a writer, who, in England, six centuries ago, wrote Latiu poetry with an elegance equalled by no modern before bim, and surpassed by few since.

His versification is easy, vigorous, harmonious, and correct, with only one exception worth mentioning : the production of a short syllable in the cæsura, which the modern poets in general employ still more sparingly than the ancient, is with him of common occurrence. On what authority he justified this licence, it is impossible to say; it is, however, quite as reasonable, and to our ears, at least, more harmonious, than the practice of shortening the middle syllable in the third line of an Alcaic stanza, or that of leaving the final vowel short before a word beginning with s and a mute, both which (the latter especially) on the authority of solitary, unauthenticated, or insufficient examples, have obtained extensively among modern Latin poets.

We now proceed to the business of quotation.'

The first book is occupied with the destruction of Troy by Hercules, and its restoration under Priam; we shall content ourselves with a quotation from the latter part, passing by several happy sentences in the

Haud procul incumbens urbi mediantibus arvis
Idæus consurgit apex : vetus incola montis
Sylva viret, vernat abies procera, cupressus
Flebilis, interpres laurus, vaga pinus, oliva
Concilians, abies venatrix, fraxinus audax,
Stat comitis patiens ulnus, nunquamque senescens
Cantatrix buxus : paulo proclivius arvum
Ebria vitis habet, et dedignata latere
Canicolam (qu.) poscit Phoebum, vicinus aristas
Prægnantes fecundat ager, nec plura Falernus
Vina bibit, non tot pascit Campania messes.
Proxima rura rigans alio peregrinat ab orbe
Visurus Trojam Simois, longoque meatu
Emeruisse velic, ut per tot regna, tot urbes,
Exeat æquoreas tandem Trojanus in undas.
Dumque indefesso miratur Pergama visu
Lapsurum suspendit iter, fluviumque moratur

Tardior, et totam complecti destinat urbem. In the second book we have a fantastic description of the wedding-feast of Telamon and Hesione, in which an allusion occurs to the manners of the author's countrymen :

Plebs mixta Britanni
Certatura citi-
Plebeios gaudet calices et subria vina

Regali mutasse meroThe behaviour of the captive bride at the banquet, resembles that of the Lady Edith in the Lord of the Isles. In the same book Paris relates the contest of the goddesses on Mount Ida. The preliminary description is as follows:

Desertura virum Aebat Pallantias ortum
Processisse diem, sed jam maturior æstas
Solverat algentes lacrymas; me dulce trahebat
Certamen nemorum, populari lustra, fugaces
Indagare feras, facilique instare Molosso :
Ocius exciti qui casse, vel ore, vel aure,
Fraude, sono, sensu ludentes, prælia casse
Fallunt, ore cient, vestigant aure, simulque

[ocr errors]

' We give the titles of Joseph of Exeter's other works, as we find them in More's preface. Antiocheis: De Institutione Cyri í Panegyricus ad Henricum II. : Nugæ Amatoriæ : Epigrammata : Diversi Generis Carmina. Nothing of these appears to remain, except two extracts from the Antiocheis, neither of them of much importance.


« AnteriorContinuar »