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Alexander Pope
by [?]

The same formulae were continually recurring, such as,

“But him answering, thus addressed the swift-footed Achilles;”


“But him sternly beholding, thus spoke Agamemnon the king of men.”

Then, again, universally the Homeric Greek, from many causes, is easy; and especially from these two:

1 st, The simplicity of the thought, which never gathers into those perplexed knots of rhetorical condensation, which we find in the dramatic poets of a higher civilization.

2 dly, From the constant hounds set to the expansion of the thought by the form of the metre; an advantage of verse which makes the poets so much easier to a beginner in the German language than the illimitable weavers of prose. The line or the stanza reins up the poet tightly to his theme, and will not suffer him to expatiate. Gradually, therefore, Pope came to read the Homeric Greek, but never accurately; nor did he ever read Eustathius without aid from Latin. As to any knowledge of the Attic Greek, of the Greek of the dramatists, the Greek of Plato, the Greek of Demosthenes, Pope neither had it nor affected to have it. Indeed it was no foible of Pope’s, as we will repeat, to make claims which he had not, or even to dwell ostentatiously upon those which he had. And with respect to Greek in particular, there is a manuscript letter in existence from Pope to a Mr. Bridges at Falham, which, speaking of the original Homer, distinctly records the knowledge which he had of his own “imperfectness in the language.” Chapman, a most spirited translator of Homer, probably had no very critical skill in Greek; and Hobbes was, beyond all question, as poor a Grecian as he was a doggerel translator; yet in this letter Pope professes his willing submission to the “authority” of Chapman and Hobbes, as superior to his own.

Finally, in Latin Pope was a “considerable proficient,” even by the cautious testimony of Dr. Johnson; and in this language only the doctor was an accomplished critic. If Pope had really the proficiency here ascribed to him, he must have had it already in his boyish years; for the translation from Statius, which is the principal monument of his skill, was executed before he was fourteen. We have taken the trouble to throw a hasty glance over it; and whilst we readily admit the extraordinary talent which it shows, as do all the juvenile essays of Pope, we cannot allow that it argues any accurate skill in Latin. The word Malea, as we have seen noticed by some editor, he makes Malea; which in itself, as the name was not of common occurrence, would not have been an error worth noticing; but, taken in connection with the certainty that Pope had the original line before him–

“Arripit ex templo Maleae de valle resurgens,”

when not merely the scanning theoretically, but the whole rhythm is practically, to the most obtuse ear, would be annihilated by Pope’s false quantity, is a blunder which serves to show his utter ignorance of prosody. But, even as a version of the sense, with every allowance for a poet’s license of compression and expansion, Pope’s translation is defective, and argues an occasional inability to construe the text. For instance, at the council summoned by Jupiter, it is said that he at his first entrance seats himself upon his starry throne, but not so the inferior gods;

“Nec protinus ausi
Coelicolae, veniam donee pater ipse sedendi
Tranquilla jubet esse manu.”

In which passage there is a slight obscurity, from the ellipsis of the word sedere, or sese locare; but the meaning is evidently that the other gods did not presume to sit down protinus, that is, in immediate succession to Jupiter, and interpreting his example as a tacit license to do so, until, by a gentle wave of his hand, the supreme father signifies his express permission to take their seats. But Pope, manifestly unable to extract any sense from the passage, translates thus: