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Et dubitamus adhuc virtutem extendere factis ?
Æn. lib. vi.
Not the least of Virgil's merits are those commonplace descriptions, which set originality at defiance, and yet engage and gratify the mind by their unobtrusive simplicity and elegance:
Tempus erat, quo prima quies mortalibus ægris
Æn. lib. i.
The cave of the sibyl, her character and office, are thus described :
At pius Æneas arces quibus altus Apollo
En. lib. vi.
The following passage on the subject of Queen Amata, the wife of King Latinus, is elegant and spirited :
Regina, ut tectis venientem prospicit hostem,
Multaque per moestum demens effata furorem,
Erichthonius was the son of Dardanus, and father of Tros. The Phrygians discovered the art of driving a chariot and pair; but Erichthonius was the founder of the Four-in-Hand Club:
Primus Erichthonius currus et quatuor ausus
Georg. lib. jii.
Servius, in a note on this passage, tells us, that Erichthonius being, according to the etymology of his name, égis and getess, the offspring of strife and earth, was not accommodated with shoes, but incommoded with tails of serpents instead of feet. Stripping the story of its mythological marvels, he was probably what we call club-footed. It was to conceal this deformity, we are told, that he improved the science of the whip. As there is no evidence that the ancient chariots had aprons, the concealment could only have been effected, as withdrawing the eye of the spectator from his feet, by the skill and elegance with which he squared his elbows. Independently, however, of all personal vanity, the moral probably goes no further, than that a carriage is particularly convenient to a lame
Nec vero terræ ferre omnes omnia possunt.
Adspice et extremis domitum cultoribus orbem, Eoasque domos Arabum, pictosque Gelonos;
Divisæ arboribus patriæ: sola India nigrum
The Geloni were a Scythian tribe, with painted faces after the manner of other barbarous nations, for the purpose of inspiring terror in war. Ebony was the produce of India and Ethiopia. This elegant wood, of which there are three kinds, black, red, and green, was first brought to Rome when Pompey triumphed over Mithridates. The geography of distant countries was so imperfectly known to the Romans, that they reckoned Ethiopia as a part of India : a circumstance which accounts for the apparent inaccuracy and confusion both of natural historians and poets, in fixing the locality of various productions.
The following catalogue of allegorical personages is remarkable at once for the grandeur of the grouping, and a severely tasteful parsimony in the use of characteristic epithets or adjuncts:
Vestibulum ante ipsum, primisque in faucibus orci,
The epithet malesuada to famine, as a pernicious counsellor, often leading her thrall to bad actions, is one of the happiest concentrations of an important sentiment in a single word, to be met with even in this author so happy in his epithets.
The enumeration of crimes and punishments is concluded in the spirit, and almost in the words, of Homer:
Non, mihi si linguæ centum sint, oraque centum,
Æn. lib. vi.
In the enumeration of the topics, which constituted the song of Iopas, Virgil has followed his master, Homer, especially adopting, as far as his inferior language would admit, the ήλιος ακάμας, without repose and yet without weariness, both which ideas are involved in the Greek epithet :
Hic canit errantem lunam, solisque labores;
Orion seems to be derived ånò toŨ égíveiv, from disturbing and troubling. This is the character attributed to that constellation by common consent of all the ancient poets, astrologers, and historians : a most formidable star, leading rain, hail, and storm in its train. Thus Virgil, Æneid, lib. i. :
Huc cursus fuit:
We have a spirited description of Styx, that river of which the gods themselves stood in awe:
Æneas, miratus enim, motusque tumultu,
Æn. lib. vi.
The length of this article warns me to stop; though the topics of laudatory criticism afforded by the subject are inexhaustible. It will be perceived, that neither in this, nor in my other collections of miscellaneous passages, has my choice fallen on the most conspicuous parts of the respective authors. My object in making such selections has rather been, to lead my younger readers to look at others besides what may be called the Elegant Extract passages of the classics, not only with a critical eye, but in reference to those deductions and practical applications, which almost every sentence of an eminent author, whether ancient or modern, may furnish to acute, inquisitive, and reflecting minds.