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HOMER, DANTE, AND MICHAEL ANGELO.
THERE is something inexpressibly striking, it may almost be said awful, in the fame of HOMER. Three thousand years have elapsed since the bard of Chios began to pour forth his strains; and their reputation, so far from declining, is on the increase. Successive nations are employed in celebrating his works; generation after generation of men are fascinated by his imagination. Discrepancies of race, of character, of institutions, of religion, of age, of the world, are forgotten in the common worship of his genius. In this universal tribute of gratitude, modern Europe vies with remote antiquity, the light Frenchman with the volatile Greek, the impassioned Italian with the enthusiastic German, the sturdy Englishman with the unconquerable Roman, the aspiring Russian with the proud American. Seven cities, in ancient times, competed for the honour of having given him birth, but seventy nations have since been moulded by his productions. He gave a mythology to the ancients; he has given the fine arts to the modern world. Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Juno, are still household words in every tongue; Vulcan is yet the god of fire, Neptune of the ocean, Venus of love. When Michael Angelo and Canova strove to embody their conceptions of heroism or beauty, they portrayed the heroes of the Iliad. Flaxman's genius was elevated to the highest point in embodying its events. Epic poets, in subsequent
VOL. LVII. NO. CCCLI.
times, have done little more than imitate his machinery, copy his characters, adopt his similes, and, in a few instances, improve upon his descriptions. Painting and statuary, for two thousand years, have been employed in striving to portray, by the pencil or the chisel, his yet breathing conceptions. Language and thought itself have been moulded by the influence of his poetry. Images of wrath are still taken from Achilles, of pride from Agamemnon, of astuteness from Ulysses, of patriotism from Hector, of tenderness from Andromache, of age from Nestor. The galleys of Rome were, the line-of-battle ships of France and England still are, called after his heroes. The Agamemnon long bore the flag of Nelson; the Ajax perished by the flames within sight of the tomb of the Telamonian hero, on the shores of the Hellespont ; the Achilles was blown up at the battle of Trafalgar. Alexander the Great ran round the tomb of Achilles before undertaking the conquest of Asia. It was the boast of Napoleon that his mother reclined on tapestry representing the heroes of the Iliad, when he was brought into the world. The greatest poets of ancient and modern times have spent their lives in the study of his genius or the imitation of his works. Withdraw from subsequent poetry the images, mythology, and characters of the Iliad, and what would remain ? Petrarch spent his best years in restoring his verses. Tasso portrayed the siege
of Jerusalem, and the shock of Europe and Asia, almost exactly as Homer had done the contest of the same forces, on the same shores, two thousand five hundred years before. Milton's old age, when blind and poor, was solaced by hearing the verses recited of the poet, to whose conceptions his own mighty spirit had been so much indebted; and Pope deemed himself fortunate in devoting his life to the translation of the Iliad.
No writer in modern times has equalled the wide-spread fame of the Grecian bard; but it may be doubted whether, in the realms of thought, and in sway over the reflecting world, the influence of DANTE has not been almost as considerable. Little more than five hundred years, indeed, have elapsednot a sixth of the thirty centuries which have tested the strength of the Grecian patriarch-since the immortal Florentine poured forth his divine conceptions; but yet there is scarcely a writer of eminence since that time, in works even bordering on imagination, in which traces of his genius are not to be found. The Inferno has penetrated the world. If images of horror are sought after, it is to his works that all subsequent ages have turned; if those of love and divine felicity are desired, all turn to the Paradise and the Spirit of Beatrice. When the historians of the French Revolution wished to convey an idea of the utmost agonies they were called on to portray, they contented themselves with saying it equalled all that the imagination of Dante had conceived of the terrible. Sir Joshua Reynolds has exerted his highest genius in depicting the frightful scene described by him, when Ugolino perished of hunger in the tower of Pisa. Alfieri, Metastasio, Corneille, Lope de Vega, and all the great masters of the tragic muse, have sought in his works the germs of their finest conceptions. The first of these tragedians marked two-thirds of the Inferno and Paradiso as worthy of being committed to memory. Modern novelists have found in his prolific mind the storehouse from which they have drawn their noblest imagery, the chord by which to strike the profoundest feelings of the human heart. Eighty editions of his poems
have been published in Europe within the last half century; and the public admiration, so far from being satiated, is augmenting. Every scholar knows how largely Milton was indebted to his poems for many of his most powerful images. Byron inherited, though often at second hand, his mantle, in many of his most moving conceptions. Schiller has embodied them in a noble historic mirror; and the dreams of Goethe reveal the secret influence of the terrible imagination which portrayed the deep remorse and hopeless agonies of Malebolge.
MICHAEL ANGELO has exercised an influence on modern art little, if at all, inferior to that produced on the realms of thought by Homer aud Dante. The father of Italian painting, the author of the frescoes on the Sistine Chapel, he was, at the same time, the restorer of ancient sculpture, and the intrepid architect who placed the Pantheon in the air. Raphael confessed, that he owed to the contemplation of his works his most elevated conceptions of their divine art. Sculpture, under his original hand, started from the slumber of a thousand years, in all the freshness of youthful vigour; architecture, in subsequent times, has sought in vain to equal, and can never hope to surpass, his immortal monument in the matchless dome of St Peter's. He found painting in its infancy-he left it arrived at absolute perfection. He first demonstrated of what that noble art is capable. In the Last Judgment he revealed its wonderful powers, exhibiting, as it were, at one view, the whole circles of Dante's Infernoportraying with terrible fidelity the agonies of the wicked, when the last trumpet shall tear the veil from their faces, and exhibit in undisguised truth that most fearful of spectacles-a naked human heart. Casting aside, perhaps with undue contempt, the adventitious aids derived from finishing, colouring, and execution, he threw the whole force of his genius into the design, the expression of the features, the drawing of the figures. There never was such a delineator of bone and muscle as Michael Angelo. His frescoes stand out in bold relief from the walls of the Vatican, like the sculptures of Phidias from the pediment of the Parthenon.