Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN EPISTLE TO A FRIEND PROPOSING A CORRECTION IN PASSAGE FROM HORACE, by JOHN BYROM



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AN EPISTLE TO A FRIEND PROPOSING A CORRECTION IN PASSAGE FROM HORACE, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: So then you think acrisius really sold
Last Line: And jupiter and venus laugh'd at both.
Subject(s): Horace (65-8 B.c.); Translating & Interpreting


If Jupiter and Venus had not laughed at Acrisius, the affrighted keeper of the
concealed virgin.

SO then you think Acrisius really sold
His daughter Danae, himself, for gold;
When the whole story of the Grecian king
Makes such a bargain so absurd a thing,
That neither poetry nor sense could make
The poet guilty of the vile mistake.

No, Sir; her father here was rich enough;
Satire on him, for selling her, is stuff.
Fear was his motive to a vast expence
Of gates and guards to keep her in a fence;
But some dull blockhead happ'ning to transcribe
When half asleep, has made HIM take the bribe,
Which Jupiter and Venus, as the bard
Had writ, made use of to corrupt the GUARD.
All the remarks on avarice are just;
But 'twas the keeper that betray'd his trust.

Passage from Virgil which you here select us
How gold is "cogent of mortale pectus,
And from Euripides, that "gold can ope
"Gates" unattempted even by the Pope,
Shew money's force on subjects that are vicious;
But what has this to do with king Acrisius,
Who spar'd no money to secure his life,
Lost, if his daughter once became a wife?
He shut her up for fear of death—and then
Sold her himself!—all stuff! I say again.
Death was his dread, nor was it in the pow'r
Of love's bewitchment, or of money'd show'r,
Of Venus, Jupiter, or all the fry
Of Homer's heav'n, to hire the man to die.

Where is his avarice of any kind
Noted, in all the fables that you find,
Except in those of your inventing fashion
That make him old, and avarice his passion?
To hide the blunder of amanuenses,
Who, writing words, full oft unwrit the senses—
Fact, that in Horace, in a world of places,
Appears by irrecoverable traces;—
On which the critics raise a learned dust,
And, still adjusting, never can adjust.
Having but one of all the Roman lyrics
To feed their taste for slavish panegyrics,
The more absurd the manuscriptal letter,
They paint from thence some fancied beauty better;
Hunting for all the colours round about,
To make the nonsense beautifully out;
Adorning richly, for the poet's sake,
Some poor hallucinating scribe's mistake.

Now I would have a short-hand son of mine
Be less obsequious to the Classic line,
Than, right or wrong, to yield his approbation
Because HOMERIC, or because HORATIAN;
Or not to see, when it is fairly hinted,
Either original defect or printed.
Not that it matters twopence in regard
Of either Grecian, or of Roman bard,
If schools were wise enough to introduce
Much better books for education's use.
But since, by force of custom or of lash,
The boys must wade thro' so much scum and trash
To gain their Greek and Latin, they should learn
TRUE GREEK, at least, and LATIN to discern;
Nor for the sake of custom to admit
The faults of language, metre, sense, or wit.
Because this blind attachment by command
To what their masters do not understand,
Makes reading servile, in the younger flock,
Of rhyming Horace down to prosing Locke;
Knowledge is all mechanically known,
And no innate ideas of their own.

But while I'm rhyming to you what comes next,
I shall forget th' Acrisius of the text.
Your reasons, then, why this custodem pavidum
Should not be chang'd to custodemque avidum,
Turn upon avarice:—you think the father
Fond of the bribe;—I think the keeper rather;
Who had no fear from Danae, the wife,
Who could receive the gold, and lose no life,
Must needs be he, and that, without the change,
The verse is unpoetically strange.

You make Acrisius to have been the guard,
And to be pavidus.—Extremely hard
To make out either!—For, what other place
Shews that the king was jailer in the case?
And is not pavidus a dictum gratis?
Was not his Danae munita satis?
"Safe kept enough?"—If pavidus come after,
The Dear Joy Horace must provoke one's laughter,
Plain common-sense suggesting all the while,—
"Not fear, but fancied safety gave the smile."
Safe as Acrisius thought himself to be,
The custos avidus would take a fee;
A golden shower, they knew, would break his oath,
And Jupiter and Venus laugh'd at both.





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