Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THREE EPISTLES TO G. LLOYD ON A PASSAGE FROM HOMER'S ILIAD: 1, by JOHN BYROM

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First Line: Thus homer, describing the pestilent lot
Last Line: In the next I shall prove it, as clear as a whistle.
Subject(s): Animals; Asses & Mules; Cruelty; Wilderness; Mules

Mules first and dogs he struck, but, at themselves
Dispatching soon his bitter arrows keen,
Smote them. Death-piles on all sides always blazed.

THUS Homer, describing the pestilent lot
That amongst the Greek forces Apollo had shot,
Tells how it began, and WHO suffer'd the first,
When his ill-treated priest the whole army had curst,—
Or rather WHAT suffer'd,—for custom computes
That Apollo's first shafts fell amongst the poor brutes,
Instructing both Critics to construe, and Schools,
Κυνας αργους "the dogs,"
and ουρηας "the mules."

Now, observing old Homer's poetical features,
I would put in one word for the guiltless dumb creatures,
And the famous blind bard; for, as far as I see,
The learn'd in this case are much blinder than he.
At the mules and the dogs in his versified Greek,
Nor Phœbus, nor priest had conceiv'd any pique;
And I doubt, notwithstanding the common consent,
That the meaning is miss'd which Mæonides meant.

Why the brutes were first plagued, an Eustathius and others
Have made a great rout, with their physical pothers
Of the nature, and causes, and progress of plague,
And all to the purpose quite foreign and vague.
But be medical symptoms whatever they will,
Such matters I leave to friend Heberden's skill,
And propose a plain fact to all cunninger ken,—
That the mules and the dogs, in this passage, are men.

Just then, as they rise, to explain my ideas—
Let the Lexicon tell what is meant by ουρηας,
In plain, common sense, without physical routs,—
"The Grecian outguards, the custodes, or scouts."
The word may be mules too, for aught that I know,
For my Scapula says, "'tis Ionice so;"
And refers to the lines above quoted from Homer,
Where mules, I conceive, is an arrant misnomer.

If a word has two meanings, to critical test
That which makes the sense better is certainly best:—
The plague is here plainly describ'd to begin
In the skirts of the camp, then to enter within,
To rage, and occasion what Iliad styles
"Incessantly burning their funeral piles;"
Which the Greeks, I conjecture, were hardly such fools
As to burn, or erect for, the dogs and the mules.

The common Greek word, the Homerical too,
For mules is ημιονους, where it will do;
And there was, as it happen'd, no cause to coerce
Its use in this place, for it suited the verse.
Whereas a plain reason oblig'd to discard,
If this was the point to be shewn by the bard,
That first to the parties about the main camp
Apollo dispatch'd the vindicative damp.

Thus much for ουιονυς: the meaning of
Is attended, I own, with a little more newness;
For the sense, in this place, will oblige us to plant
A meaning for χυνες which lexicons want.
And if that be a reason for some to reject,
'Tis no more than correction, tho' just, may expect;
"But if it be just," the true critics will add,
"'Tis a meaning which Lexicons ought to have had."

Both canes in Latin, and χυνες in Greek,
And the Hebrew word for them, if critics would seek,
Should be render'd sometimes, in prose-writers or bards,
By "slaves, or by servants, attendants, or guards."
Ουρηας and χυνας have
here, in my thought,
Much a like kind of meaning, as really they ought;
The diff'rence, perhaps, that, for camp-preservation
One mov'd or patroll'd, while the other kept station.

'Αργυς, which is "white" in the commonest sense,
To describe the dogs here has no sort of pretence;
Nor here will the Lexicons help a dead lift
That allow the odd choice too of "slow," or of "swift."
If the dogs were demolish'd, 'twill certainly follow
That white, slow, or swift was all one to Apollo,
Whose fam'd penetration was rather too deep
To mistake dogs for soldiers, as Ajax did sheep.

Why them? or why mules?—For, Description allows
That he shot at no horses, bulls, oxen, or cows;
With a vengeance selecting, from all other classes,
Poor dogs of some sort, and impeccant half-asses.
Now grant, what his poem shews plainly enough,
That Homer abounds with nonsensical stuff,
Yet it should for his sake, if it can, be confin'd
To the Pagan, and not the Poetical kind.

The Mules and the dogs, being shot at, coheres
No better with sense than the bulls and the bears.
To exculpate old Homer, my worthy friend Lloyd,
Some sort of correction should here be employ'd;
And for languages' sake,—in which matters are spread
Of a greater concern, if old writers are read,—
Where it seems to be wanting, the critics should seek
To make out fair English for Latin or Greek.

If the words have a meaning both human and brute
Where Homer describes his Apollo to shoot,
Tho' brute in the Latin possesses the letter,
I take it for granted that human is better.
Do you think this a fair postulatum?—"I do;
"But you only affirm that the HUMAN is true."—
That's all that I want in this present epistle;
In the next I shall prove it, as clear as a whistle.

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