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In reading several passages of the Prophet Isaiah, which foretel the coming of Christ and the felicities attending it, I could not but observe a remarkable parity between many of the thoughts, and those in the Pollio of Virgil. This will not seem surprising, when we reflect, that the Eclogue was taken from a Sibylline prophecy on the same subject. One may judge that Virgil did not copy it line by line, but selected such ideas as best agreed with the nature of pastoral poetry, and disposed them in that man ner which served most to beautify his piece. I have endeavoured the same in this imitation of him, though without admitting any thing of my own; since it was written with this particular view, that the reader, by comparing the several thoughts, might see how far the images and descriptions of the Prophet are superior to those of the Poet. But as I fear I have prejudiced them by my management, I shall subjoin the passages of Isaiah, and those of Virgil, under the same disadvantage of a literal translation'. P.
As Pope made use of the old translation of Isaiah in the passages which he subjoined, it was thought proper to use the same, and not have recourse to the more accurate and more animated version of Bishop Lowth.
The spuriousness of those Sibylline verses which have been applied to our Saviour, has been so fully demonstrated by many able and judicious critics, that, I imagine, they will not be again adduced as proofs of the truth of the Christian Religion by any sound and conclusive reasoner. The learned Heyne has discussed this point in his notes on the second Eclogue of Virgil, pag. 73. v. 1.; [in his Argument to the fourth Eclogue. W.S.D.] and he adds an opinion about prophecy in general, too remarkable to be omitted, but of too delicate a nature to be quoted in any words but his own. “ Scilicet inter omnes populos, magna imprimis aliqua calamitate oppressos, Vaticinia circumferri assolent, quæ sive graviora minari sive lætiora solent polliceri, eaque, necessaria rerum vicissitudine, melioribus aliquando succedentibus temporibus, fere semper eventum habent. Nullo tamen tempore vaticiniorum insanius fuit studium, quam sub extrema Reipublicæ Romanæ tempora, primosque Imperatores ; cum bellorum civilium calamitates hominum animos terroribus omnis generis agitatos ad varia portentorum, prodigiorum, et vaticiniorum ludibria convertissent.--Quascunque autem in hoc genere descriptiones novæ felicitatis habemus, sive in Orientis sive in Græcis ac Romanis poetis, omnes inter se similes sunt: bestiæ ac feræ cicures, serpentes innocui, fruges nullo cultu enatæ, mare placidum, dii præsentes in terris, aliaque ejusmodi in omnibus memorantur.” In contradiction to this opinion the reader is desired to turn to as remarkable a passage at the end of the twenty-first of Bishop Lowth’s excellent Lectures on the Hebrew Poetry
A SACRED ECLOGUE.
YE Nymphs of Solyma! begin the song:
Rapt into future times, the Bard begun:
IMITATIONS. Ver. 8. A Virgin shall conceive - All crimes shall cease, &c.] Virg. Ecl. iv. ver. 6.
“ Jam redit et Virgo: redeunt Saturnia regna';
Jam nova progenies cælo demittitur alto.
Pacatumque reget patriis virtutibus orbem." “ Now the Virgin returns, now the kingdom of Saturn returns, now a new progeny is sent down from high heaven. By means of thee, whatever relics of our crimes remain, shall be wiped away, and free the world from perpetual fears. He shall govern the earth in peace, with the virtues of his father."
Isaiah, Ch. vii. v. 14.—“Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bear a Son." -Ch. ix. v. 6, 7. “ Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given ; the Prince of Peace: of the increase of his government, and of his peace, there shall be no end: Upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order and to establish it, with judgment, and with justice, for ever and ever.” P.
that Statius was made a Christian by reading this passage in Virgil. See L. Gyraldus, p. 534.