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If the persons, who endeavour to rescue from oblivion neglected merit, confessedly attempt a meritorious task, the translators of those ancient writers, who have hitherto failed of obtaining the circulation and celebrity justly due to their learning and genius, are fairly entitled, at all events, to the praise of good intention. Should these adventurers prove so fortunate, as to acquit themselves, in their respective undertakings, to the satisfaction of the public, they are further entitled to the regard and encouragement, which ought to recompense, but do not uniformly attend patient and judicious labour, din rected to the advancement of taste and science.
The poem of Apollonius Rhodius, now offered to the public, in an entirely new version, appeared to the present translator, a fair object, for such a chivalrous enterprize. At least, the partial admiration and gratitude of one, who
had frequently perused, and always with encreasing pleasure, this delightful poet, considered his present reputation and rank, among the illustrious writers of antiquity, as totally inadequate to his intrinsic merits. Apollonius Rhodius, it is true, can by no means be considered, as a writer unknown, or obscure; yet has he failed, of obtaining his just station, on the heights of Parnassus. He is chiefly known, to profest scholars, and is little in the hands of the modern reader, whose commerce with the ancients is carried on, through the medium of translation. Indeed, even when he is remembered among the learned; he is usually introduced, in the degrading attitude of a captive, bound to the chariot, and following the triumphal pomp of Virgil, who has literally fulfilled, in the person of this poet, his own prediction in the third Georgic.
Aonio rediens deducam vertice musas.
Thus is the name of Apollonius lost, and absorbed in that of his conqueror. His poetical beauties are all hung up, as trophies, to decorate the shrine of Virgil. His primary and original claims on our attention, in his own right, are forgotten; and he is honoured only with the derivative and subordinate praise, of having supplied to the Mantuan bard, the crude mate
rials and unformed elements, from whence some of his beauties have been wrought, and fashioned. Thus, is he chiefly known to the world, by the vague reputation, the traditional merit, generally taken on trust, that his loves of Medea and Jason are the ground-work, on which Virgil has formed, the fourth book of his Æneid. But how small a part is that of the poem! With what happy passages, what various and striking beauties does it every where abound! The fact is, that the bard of Alexandria has been worse treated, considering his just pretensions, and real merits, than any poet of antiquity; and furnishes a striking instance of the caprice of fortune, and the uncertainty even of literary posthumous reputation. No critic, ancient, or modern, has been found, to do full justice to the charms of his versification, the beauty of his diction, the apposite illustration of his similies, his picturesque and luminous display of moral and physical nature, his knowledge of the human heart, the sportive graces of his fancy, and those golden visions of bold and excursive imagination, worthy of the fairest names, among the Italian poets. No critic has been found, to ascertain with accuracy, the obligations of l'ir. gil to this poet.
It is a curious circumstance, to enquire how this has happened. Two Roman writers, of
great eminence, have condescended to avail themselves of the talents and the labours of the Alexandrian; yet they have not, in any part of their works, acknowledged the obligation; or paid the smallest tribute of gratitude to his memory. May it not be conjectured, that the poets, in question, and their adherents, found an ungenerous interest, in the keeping back from view, the merits of a rival, whose prominence might tend to overshadow them?--May not the Romans, from a general sentiment of pride and triumph, in their great epic poet, have been disposed, to consign, if possible, to obscurity, the source, from whence he had imbibed his very genius, and poetical style and character, and had drawn so many of his softest and purest graces? –The father of epic song rose, too powerful and vast, for such an attempt. The obligations, which Virgil owed to Homer, could not be dissenibled, or concealed because the poems of Homer were in every hand. But they judged rightly, as the event has shown, that it might be possible to exclude Apollonius, a writer of inferior note, as an unwelcome visitant, an upbraiding creditor, whose presence would remind the great master of Roman poetry, how much he was indebted to borrowed stores. On hirn, the partial criticism of