Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

A spacious plain, outstretch'd in circuit wide,
Lay pleasant: from his side two rivers flow'd,
The one winding, the other straight, and left between

255

give Bopcióratov as an hypothetical emendation in a parenthesis, or why Xylander should render the passage “maxime ad septentriones accedens," I do not comprehend. Mount Masius, or any projecting elevation of that ridge, would have been no improper point for viewing a great part of this geographical scene. Milton might therefore, not without reason, be supposed to have followed Strabo, as cited by Dr. Newton: and indeed “from his side two rivers flow'd" seems almost an exact translation of evtcüdev oi dupótepor plovpıv, &c. But still, all circumstances considered, I conceive this was not the exact spot which he had selected in his mind for his “specular mount." We must recollect that, at the conclusion of the third book of his " Paradise Lost," he makes Satan, in his way to Paradise, alight on the top of Mount Niphates; and, while he is there, it is said that Eden “in his view lay pleasant."

That he fixed upon Mount Niphates in that place for Satan to light upon, and from thence to survey Éden, was certainly owing to his considering it as the most elevated range of this part of Mount Taurus; and that it was so, he collected from Strabo; who, having traced the course of the mountain from the Euphrates eastward, or rather northeast; and having described the Gordyaan mountains as being higher than any parts which he had before considered; says, “from thence it rises still higher, and is distinguished by the name of Niphates." The object of the poet in this part of the “Paradise Regained,” certainly was to select a point of Mount Taurus inclining to the southeast, but sufficiently central and elevated to command the Caspian sea, Artaxata, and other places specified, that lay directly, or nearly north. Mount Niphates most particularly suited his purpose, and will, I imagine, be found to agree perfectly with all his descriptions: it may be observed, also that it rises immediately above Assyria, which is the first country showed to our Lord. As to what is said, that “from his side two rivers flow'd;" the sources of the Tigris, it is agreed, were in the southern side of this mountain; and several ancient authors have supposed the Euphrates and Tigris to spring from the same source. Sallust affirms this in a fragment preserved by Seneca : "Sallustius, auctor certissimus, asserit Tigrin et Euphratem uno fonte manare in Armenia, qui per diversa euntes longius dividantur, spatio medio relicto multorum millium ; quæ tamen terra, quæ ab ipsis ambitur, Mesopotamia dicitur.” Boethius likewise, “ Cons. Philosoph.” 1. v., says positively,

Tigris et Euphrates uno se fonte resolvunt;
And Lucan, 1. iii. 256 :-

Quaque caput rapido tollit cum Tigride magnus
Euphrates, quos non diversis fontibus edit

Persis;
on which passage Grotius observes, that “pon diversis" means “parum distantibus ;"
but adds, “ vulgo tamen creditum unum habuisse fontem.” It is also observable, that
one principal source of the Euphrates, according to Strabo, was in Mount Abus, at no
considerable distance north of Mount Niphates. Neither has the prime source of this
river been carried by other geographers so far north as Strabo and Ptolemy have inclined
to place it. It may be further remarked, that the descriptions of the poet in other
respects point out Niphates as the “specular mount," in preference to Mount Masius or
any point of the Taurus between that mountain and the Euphrates; as in such a
station, the verse describing the extent of the Assyrian empire,

As far as Indus east, Euphrates west, seems highly improper, when the speaker was standing so near the very bank of the last river. Besides, had the spectators of this geographical scene been placed on Mount Masius, or any point of the mountains immediately at the head of Mesopotamia, the plain “at the feet of these mountains” would have been only Mesopotamia. But the poet positively distinguishes between Mesopotamia and his great plain, that lay at the foot of that vast range of Mount Taurus, of which Mount Niphates may be considered as the highest and most central point. The latter he describes “a spacious plain outstretch'd in circuit wide;" while the former he places between its two rivers, and terms it “ fair champain with less rivers intervein'd.”—Dunster.

d The one winding, the other straight. Dr. Newton and Mr. Dunster observe, that Strabo describes the Euphrates passing through the country with a winding stream, lib. xi. p. 521; and hence it is called "vagus Euphrates” by Statius, and “flexuosus" by Martianus Capella. With the same accuracy, the Tigris is here termed straight, being described as swift in its course as an arrow :

260

265

Fair champain with less rivers intervein'd,
Then meeting join’d their tribute to the sea :P
Fertile of corn the glebe, of oil, and wine ;5
With herds the pastures throng'd, with flocks the hills ;
Huge cities and high-tower’d," that well might seem
The seats of mightiest monarchs; and so large
The prospect was, that here and there was room
For barren desert, fountainless and dry.
To this high mountain too the tempter brought
Our Saviour, and new train of words began :

Well have we speeded, and o'er hill and dale,
Forest and field and flood, temples and towers,
Cut shorter many a league: here thou behold’st
Assyria, and her empire's ancient bounds,
Araxes and the Caspian lake; thence on
As far as Indus east, Euphrates west,
And oft beyond : to south the Persian bay,
And, inaccessible, the Arabian drouth:1

270

“ Unde concitatur, a celeritate Tigris incipit vocari : ita appellant Medi sagittam,” Plin. “ Nat. Hist.” lib. vi. c. 27.-TODD.

e With less rivers intervein'd. Quintus Curtius, having spoken of the great fertility of the country between the Euphrates and the Tigris, adds,-“Causa fertilitatis est humor, qui ex utroque amne manat, toto fere solo propter venas aquarum resudante,” l. v. c. 1.-DUNSTER.

i Then meeting join'd their tribute to the sea. Strabo describes these two rivers, after having encircled Mesopotamia, joining their streams near Babylon, and flowing into the Persian Gulf, l. xi. p. 521.-DUNSTER.

6 Fertile of corn the glebe, of oil, and wine. See “Paradise Lost," b. xii. 18, and Ovid. “Amor." 11. xvi. 19. Dr. Newton, conceiving this description of the fertility of the country to refer only or principally to Mesopotamia, cites a passage from Dionysius as copied here by Milton. Quintus Curtius likewise notices the peculiar fertility of the "fair champain" between the two rivers, 1. v. 1: and Strabo terms Mesopotamia, “a country abounding in pastures and rich vegetation,” l. xvi. p. 747. But the greater part of this "large prospect," at least of those countries which lny cast of Mesopotamia as far as India, is well entitled to this description of fertility either considered figurative or literal: as both ancient and modern accounts combine to show.-DUNSTER.

h Huye cities and high torer'd. So also in the “ Allegro," v. 117:4" Tower'd cities please us then.”—THYER.

i O'er hill and dale, &c. Milton, for the most part, is fond of the singular number in combination.—T. WARTON.

j Here thou behold'st

Assyria, and her empire's ancient bounds. The situation of Mount Niphates, it has been already observed, was particularly adapted for this view. The poet here traces accurately the bounds of the Assyrian empire in its greatest extent; the river Araxes and the Caspian lake to the north; the river Indus to the east; the river Euphrates to the west, and “oft beyond" as far as the Mediterranean; and the Persian bay and the deserts of Arabia to the south. Duxster.

* Inaccessible. Solinus describes in a similar manner the most desert parts of Africa. Speaking of the boundaries of the province of Cyrene, he says,—"A tergo barbarorum variw nationes, et solitudo inaccessa,” c. 30.--DUNSTER.

1 The Arabian drouth. This figure of speech is equally bold and of fine effect.

275

Here Nineveh," of length within her wall
Several days' journey, built by Ninus old,
Of that first golden monarchy" the seat,
And seat of Salmanassar, whose success
Israel in long captivity still mourns :
There Babylon, the wonder of all tongues,
As ancient, but rebuilt by him who twice
Judah and all thy father David's house
Led captive, and Jerusalem laid waste,
Till Cyrus set them free; Persepolis,
His city,' there thou seest, and Bactra there;

280

285

I cannot forbear inserting here a citation from a poet of our own country, contemporary with Milton, where a description of the “sandy desert" is given in the same bold style. I cite the passage more at large than is necessary, from an opinion that the whole of it must be acceptable to the reader of taste. It is taken from the “ Address to the Deity," which concludes the poems of George Sandys, printed in 1638, under the title of “A Paraphrase on Divine Poems:"

O, who hath tasted of thy clemency
In greater measure, or more oft, than I ?
My grateful verse thy goodness shall display,
o thou that went'et alone in all my way,
To where the morning with perfumed wings
From the high mountains of Panchan springs;
To that new-found-out world, where sober night
Takes from the Antipodes her silent flight;
To those dark sons, where horrid winter reigns,
And binds the stubborn floods in icy chains;
To Libyan wastes, whose thirst no showers assuage,

And where swoln Nilus cools the lion's rage. Sandys was the translator of Ovid. Part of this volume of poems consists of a “Paraphrase of the Psalms;" which Mr. Warton justly terms admirable. There is also a * Paraphrase of the Book of Job," in so masterly a style, that it may be well doubted if any poet of tho succeeding century has surpassed it in a similar attempt.-Dunster.

m Here Nineveh, &c. This city was situated on the Tigris; "of length,” i. e. of circuit, "within her wall, several days' journey:" according to Diodorus Siculus, lib. ii., its circuit was sixty of our miles; and in Jonah, ii. 3, it is said to be "an exceeding great city of three days' journey,” twenty miles being the common computation of a day's journey for a foottraveller; “ built by Ninus old,” after whom the city is said to be called “Nineveh ; of that first golden monarchy the sent," a capital city of the Assyrian empire, which the poet styles "golden monarchy," probably in allusion to the golden head of the image in Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the four empires; "and seat of Salmanassar," who in the reign of Hezekiah king of Judah carried the ten tribes captive into Assyria seven hundred and twenty-one years before Christ; so that it might now be properly called "a long captivity." —Newtox.

n That first golden monarchy. “Golden” is here generally descriptive of the splendour of monarchy. See "Paradise Lost," b. ii. 4. *Golden” might also have a political reference to Milton's apprehensions of the great expenses of monarchy; with respect to which, in justifying his republican principles, he bad said that “the trappings of a monarchy would set up an ordinary commonwealth."-DUNSTER.

There Babylon, &c. As Nineveh was situated on the river Tigris, so was Bahylon on the Euphrates; "the wonder of all tongues,” for it is reckoned among the seven wonders of the world.NEwron.

p Persepolis,

His city, &c. The city of Cyrus; if not built by him, yet by him made the capital city of the Persian empire; "and Bactra there," the chief city of Bactriana, a province of Persia, famous for its fruitfulness; mentioned by Virgil, "Georg." ii. 136.--Newton.

Ecbatana her structure vast there shows,
And Hecatompylos her hundred gates;
There Susa by Choaspes," amber stream,
The drink of none but kings;s of later fame,
Built by Emathian or by Parthian hands,

200

9 Ecbatana her structure vast there shows. Ancient historians speak of Ecbatana, the metropolis of Media, as a very large city. -NEWTON.

Susa by Choaspes. Susa, the Shushan of the Holy Scriptures, and the royal seat of the kings of Persia, who resided here in the winter and at Ecbatana in the summer, was situated on the river Choaspes, or Eulæus, or Ulai, as it is called in Daniel; or rather on the confluence of these two rivers, which meeting at Susa, form one great river, sometimes called by one name, and sometimes by the other.-Newtox.

The drink of none but kings. If we examine it as an historical problem, whether the kings of Persia alone drank of the river Choaspes, we shall find great reason to determine in the negative. We have for that opinion the silence of many authors, by whom we might have expected to have found it confirmed, had they known of any such custom. Herodotus, Strabo, Tibullus, Ausonius, Maximus Tyrius, Aristides, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Athenæus, Dionysius Periegetes, and Eustathius, have mentioned Choaspes, or Eulæus, as the drink of the kings of Persia or Parthia, or have called it Bacidikov idwp, regia lympha, but have not said that they alone drank of it. I say Choaspes or Eulæus, because some make them the same, and others counted them different rivers. The silence of Herodotus ought to be of great weight, because he is so particular in his account of the Persian affairs; and, next to his, the silence of Pliny, who had read so many authors, is considerable. Though it can hardly be expected that a negative should be proved any other way than from the silence of writers; yet it so happens, that Ælian, if his authority be admitted, affords us a full proof that the water of Choaspes might be drunk by the subjects of the kings of Persia :-“In the carriages which followed Xerxes, there were abundance of things which served only for pomp and ostentation; there was also the water of Choaspes. The army being oppressed with thirst in a desert place, and the carriages being not yet come up; it was proclaimed that if any one had of the water of Choaspes, he should give it Xerxes to drink. One was found who had a little, and that not sweet. Xerxes drank it, and accounted him who gave it him a benefactor, because he had perished with thirst if that little had not been found,” Var. Hist, xii. 40. Mention is made indeed by Agathocles of a certain water, which none but Persian kings might drink; and if any other writers mention it, they take it from Agathocles. We find it in Athenæus:-“ Agathocles says that there is in Persia a water called golden; that it consists of seventy streams; that none drink of it except the king and his eldest son, and that if any person does, death is the punishment.” It does not however appear, that the “golden water" and “Choaspes" were the same. Eustathius, having transcribed this passage from Agathocles, adds :-“Quære, whether the water of Choaspes, which the Persian king drank in his expeditions, was forbidden to all others under the same penalty,” Eustathius in Homer. “Iliad.” Y. p. 1301, ed. Basil. It may be granted, and it is not at all improbable, that none besides the king might drink of that water of Choaspes, which was boiled and barrelled up for his use in his military expeditions. Solinus, indeed, who is a frivolous writer, says,—“Choaspes ita dulcis est, ut Persici reges, quamdiu intra ripas Persidis fluit, solis sibi ex eo pocula vindicarint." Milton, therefore, considered as a poet, with whose purpose the fabulous suited best, is by no means to be blamed for what he has advanced; as even the authority of Solinus is sufficient to justify him.--Jortin.

+ Built by Emathian or by Parthian hande, &c. Cities of later date, “built by Emathian hands," that is, Macedonian ; by the successors of Alexander in Asia. “ The great Seleucia," built near the river Tigris by Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander's captains, and called “great," to distinguish it from others of the same name. Nisibis, another city upon the Tigris, called also Antiochia ; “ Antiochia, quam Nisibin vocant.” Plin. vi. 16. Artasata, the chief city of Armenia, seated upon the river Araxes: “juxta Araxem Artaxate.” Plin. vi. 10. Teredon, a city near the Persian bav, below the confluence of Euphrates and Tigris; Teredon infra confluentem Eurhratis et Tigris." Plin. vi. 28. Ctesiphon, near Seleucia, the winter residence of the Parthian kings. Strabo, l. xvi. p. 743.-Newton.

285

The great Seleucia, Nisibis, and there
Artaxata, Teredon, Ctesiphon,
Turning with easy eye, thou mayst behold
All these the Parthian" (now some ages past,
By great Arsaces led, who founded first
That empire) under his dominion holds,
From the luxurious kings of Antioch' won.
And just in time thou comest to have a view
Of his great power;" for now the Parthian king
In Ctesiphon hath gather'd all his host *
Against the Scythian, whose incursions wild
Have wasted Sogdiana; to her aid

u All these the Parthian, &c. All these cities, which before belonged to the Seleucida or Syro-Macedonian princes, sometimes called “ kings of Antioch,” from their usual place of residence, were now under the dominion of the Parthians, whose empire was founded by Arsaces, who revolted from Antiochus Theus, according to Prideaux, two hundred and fifty years before Christ. This view of the Parthian empire is much more agreeably and poetically described than Adam's prospect of the kingdoms of the world from the mount of vision in the “Paradise Lost," xi. 385—411: but still the anachronism in this is worse than in the other: in the former, Adam is supposed to take a view of cities many years before they were built; and in the latter our Saviour beholds cities, as Nineveh, Babylon, &c., in this flourishing condition many years after they were laid in ruins; but it was the design of the former vision to exhibit what was future, it was not the design of the latter to exhibit what was past.-NEWTON.

The immediate object of this temptation was to awaken ambition in our blessed Lord, by showing him “all the kingdoms of the world and the glory of them,” that is, the splendour of the great empires that had been, or still were in existence. Whatever anachronism therefore there may be in this place, it is surely not introduced uselessly and unnecessarily, as Dr. Newton insinuates.--DUNSTER.

The luxurious kings of Antioch. No particular luxury seems laid by history to the charge of Antiochus Theus; thougŁ it was the profligate conduct of Agathocles, or Andragoras, then governor of Parthis under him, that incited the resentment of Arsaces, and was the cause of the revolt, ana finally of the creation of the Parthian empire. See Prideaux, part ii. b. 2. Milton had probably here in his mind the descriptions given in history of the luxury and profligacy of Antiochus Epiphanes; whose abandoned conduct and dissipation was such, that instead of Epiphanes, or the Illustrious, which name he had assumed, he was generally known by that of Epimanes, or the Madman. See “Polyb. apud Athenæum," :1. v. DUNSTER.

w And just in time thou comest to have a viero

Of his great power, &c. Milton, considering, very probably, that a geographic description of kingdoms, how. ever varied in the manner of expression and diversified with little circumstances, must soon grow tedious, has very judiciously thrown in this digressive picture of an army mustering for an expedition, which he has executed in a very masterly manner. The same conduct he has observed in the subsequent description of the Roman empire, by introducing into the scene prætors and proconsuls marching out of their provinces with troops, lictors, rods, and other ensigns of power; and ambassadors making their entrance into that imperial city from all parts of the world. There is great art and design in this contrivance of our author; and the more, as there is no appearance of any, so naturally are the parts connected.—THYER..

* For now the Parthian king In Ctesiphon hath gathered all his host, &c. Ctesiphon seems to have been the general place of rendezvous of the Parthian army, Wherever their destination might be. Strabo says that the Parthian kings, who had before made Seleucia their winter residence, removed to Ctesiphon, because it was larger, and more calculated for considerable military preparations; and because they wished to save the inhabitants of Seleucia from the inconveniences of a numerous army in a place not sufficiently large to receive them.--DUNSTER.

« AnteriorContinuar »