Literary Criticism of Alexander Pope

By Bertrand A. Goldgar | Go to book overview
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Postscript to the Odyssey (1726)

I cannot dismiss this work without a few observations on the true character and style of it. Whoever reads the Odyssey with an eye to the Iliad, expecting to find it of the same character or of the same sort of spirit, will be grievously deceived and err against the first principle of criticism, which is to consider the nature of the piece and the intent of its author. The Odyssey is a moral and political work, instructive to all degrees of men and filled with images, examples, and precepts of civil and domestic life. Homer is here a person "who has learned what he owes his country and his friends, what love is due a parent, a brother, and a guest; who tells us what is fair, what is foul, what is helpful, what not, more plainly and better than Chrysippus or Crantor."1 The Odyssey is the reverse of the Iliad in moral, subject, manner, and style, to which it has no sort of relation but as the story happens to follow in order of time and as some of the same persons are actors in it. Yet from this incidental connection many have been misled to regard it as a continuation or second part, and thence to expect a parity of character inconsistent with its nature.

It is no wonder that the common reader should fall into this mistake, when so great a critic as Longinus seems not wholly free from it, although what he has said has been generally understood to import a severer censure of the Odyssey than it really does, if we consider the occasion on which it is introduced and the circumstances to which it is confined.

1. Qui didicit, patriae quid debeat et quid amicis,
quo sit amore parens, quo frater amandus, et hospes

Horace Ars Poetica, 312-313.

Qui quid sit pulchrum, quid turpe, quid utile, quid non,
plenius et melius Chrysippo et Crantore dicit
.

Horace Epist. I. ii, 3-4.

Translation by Fairclough.

-147-

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