View Full Version : To the Muses

March 29th, 2008, 05:51 AM


Daughters of Jove, dire-sounding and divine, 1
Renown'd Pierian, sweetly speaking Nine;

To those whose breasts your sacred furies fire
Much-form'd, the objects of supreme desire:

Sources of blameless virtue to mankind, 5
Who form to excellence the youthful mind;

Who nurse the soul, and give her to descry
The paths of right with Reason's steady eye.

Commanding queens who lead to sacred light
The intellect refin'd from Error's night; 10

And to mankind each holy rite disclose,
For mystic knowledge from your nature flows.

Clio, and Erato, who charms the sight,
With thee Euterpe minist'ring delight:

Thalia flourishing, Polymina fam'd, 15
Melpomene from skill in music nam'd:

Terpischore, Urania heav'nly bright,
With thee * who gav'st me to behold the light.
Come, venerable, various, pow'rs divine,
With fav'ring aspect on your mystics shine; 20
Bring glorious, ardent, lovely, fam'd desire,
And warm my bosom with your sacred fire.


205:1 Ver. i.] Daughters of Jove. Proclus, in some manuscript commentary, cited by Gyraldus, in Syntag. de Musis. says that the Muses are called the daughters of Jove and Mnemosyne, because to those who desire to posses disciplines and sciences, intellect and the power of memory are necessary as the first requisites: the latter of which the Greeks call μνημονικὸσ, the former νοητικὸσ. But as the best explanation of the nature of the Muses is given by Proclus, in his Commentary or, Plato's Republic, accompanied with all that philosophical elegance and subtilty which he possessed in so remarkable a degree, I persuade myself the following Paraphrase on his discourse concerning the different kinds of poets, will be highly acceptable to the liberal reader; and that its great excellence will amply compensate for its length.

"In the first place then, there are three poetic forms corresponding to the three different powers of the soul, Intellect, Reason, and Opinion. These we shall explain according to the opinion of Plato; and produce from Homer examples of each. The first kind of poetry then, is similar to intellect. But intellect is the best, most perfect, and most divine power of the soul: it is the most similar to a divine life, in the contemplation of which it is wholly employed, and is swallowed up as it were in the essence of divinity; so that it enkindles its own light from the splendor of the Gods, and conjoins its own most simple essence with supernatural unity. In like manner the most excellent kind of poetry, gives beatitude to the soul, from divinity, and places it among the Gods; participating by an ineffable union with the participated deities, and conjoining that which is filled with good, with its replenishing source. Hence it abstracts the soul from all material connections, illuminates it with celestial light, inflames it with a divine fire; and compels the whole inferior constitution of the soul, to be obedient to intellect alone. Indeed, a Fury of this kind is more excellent than any temperance; since it furnishes the soul with such a symmetry and proportion of divinity, that the very words bursting forth as its last effects, appear to be adorned with the beautiful bands of measure and number. For as prophetic fury arises from truth, and the amatorial from beauty; so the poetic proceeds from divine symmetry, by means of which it most intimately unites the poets with the Gods. Plato, in the Phædrus, speaking of this Fury, says that it is an occupation of the Muses; and a Fury sent from above on tender and untouched souls. That its employment is to fufcitate and inspire the poet, according to odes and the other kinds of poetry but its end, the instruction of posterity by celebrating the infinite deeds of antiquity. From these words it is plain, that Plato, in the first place, ascribes divinity to this kind of poetry, as being derived from the Muses; who fill as well intelligible as sensible works with paternal harmony, and ellegant motion. But he calls it an occupation, because the whole illustrated soul, resigns itself to the present effect of illuminating divinity: and a Fury, because it relinquishes its own proper ingenuity, and is carried according to the vigorous impulse of a superior power. Again, in the second place he describes the habit of the soul thus occupied: for, he say, it ought to be tender and untouched; not rigid, hard, and filled with many and various opinions, foreign from inspiring divinity: but it should be soft and tender, that it may easily admit divine inspiration; and untouched, that it may be sincere and empty of all other concerns. In the third place, he adds its common employment; that it is perfected by the afflatus of the Muses, and by the soul properly disposed for its reception. Indeed fafcitation is an elevation of the soul, an operation but little depraved, and a vigorous conversion to the deity, from a lapse into the whirls of generation. But an afflatus is a divine motion, and an unwearied musical dance towards the inspiring deity. Lastly, he testifies that human concerns spoken from a divine mouth, become more perfect, illustrious, and more convenient for the delivery of true doctrine to the hearers, Not that this kind of poetry is accommodated to juvenile tuition, but is the most convenient of all for the instruction of those who are perfect in politic discipline, and who earnestly desire the mystical tradition of divine concerns. On this account, Plato deservedly prefers it to all human arts. But he who (as he writes in the same place) approaches to the poetic gates, without the Fury of the Muses, trusting that he may become a good poet by a certain art, will be himself empty, as well as his poetry, in respect of that which proceeds from Fury; before whose presence, the poetry vanishes which is dictated by prudence alone." Thus far from the Phædrus.

Again, not dissimilar to these, are the words of Socrates in the Iö. For when the rhapsodist affirms, that he abounds with a copiousness of discourse on Homer, but not upon the other poets, Socrates ascribes the cause of this to his being moved by divine force, and not by art. For unless he was peculiarly inclined to Homer by a divine instinct, he would he equally as copious on all other poets as upon Homer. But the first mover says he is a God or a Muse, that is a divine cause; from thence the poet is excited, and from him again the rhapsodist. Hence poetic Fury is a medium between a divine principle and the rhapsodist, moving, and at the same time moved, and distributing supernal gifts to inferiors, by a certain latent consent; by means of which, these degrees cohere among themselves in the same manner as many iron rings depending from a magnet, each of which communicates in gradation, its alluring and attractive power to the other. So in the poetic chain, it is requisite there should be something divine, which, through proper mediums, may connect the last to the first monad. This Fury Homer, as well as Plato, calls at one time in the plural number Muses, and at another time in the singular number a Muse: in the first case, having respect to the multitude of the chain of the Muses; but in the second to the coherent union of all things, which is inserted from the first cause in inferior natures. For indeed poetry subsists in a secret and uniform manner in the first mover, and afterwards in poets excited by that unity, like the revolution of a thread from its bottom clew εἴνειλεγμένως, but in the rhapsodist's, according to the lowest and ministrant degree. And thus much it is sufficient for the present to have alledged from Plato's Iö. He who desires more, must consult that dialogue, where he will find many things commending this first and divine kind of Poets.

We shall farther add the testimony of the Athenian guest and of Timæus. For he exhorts us to follow poets seized with the Fury of Apollo, such being the sons of the Gods, and knowing in the best manner the concerns of their progenitors, although they deliver them without the assistance of arguments and demonstrations. And Plato, in the third book of his Laws, thus writes: "This genus of poets is divine, it is agitated by the Gods, composes sacred hymns, and every where embraces Truth attended with the Graces and Muses." To which may be added, that in the first Alcibiades, he says, the nature of poetry is ænigmatical, and is not manifest to every understanding.

Indeed, you will find in Homer all kinds of poetry; but he has less of imagination and imitation, and excels in the first, concerning which we are now discoursing. For, inspired by the Muses and full of fury, he proposes mystical senses of divinity; such as concerning demiurgical unity, the triple division of the universe, the chains of Vulcan, and the connection of Jupiter with Juno. But Homer speaking of Demodocus (under whose person he wishes to signify himself, and on this account reports he was blind) says that he was a divine bard, loved by the Muses and their leader Apollo.

And thus much for the first kind of poets and poetry, according to Proclus; among which it is evident these Hymns must be ranked; as all sacred poetical composition belongs to this highest order. He then proceeds to the second kind of poetry, which the Greeks call διάνοια, or rational, as follows. Reason then is inferior to in dignity and power, yet it follows intellect as the leader of its energies, between which, and opinion, it is the connecting medium. And as soul by intellect is conjoined with the divinities; so by the assistance of reason it is converted into itself. Hence it revolves the multitude of arguments, considers the various differences of forms, collects intellect and the intelligent into one; and imitates in its operations an intelligible essence. But since prudence is the employment of reason, we attribute to it the second kind of poetry, which is a medium between the preceding, and the third which we shall next explain. This rational poetry, understands the essences of things, and is freely conversant about what is honest and good, as well in words as in actions, which are likewise the object of its contemplation. It produces every particular invested with elegant numbers and rythms; proposes moral sentences, the best counsels, intelligible moderation, and every virtue. Besides this, it teaches the circuits of the soul, its immortality and various powers; explains to mortals many names of an incorporeal nature, and produces many probable Dogmata respecting corporeal substance. The Athenian guest (in Plato, lib. i. De Legibus) testifies, that the poetry of Theognis is of this kind, which, because it teaches and commends every virtue, is justly to be preferred to the poetry of Tyrtæus, which exhorts to fortitude alone. But Homer represents this species of poetry, when he describes the life of the soul, the different essences of her parts, the difference between the image and the usurping soul, the variety subsisting in nature, the order of the elements of the universe, civil offices, and the like. But Homer himself, appears to have made Phemius the lyrist skilled in this kind of poetry, where Penelope says to him, lib. i.

"Alluring arts thou know'st, and what of old
"Of Gods and heroes, sacred bards have told."

After the two superior kinds of poetry, that inspired by Fury, and the rational; it remains to speak of the imitative. This last kind of poetry, then, is far distant from the excellence of the others; since it employs imaginations, opinions, and the irrational senses; from whence it contracts many vices, especially in that part of it, which is called phantastic. For it greatly raises moderate affection, disturbs the hearers, and, together with words, various harmonies, and numbers, changes the affections of the soul. It shadows over the nature of things not such as they are, but such as they appear to vulgar inspection; and explains them not according to an exact knowledge, but from a delusive imagination. Besides this, it proposes as its end the delight of its auditors; and particularly regards that part of the soul, which is obnoxious to the passions of joy and grief. But it is subdivided into two other kinds, one of which is conjectural or assimilatory, and the other phantastic. The latter of these represents only the apparent imitation and similitude, not that which is true; and considers its end accomplished, if it produces in the hearers pleasure and delight, belonging to the phantasy alone. But the other does not so much study the gratification of the popular ear, as a proper imitation, that it may express the things themselves, and exhibit to the eyes an exquisite image of that, concerning which it treats, and may as near as possible, express the exemplars which it imitates. But Plato himself, under the person of the Eleatean guest (in Sophista) describes the differences of each of these as follows. "I now appear to discern two species of imitation, one conjectural, or the art of assimilating, whose business is to fabricate an image emulous of its exemplar, as far as pertains to length, breadth, depth, and convenient colours. Theæt. Do not those who imitate something, perform this to the utmost of their ability? Guest. Not those who fashion or paint any great work. For if they bestowed on the resemblances the true commensuration of beautiful things, the superior members would appear less than is proper, and the inferior larger: because the one is beheld by us at a distance, the other near at hand. Theæt. Intirely so. Guest. Hence artists neglecting truth, do not accommodate to resemblances such commensurations as are really beautiful, but only such as appear so." From these words it is plain that Plato distinguishes each kind of imitation, not only in painting and statuary, but also in poetry; which he compares with those imitative arts. Again, the Athenian guest speaks separately of the conjectural kind, where he treats of that music which does not propose to itself pleasure, but a true and most similar imitation of its exemplar, as in the second book of Laws. Indeed, Socrates speaks of the phantastic kind in the tenth book of the Republic, comparing it to a picture which does not represent the works of nature, but of artists; and these not such as they are, but such as they appear, not imitating their reality, but only their phantastic representation. He likewise demonstrates that this kind of poetry is phantastic and is in the third degree from truth. But each kind of imitation is found in Homer. For he is then to be esteemed phantastic when he affirms any thing according to vulgar opinion; such as when ascribing the rising and setting of the sun, not from true situations, but from such as appear so to the senses, which are deceived by distance of place, But where he preserves types of imitation convenient to persons and things, as when he imitates heroes fighting, consulting, and speaking, framing deeds and discourses adapted to the life and pursuits of each, he ought to be called a conjectural poet. And of this kind perhaps is the lyrist of Clytemnestra, who so learnedly imitated examples of temperance by right opinion, that Clytemnestra was free from fault, while he resided with her. But it is lawful to call the musician Thamyris, phantastic, who, instead of the ancient and simple music, endeavoured to introduce one more pleasant, diversified in many ways, and calculated to please the senses and the vulgar. Hence he is feigned to have contended with the Muses themselves, by whom, having raised their anger, he was blinded; not that in reality the Muses are affected with anger, but because he was incapable of the true, simple, and ancient music; and laboured only to move the affectons and imagination, not following right opinion, or the science of imitation.

213:* Calliope.