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1 The purport of these lines (from v. 73 to 86), and their connection with what follows, hath not been fully seen. They would express this general proposition, "That the several kinds of poetry essentially differ from each other, as may be gathered, not solely from their different subjects, but their different measures; which good sense, and an attention to the peculiar natures of each, instructed the great inventors and masters of them to employ." The use made of this proposition is to infer, "That therefore the like attention should be had to the different species of the same kind of poetry (v. 89, etc.), as in the case of tragedy and comedy (to which the application is made), whose peculiar differences and correspondences, as resulting from the natures of each, should, in agreement to the universal law of decorum, be exactly known and diligently observed by the poet."
2 Elegy was at first only a lamentation for the death of a person beloved, and probably arose frem the death of Adonis. It was afterward applied to the joys and griefs of lovers.
4 “Indignatur item … Coena Thyestae.” Hor. Ars 90 “"Il met le souper de Thyeste pour toutes sortes de tragedies,"” says M. Dacier, with whom agrees the whole band of commentators: but why this subject should be singled out, as the representative of the rest, is nowhere explained by any of them. We may be sure, it was not taken up at random. The reason was, that the Thyestes of Ennius was peculiarly chargeable with the fault here censured; as is plain from a curious passage in the Orator, where Cicero, speaking of the loose numbers of certain poets, observes this, in particular, of the tragedy of Thyestes, “Similia sunt quaedam apud nostros: velut in Thyeste, “Quemnam te esse dicam? qui tarda in senectute,
” et quae sequuntur: quae, nisi cum tibicen accesserit, oratione sunt solutae simillimae”: which character exactly agrees to this of Horace, wherein the language of that play is censured, as flat and prosaic, and hardly rising above the plain narrative of an ordinary conversation in comedy. This allusion to a particular play, written by one of their best poets, and frequently exhibited on the Roman stage, gives great force and spirit to the precept, at the same time that it exemplifies it in the happiest manner. It seems further probable to me, that the poet also designed an indirect compliment to Varius, whose Thyestes we are told (Quinctil. l. x c. 1) was not inferior to any tragedy of the Greeks. This double intention of these lines well suited to the poet's general aim, which is seen through all his critical works, of beating down the excessive admiration of the old poets, and of asserting and advancing the just honors of the deserving moderns. It may further be observed, that the critics have not felt the force of the words “exponi” and “narrari” in this precept. They are admirably chosen to express the two faults condemned: the first implying a kind of pomp and ostentation in the language, which is therefore improper for the low subjects of comedy; and the latter, as I have hinted, a flat, prosaic expression, not above the cast of a common narrative, and therefore equally unfit for tragedy.
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