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LAODAMIA PROTESILAO

While the Greeks were preparing for their expedition against Troy. Protesilaus, the son of Iphiclus, as we learn from Homer (Il. 2.695 ff), joined them with forty ships. The fleet being detained by contrary winds at Aulis, the oracle was consulted; and the answer imported, that, as Agamemnon, the general of the confederates, had offended Diana by killing one of her stags, nothing less would appease the goddess for that offence, than the sacrifice of one of his children. Iphigenia was proposed as the victim for a propitious voyage. During the time that the fleet lay thus wind-bound, Laodamia, the daughter of Acastus, and wife to Protesilaus, (one who sincerely loved her husband, and had often been alarmed by ominous dreams), is supposed to have written this epistle, in which she endeavours to dissuade him from engaging in the war. The Greeks had been told by the oracle, that whoever should first set foot upon Trojan ground was doomed to fall. Laodamia is unable to dissemble her concern; and knowing him to have a brave undaunted soul, desires him, for her sake, not to be too forward, but remember that her life depends upon his, and that the same wound must prove equally fatal to both. In fine, she exacts this as a testimony of the continuance of his affection; and tells him that she will judge of his love for her, by the care he takes of himself.

[2] aemonis Laodamia; Laodamia of Thessaly; for Thessaly is often mentioned by the ancients under the name of aemonia.

Optat salutem ire quo mittitur; that is, mittit salutem ad maritum suum, et optat cum pertenire alide quo mittitur. 'She sends health to her husband, and wishes that the health she sends him may arrive.'

[3] Aulide. Aulis was a town and harbour in Boeotia, over-against Chalcis, a city of Euboea.

Having mentioned, in a former note, the detention of the Grecian fleet in this port, and the intended sacrifice, we may here observe, that, when Iphigenia was conducted to the altar, Diana, out of compassion, put a hart in her place. The virgin was afterwards made her priestess. Hence our poet, speaking of the same event, says,

Supposita fertur mulasse Mycaenida cerva.

So say Martial, Juvenal, and several other poets Yet Virgil and Propertius tell us that she was actually sacrificed.

[15] Boreas; the north wind. This was favorable to Protesilaus, in sailing from the western coast of Thessaly to Aulis and Troy.

[33] Bicorniger; Bacchus, who had horns ascribed to him by the poets, on account of the effects of wine.

Pampinea hasta. This must be understood of the rod given by the poets to Bacchus, and which is usually called Thyrsus. The persons whom that deity was supposed to touch with it, were immediately seized with a prophetic fury.

[35] Matres Phylleides; the Thessalian matrons; so called from Phyllus, a city of Thessaly. Some copies have Phylacides.

[37] Scilicet ipsa geram. This is an answer to these who urged Laodamia to assume the air and appearance of royalty. It is full of affection and tenderness for Protesilaus. She is so nearly concerned in whatever regards him, that she can take pleasure in nothing unless he is a participator, and affects to imitate him, as far as she can, in his very dangers and hardships.

Saturatas murice vestes. Murex is the name of a fish of whose blood the ancients made use in dyeing purple.

[38] Iliacis moenibus; the walls of Troy. For this city was known by various names. Among the rest it was called Ilium, from Ilus one of its kings, who enlarged and fortified it.

[45] Taenarim maritae; Helen; so called from Taenarus, a promontory of Laconia; in which country her husband Menelaus reigned.

Culpasse. The making Laodamia thus trace back the war to its source, is a masterly stroke of art in the poet. Nothing is more common, when any disaster happens to us, than to examine all the minute circumstances which contributed to it, and lament that they were not prevented. Had Paris found Helen less beautiful, he would never have thought of carrying her away, or have given occasion to that unhappy war, by which Laodamia was deprived of her husband.

[48] Hei mihi, &c. We are usually very quick-sighted in what more nearly concerns ourselves. As Menelaus was determined, if possible, to recover Helen, and avenge the injury done him by Paris, he had engaged almost ail Greece to take up arms in his cause, and was conducting into Asia a set of troops healed by the flower of the Grecian princes. As Troy was a very powerful city, it was natural to think that much blood must be shed in this war, and many thousands lose their lives. Laodamia, who was apprehensive for her husband, quickly foresees this, and prays God to avert the omen from her. "Alas, Menelaus, the revenge you now take will he mournful to many: wives shall grieve for the loss of their husbands, and children for their parents; but grant, Heaven, that I may avaid so terrible a calamity."

[53] Tenedos; an island within sight of Troy, whither the Grecian fleet retired when the stratagem of the wooden herse was contrived.

Simoisque et Xanthus; two rivers that ran through the plains of Troy.

Ide; a mountain of Phrygia. There was another of the same name in Crete, of great fame among the poets.

[54] Nomina sunt ipso, &c. It is very natural for Laodamia to express her fears in this manner. The fame and wealth of Troy, the number of tributary provinces, and improbability that Paris would have engaged in an attempt so hazardous, had he not known that his strength was equal to it, must all appear terrible to her. The sentiments are admirably adapted both to the person and her circumstances. Fear multiplies dangers, and begets a thousand foreboding apprehensions.

[58] Phrygias corpore ferret opes. His person was adorned with a magnificence that evinced the wealth of his country.

[60] Pars quotacunque. How small, how in-

considerable a part! The meaning is, Paris came attended with a great fleet, and a numerous crowd of followers; and vet these were merely an inconsiderable part of what his kingdom could furnish. By this she would insinuate to Protesilaus, that he had engaged in a perilous war, of which the success was very doubtful.

[61] Ledaea; Helen; so called because she was the daughter of Leda.

Consors gemellis; 'sister to the twins:' that is, to Castor and Pollux, who both sprang from the same egg.

[63] Hectora nescio quem timeo. Hector was the son of Priam; and, principally by his valor, Troy was enabled to sustain a singe of ten years. It was in this war that he gave the greatest proofs of his courage. But we may suppose that he had already accurired considerable fame, and that this, though obscurely, might have reached the ears of Laodania. There is a propriety in the poet's thus making her speak, as if she knew him only by name.

[79] Parcite, Dardanidae. This name was given to the Trojans by Dardanus, one of their kings. There is great eloquence in the manner in which the poet makes her address the Trojans. The apprehension of her husband's danger possesses her so strongly, that she fancies herself present; she sees the hands of his enemies lifted up against him, and, in a transport of passion, calls out to them to spare a wife to dear to her.

[83] Fortius ille potest. The sentiment is beautiful, and happy beyond expression. Laodamia had felt the power of Protesilaus in the combats of love, and, as she found her heart wholly devoted to him, might easily think him invincible in that respect. But to his talent for war she was quite a stranger, and was, moreover, desirous that his inclinations might not lead him to it, lest it should prompt him to expose himself too much to danger. We shall see that Protesilaus distinguished himself no less by his bravery, than by his turn for gallantry.

[93] Sors quoque nescio quem. The Greeks had been informed by the oracle, that he of their number who should first set foot upon Trojan ground was doomed to fall. Laodamia, whose fears gave her a thousand apprehensions, begs that he will not be too rash, and expose himself to an unavoidable fate. This proved to be his case in the sequel: for, when the Grecian fleet arrived in Phrygia, almost every one, mindful of the prediction of the oracle, scrupled to be the first that landed: till at length Protesilaus, full of indignation at such unmanly delays, boldly leaped on shore, and was soon after slain by Hector.

[120] Multa tamen capies oscula, &c. It is impossible to imagine anything more finely touched than this account of Laodamia. She cannot forbear entertaining her mind with the agreeable imagination of his return, and the happy scenes that will then pass between them. Her near concern for him will make her anxious to know all that happened to him during his absence: he must gratify her curiosity, by relating every thing distinctly. As he will have frequent occasion to mention his dangers and narrow escapes, her joy to find him still safe, will be apt to express itself in fond and endearing caresses. These will produce an agreedle interruption of his recital, and make him enter again upon the story with fresh pleasure.

[135] Sed quid ego, &c. The several copies of Ovid differ very much in their manner of exhibiting this verse. Some have it thus:

Sed quid ago revocans? revocantis nomen abesto.

Heinsius, on the other hand, thinks that it ought to be,

Sed quid ego hos revoco? revocaminis omen abesto.

But however we determine as to the reading, the

sense is plain. Laodamia fearing that her recalling might imply some bad omen, stops short, and wishes a prosperous gale, and speedy arrival on the coast of Troy.

[137] Troasin invideo. The sentiment is ingenious, and agrees with that strength of passion which Laodamia breathes through this whole epistle. Every one knows, that nothing is more irksome to lovers than absence. Laodamia is so impatient under it, that she thinks any condition preferable to hers. The Trojan matrons were far happier, although spectators of the danger and fate of their husbands. They were employed in many grateful offices about them, buckled on their armour, charged them with their last commands, and were at once delivered from the tortures of a cruel suspense; whereas her fate was to be distracted between hope and fear, while her foreboding mind suggested a thousand dangers, and kept her under perpetual anxieties and alarms.

[153] Illi blanditias, illi tibi debita verba. One may observe of this epistle, what has been so

often observed of Homer's poems; that the poet, far from shewing his whole strength at the entrance of his work, still grows upon his reader, and increases his admiration the farther he proceeds. After the endearing expressions of love and tenderness which we meet with in the foregoing parts of this epistle, and the natural and strong images by which Laodamia paints so powerfully her affectionate feelings, one would think it impossible to carry this passion to a greater height. And yet, behold a new seene presented to us; a seene, that nothing less than the happy imagination of an Ovid could have devised. Her only compensation for the absence of Protesilaus, is an image of him which she often took a pleasure in viewing. To this she contracts a fondness, and gives it the same caresses which she was wont to give her Protesilaus. To such a height is her love carried at last, that she is apt to imagine it more than barely an image. She fancies, it wants only a voice to be Protesilaus himself, and vainly complains to it, as if she expected an answer.

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