[10arg] What Favorinus thought of the verses of Virgil in which he imitated the poet Pindar in his description of an eruption of Mount Aetna; his comparison and evaluation of the verses of the two poets on the same theme.
I REMEMBER that the philosopher Favorinus, when he had gone during the hot season to the villa of a friend of his at Antium, and I had come from Rome to see him, discoursed in about the following manner about the poets Pindar and Virgil. “The friends and intimates of Publius Vergilius,” said he, “in the accounts which they have left us of his talents and his character, say that he used to declare that he produced verses after the manner and fashion of a [p. 241] bear. For he said that as that beast brought forth her young formless and misshapen, and afterwards by licking the young cub gave it form and shape, just so the fresh products of his mind were rude in form and imperfect, but afterwards by working over them and polishing them he gave them a definite form and expression. 1 That this was honestly and truly said by that man of fine taste,” said he, "is shown by the result. For the parts that he left perfected and polished, to which his judgment and approval had applied the final hand, enjoy the highest praise for poetical beauty; but those parts which he postponed, with the intention of revising them later, but was unable to finish because he was overtaken by death, are in no way worthy of the fame and taste of the most elegant of poets. It was for that reason, when he was laid low by disease and saw that death was near, that he begged and earnestly besought his best friends to burn the Aeneid, which he had not yet sufficiently revised. “Now among the passages,” said Favorinus, “which particularly seem to have needed revision and correction is the one which was composed about Mount Aetna. For wishing to rival the poem which the earlier poet Pindar composed about the nature and eruption of that mountain, he has heaped up such words and expressions that in this passage at least he is more extravagant and bombastic even than Pindar himself, who was thought to have too rich and luxuriant a style. And in order that you yourselves,” said he, "may be judges of what I say, I will repeat Pindar's poem about Mount Aetna, so far as I can remember it: 2 [p. 243]
Mount Aetna, from whose inmost caves burst forth"Now hear the verses of Virgil, which I may more truly say that he began than finished: 4
The purest fount of unapproachable fire.
By day her rivers roll a lurid stream
Of smoke, while 'mid the gloom of night red flame,
On sweeping, whirleth rocks with crashing din
Far down to the deep sea. And high aloft
That monster 3 flingeth fearful founts of fire,
A marvel to behold or e'en to hear
From close at hand.
There lies a port, safe from the winds' approach,“Now in the first place,” said Favorinus, “Pindar has more closely followed the truth and has given a realistic description of what actually happened there, and what he saw with his own eyes; namely, that Aetna in the daytime sends forth smoke and at night fire; but Virgil, labouring to find grand and sonorous words, confuses the two periods of time and makes no distinction between them. Then the Greek has vividly pictured the streams of fire belched from the depths and the flowing rivers of smoke, and [p. 245] the rushing of lurid and spiral volumes of flame into the waters of the sea, like so many fiery serpents; but our poet, attempting to render ῥόον καπνοῦ αἴθωνα, 'a lurid stream of smoke,' has clumsily and diffusely piled up the words atram nubem turbine piceo et favilla fomented, 'a dusky cloud smoking with eddies black and glowing ash,' and what Pindar called κρουνοί, or 'founts,' he has harshly and inaccurately rendered by 'balls of flame.' Likewise when he says sidearm lamb it, 'it licks the stars,' this also,” he says, “is a useless and foolish elaboration. And this too is inexplicable and almost incomprehensible, when he speaks of a 'black cloud smoking with eddies black and glowing ash.' For things which glow,” said Favorinus, “do not usually smoke nor are they black; unless candenti ('glowing') is used vulgarly and inaccurately for hot ashes, instead of those which are fiery and gleaming. For candens, of course, is connected with candor, or 'whiteness,' not with calor ('heat'). But when he says saxa et scopulos eructari et erigi, 'that rocks and crags are spewed forth and whirled skyward,' and that these same crags at once liquefieri et gemere atque glomerari ad auras, 'are molten and groan and are whirled to heaven,' this,” he said, “is what Pindar never wrote and what was never spoken by anyone; and it is the most monstrous of all monstrous descriptions.” 5 [p. 247]
Spacious itself, but Aetna close at hand
Thunders with crashes dire, and now hurls forth
Skyward a dusky cloud with eddies black
And glowing ash, and uplifts balls of flame
And licks the stars; now spews forth rocks,
The mountain's entrails torn, hurls molten crags
Groaning to heaven, and seethes from depths profound.