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Sthenelus gives Agamemnon a short account of the sacking of Thebes. After the fall of those heroes, celebrated by Statius, their sons, and among the rest Diomede, undertook the siege of that city, and were so fortunate as to succeed in their en. terprize, and to revenge on the Thebans and the tyrant Creon the death of their fathers. These young herges were known to the Greeks under the title of the Epigoni, or the descendants; and for this reason the author has given to his poem the title of Epigoniad, a name, it must be confessed somewhat unfortu. nately chosen, for as this particular was known only to a very few of the learn. ed, the public were not able to conjecture what could be the subject of the poem, and were apt to neglect what it was impossible for them to understand.
“ There remained a tradition among the Greeks, that Homer had taken the siege of Thebes for the subject of a poem, which is lost; and our author seems to have pleased himself with the thought of reviving the work, as well as of treading in the footsteps of his favourite author. The actors are mostly the same with those of the Iliad : Diomede is the hero : Ulysses, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Nestor, Idomeneus, Merion, even Thersites, all appear in different passages of the poem, and act parts suitable to the lively characters drawn of them by that great master. The whole turn of this new poem would almost lead us to imagine that the Scot. tish bard had found the lost manuscript of that father of poetry, and had made a faithful translation of it into English. Longinus imagines that the Odyssey was ex. ecuted by Homer in his old age; we shall allow the Iliad to be the work of his middle
; and we shall suppose that the Epigoniad was the essay of his youth, where his noble and sublime genius breaks forth by frequent intervals, and gives strong symptoms of that constant flame which distinguished its meridian.
“The poem consists of nine books. We shall open the subject of it in the author's own words :
Ye pow'rs of song! with whose immortal fire
This theme did once your fav'rite bard employ,
By this attempt to merit equal praise
And hiss contempt for merited applause. "The poet supposes that Cassandra, the daughter of the king of Pelignium in Italy, was pursued by the love of Echetus, a barbarous tyrant in the neighbourhood; and as her father rejected his addresses, he drew on himself the resentment of the tyrant, who made war upon him, and forced him to retire into Etolia, where Diomede gave him protection. This hero falls himself in love with Cassandra, and is so fortunate as to make equal impression on her heart; but before the comple. tion of his marriage, he is called to the siege of Thebes, and leaves, as he supposes, Cassandra in Etolia with her father. But Cassandra, anxious for her lover's safety, and unwilling to part from the object of her affections, had secretly put on a man's 'habit, had attended him in the camp, and had fought by his side in all his battles. Meanwhile the siege of Thebes is drawn out to some length, and Venus, who favours that city, in opposition to Juno and Pallas, who seek its destruction, deliberates concerning the proper, method of raising the siege. The fittest expedient seems to be the exciting in Diomede a jealousy of Cassandra, and persuading him that her affections were secretly engaged to Echetus,and that the tyrant had invaded Etolia in pursuit of his mistress. For this purpose Venus sends down Jealousy, whom the author personifics under the name of Zelotype. Her person and flight are painted in the most splendid colours that poetry affords:
First to her feet the winged shoes she binds,
Pale Envy idly pind: and by her side
Iler form to fancy's waking eye express'd. “ Diomede, moved by the instigations of jealousy, and eager to defend his mis. tress and his country, calls an assembly of the princes, and proposes to raise the siege of Thebes, on account of the difficulty of the enterprize, and dangers which surround the army. Theseus, the general, breaks out into a passion at this proposal: but is pacified by Nestor. Idomeneus rises, and reproaches Diomede for his dishonourable counsel, and among other topics, upbraids him with his degeneracy from his father's bravery.
Should now, from hence arriv'd, some warrior's ghost
But nought of Tydeus in his son survives. “The debate is closed by Ulysses, who informs the princes that the Thebans are preparing to march out in order to attack them; and that it is vain for them to deliberate any longer concerning the conclusion of the war.
“ We have next a description of a battle between the Thebans, under Creon, and the confederate Greeks, under Theseus. The battle is full of the spirit of Homer. We shall not trouble our reader with particulars, which would appear insipid in prose especially if compared to the lively poetry of our author. We shall only transcribe one passage, as a specimen of bis happy choice of circumstances :
Next Arcas, Cleon, valiant Chromius dy'd;
His fate the Graces mourn'd. The gods above,
“ The battle ends with advantage to the confederate Greeks: but the approach of night prevents their total victory.
“Creon, king of Thebes, sends next an embassy to the confederate Greeks, desir. ing a truce of seven days, in order to bury the dead. Diomede, impatient to return home, and stimulated by jealousy, violently opposes this overture, but is over-ruled by the other princes,and the truce is concluded. The author, in imitation of Homer, and the other ancient poets, takes here an opportunity of describing games celebrated for honouring the dead. The games he has choseu are different from those which are to be found among the ancients, and the incidents are new and curious.
“ Diomede took no share in these games: his impatient spirit could not brook the delay which arose from the truce: he pretends that he consented not to it, and is not included in it: he therefore proposes to his troops to attack the Thebans while they are employed in performing the funeral rites of the dead: but is opposed in this design by Deiphobus his tutor, who represents to him in the severest terms the rashness and iniquity of his proposal. After some altercation, Diomede, impatient of contradiction in his favourite object, and stung by the free reproaches of his tator, breaks out into a violent passion, and throws his spear at Deiphobus, which pierced him to the heart.
66 This incident, which is apt to surprize us, seems to have been copied by our author, from that circumstance in the life of Alexander, where this heroic conqueror, moved by a sudden passion, stabs Clytus his ancient friend, by whom his life had been formerly saved in battle. The repentance of Diomede is equal to that of Alexander. No sooner had he struck the fatal blow than his eyes are opened : he is sensible of his guilt and shame ; he refuses all consolation ; abstains even from food : and shuts himself up alone in his fent. His followers, amazed at the violence of his passion, keep at a distance from him : all but Cassandra, who enters his tent with a potion, which she had prepared for him. While she stands before him alone, her timidity and passion betray her sex; and Diomede immediately perceives her to be Cassaodra, who had followed him to the camp, under a warlike disguise. As his repentance for the murder of Deiplobus was now the ruling pas. sion in his breast, he is not moved by tenderness for Cassandra : on the contrary, he considers her as the cause, however innocent, of the murder of his friend, and of his own guilt; and he treats her with such coldness that she retires in confusion. She even leaves the camp, and resolves to return to her father in Etolia ; but is taken on the road by a party of 'Thebans, who carry her to Creon. That tyrant determines to make the most political use of this incident: he sends privately a message to Diomede, threatening to put Cassandra to death, if that hero would not agree to a separate truce with Thebes. This proposal is at first rejected by Dio. mede, who threatens immediate destruction to Creon and all his race. Nothing can be more artfully managed by the poet than this incident. We shall hear him in his own words :
Sternly the hero ended, and resign'd,
“ The truce is concluded for twenty days; but the perfidious Creon, hoping that Diomede would be overawed by the danger of his mistress, resolves to surprise the Greeks ; and accordingly makes a sudden attack upon them, breaks into their camp, and carries ercry thing before him, Diomede at first stands neuter ; but when Ulysses suggests to him, that after the defeat of the confederate Greeks, he has no security ; and that so treacherous a prince as Creon will not spare, much less restore Cassandra, he takes to arms, assaults the Thebans, and obliges them to seek