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from each other, and covered from head to foot. It is here, therefore, says Philander, that the old poets step in to the assistance of the medalist, when they give us the same thought in words as the masters of the Roman mint have done in figures. A man may see a metaphor or an allegory in a picture, as well as read them in a description. When, therefore, I confront a medal with a verse, I only show you the same design executed by different hands, and appeal from one master to another of the same age and taste. This is certainly a much surer way than to build on the interpretations of an author who does not consider how the aneients used to think, but will be still inventing mysteries and applications out of his own fancy. To make myself more intelligible, I find a shield on the reverse of an emperor's coin, designed as a compliment to him from the senate of Rome. I meet with the same metaphor in ancient poets to express protection or defence. I conclude, therefore, that this medal compliments the emperor in the same sense as the old Romans did their dictator, Fabius, when they called him the buckler of Rome. Put this reverse now, if you please, into the hands of a mystical antiquary: he shall tell you that the use of the shield being to defend the body from the weapons of an enemy,
of an enemy, it very aptly shadows out to us the resolution or continence of the emperor, which made him proof to all the attacks of fortune or of pleasure. In the next place, the figure of the shield being round, it is an emblem of perfection; for Aristotle has said the round figure is the most perfect. It may likewise signify the immortal reputation that the emperor has acquired by his great actions, rotundity being an emblem of eternity that has neither beginning nor end. After this I dare not answer for the shield's convexity, that it does not cover a mystery; nay, there shall not be the least wrinkle or flourish upon it which will not turn to some account. In this case, therefore*,
, poetry being, in some re* Poema est pictura loquar.
spects an art of designing as well as painting or sculpture, they may serve as comments on each other. I am very well satisfied, says Eugenius, by what you have said on this subject, that the poets may contribute to the explication of such reverses as are purely emblematical, or when the persons are of that shadowy, allegorical nature you have before mentioned; but I suppose there are many other reverses that represent things and persons of a more real existence. In this case too, says Philander, a poet lets you into the knowledge of a device better than a prose-writer, às his descriptions are often more diffuse, his story more naturally circumstanced, and his language enriched with a greater variety of epithets : so that you often meet with little hints and suggestions in a poet that give a great illustration to the customs, actions, ornaments, and all kinds of antiquities that are to be met with on ancient coins. I fancy, says Cynthio, there is nothing more ridiculous than an antiquary's reading the Greek or Latin poets. He never thinks of the beauty of the thought or language, but is for searching into what he calls the erudition of the author. He will turn you over all Virgil to find out the figure of an old rostrum, and has the greatest esteem imaginable for Homer, because he has given us the fashion of a Greek sceptre. It is, indeed, odd enough to consider how all kinds of readers find their account in the old poets. Not only your men of the more refined or solid parts of learning, but even your alchy-. mist and fortune-teller will discover the secrets of their art in Homer and Virgil. This, says Eugenius, is a prejudice of a very ancient standing Read but Plutarch's discourse on Homer, and you will see that the Iliad contains the whole circle of arts, and that Thales and Pythagoras stole all their philosophy out of this poet's works.
One would be amazed to see what pains he takes to prove that Homer understood all the figures in rhetoric, before they were invented. I do not question, says Philander, were it possible for
Homer to read his praises in this author, but he would be as much surprised as ever Monsieur Jourdain was, when he found he had talked prose all his lifetime, without ever knowing what it was. But to finish the task you have set me, we may observe that not only the virtues, and the like imaginary persons, but all the heathen divinities appear generally in the same dress among the poets that they wear in medals. I must confess, I believe both the one and the other took the mode from the ancient Greek statuaries. It will not perhaps be an improper transition to pass from the heathen gods to the several monsters of antiquity, as chimeras, gorgons, sphinxes, and many others that make the same figure in verse as on coins. It often happens, too, that the poet and the senate of Rome have both chosen the same topic to flatter their emperor upon, and have sometimes fallen upon the same thought. It is certain, they both of them lay upon the catch for a great action: it is no wonder, therefore, that they were qften engaged on one subject, the medal and the poem being nothing else but occasional compliments to the emperor. Nay, I question not but you may sometimes find certain passages among the poets that relate to the particular device of a medal.
I wonder, says Eugenius, that your medalists have not been as diligent in searching the poets as the historians, since I find they are so capable of enlightening their art. I would have some body put the muses under a kind of contribution, to furnish out whatever they have in them that bears any relation to coins. Though they taught us but the same things that might be learnt in other writings, they would at least teach us more agreeably, and draw several over to the study of medals that would rather be instructed in verse than in prose. I am glad, says Philander, to hear you of this opinion, for, to tell you truly, when I was at Rome, I took occasion to buy up many imperial medals that have any affinity with passages of the an
cient poets. So that I have by me a sort of poetical cash, which I fancy I could count over to you in Latin and Greek verse.
If you will drink a dish of tea with me to-morrow morning, I will lay my whole collection before you. I cannot tell, says Cynthio, how the poets will succeed in the explication of coins, to which they are generally very great strangers. We are, however, obliged to you for preventing us with the offer of a kindness that you might well imagine we should have asked you.
Our three friends had been so intent on their discourse, that they had rambled very far into the fields, without taking notice of it. Philander first put them in mind, that, unless they turned back quickly, they would endanger being benighted. Their conversation ran insensibly into other subjects; but as I design only to report such parts of it as have any relation to medals. I shall leave them to return home as fast as they please, without troubling myself with their talk on the way thither, or with their ceremonies at parting.
Some of the finest treatises of the most polite Latin and Greek writers are in dialogue, as many very valuable pieces of French, Italian, and English, appear in the same dress. I have, sometimes, however, been very much distasted at this way of writing, by reason of the long prefaces and exordiums into which it often betrays an author. There is so much time taken up in ceremony, that before they enter on their subject the dialogue is half ended. To avoid the fault I have found in others, I shall not trouble myself, nor my reader, with the first salutes of our three friends, nor with any part of their discourse over the tea-table. We will suppose the china dishes taken off, and a drawer of medals supplying their room. Philander,
who is to be the hero of my dialogue, takes it in his hand, and, addressing himself to Cynthio and Eugenius, I will first of all, says he, show you an assembly of the most virtuous ladies that you have ever, perhaps, conversed with. I do not know, says Cynthio, regarding them, what their virtue may be, but methinks they are a little fantastical in their dress. You will find, says Philander, there is good sense in it. They have not a single ornament that they cannot give a reason for. I was going to ask you, says Eugenius, in what country you find these ladies. But I see they are some of those imaginary persons you told us of last night, that inhabit old coins, and appear no where else but on the reverse of a medal. Their proper country, says Philander, is the breast of a good man: for I think they are most of them the figures of virtues. It is a great compliment, methinks, to the sex, says Cynthio, that your virtues are generally shown in petticoats. I can give you no other reason for it, says Philander, but because they chanced to be of the feminine gender in the learned languages. You will find, however, something bold and masculine in the air and posture of the first figure, which is that of Virtue herself, and agrees very well with the description we find of her in Silius Italicus*.
Virtutis dispar habitus, frons hirta, nec unquam
A different form did Virtue wear,
And robes unsullied as the falling snow. Virtue and Honour had their temples bordering on each other, and are sometimes both on the same coin, as in the following one of Galbat. Silius Italicus * First series. Fig. 1.
+ Fig. 2.