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Browsing: Diary of Charles Francis Adams, Volume 1

Docno: ADMS-13-01-02-0003-0011-0006

Author: CFA
Date: 1824-10-06

Wednesday. October 6th. VI.

Attended Prayers and recitation in Topography. After breakfast, I went as usual to lecture. He commenced today the account of Musaeus. He was the scholar and imitator of Orpheus and Linus. He was by some called the founder of the mysteries, his name has led to the supposition that he was not actually a man, but this, as he had already mentioned, was no way of judging. Almost all ancient and many modern names having meanings of some sort attached to them. He is supposed to have been an Athenian and to have lived 1253 before Christ. Many works were ascribed to him under a variety of names, mentioned in the pamphlet.1 He was highly respected, as may be proved by the decision mentioned yesterday concerning Onomacritus. Orpheus is made in the present hymns to ascribe his first to him and Virgil makes him first of the Elysian bards. He is supposed to have been the son of Eumolpus, itself a name signifying a good singer, who led a Thracian emigration into Greece, two or three generations before Theseus. It is very probable that he flourished at Athens as this city had already begun to flourish. It was the only place for a long time which had received a fixed permanent population by it’s navigation. { 362 } It’s being surrounded by mountains in the north and the isthmus in the south, it was comparatively safe from the incursions of enemies.
But notwithstanding the credibility of traditions concerning him, his works are lost. Plato, Aristotle and Pausanias have preserved Fragments but it is impossible to believe their authenticity. There is one work with his name but writers with only one exception ascribe it to the age before Nonnus, as the work of an Alexandrian Grammarian of the eighth century. The names are given in the pamphlet. It is the story of Hero and Leander, so well known it does not require mentioning. Father Hardouin argues that as a medal existed representing a man swimming across the Hellespont, that by it was meant a great exertion of strength such as man ought to make, and that the motto meant the strength of a man instead of Hero and Leander. This is a fine specimen of Father Hardouin’s general force in criticism and in plausibility, he mentioned the other day. The work though much valued at the revival of letters is now very little read. The princeps edition is one of the Aldine press.
Suidas speaks of an author older than Homer by the name of Palaephatus. There were four of the name, one of whom wrote a work which is partly extant now. We read part of it in the Graeca Minora. They were concerning the fabulous parts of mythology, giving explanations to all the accounts which are related. These explanations are all made by the Alexandrian Grammarians as it is very certain no ideas of the sort ever existed in writing concerning the sacred parts of their religion. The style is so mixed moreover that it is very possible that much in it is of very high antiquity with large interpolations. There are two more Greek authors of the Anti Homeric age, of whom only Latin versions are supposed to exist. One wrote, Isidore says, of the wars of the Greeks and Trojans, his name was Dares and he was a Phrygian. AElian says, his Iliad was extant in his time. The Latin work now extant treats of the fall of Troy. It is supposed to be a translation made by Nepos and sent to Sallust with a letter which is inserted in the pamphlet.2 This is not known to be the version of the Greek work noticed by AElian. Fabricius supposes that AElian referred to a prose work and consequently to one of later date, but he thought from the context which he quoted that there was no ground for such an hypothesis. The work extant would of course not be a translation of it. The work extant is a prose summary of a Latin Poem written in the dark centuries.
The second pretended Anti Homeric author is Dictys of Crete. He is not spoken of by any ancient author whatever. John of Antioch first { 363 } mentions his book on the Trojan War in six parts. He is said to have been a native of Greece and wrote a journal of the Trojan war on the bark of the linden tree which was buried in Crete. At the earthquake in the time of Nero, this chest of tin which contained the book was thrown up, found and sent to Rome where it was translated by Septimius, according to the account given in his own preface to the history which is also inserted in the pamphlet.3 This work is by some supposed to be a fabrication of the age of Diocletian, though not written as Perizonius intimates with any intention of opposing Christianity. Some people have supposed it original in Latin but the more probable account is that it was translated by Septimius. [Laccaus?] asserted that no Greek text of it is extant but Leo Allatius states that there is, although he mentions no particulars.
After Lecture, I went home and read my Astronomy over. I do not think the work a good one for instruction. It has nothing clear and distinct in it, one has to refer from one part of the book to another and then back again, receive impressions entirely incorrect in the mean time, which you have only to get off your mind again. I have gathered but little even from his lectures. He today explained the motions of the satellites of Jupiter, and calculations made on them. He also explained the theory of gravitation round their primary, as it appeared to be a law among all that we know, to present the same side always. This is not the case with respect to the primaries revolving round the Sun as they are at a distance too great from the Sun to feel it’s effects so powerfully. He explained the reasons why we saw the shadow of the satellites of Jupiter upon that body, when they were passing before the Sun and on the whole was unusually amusing today.
After recitation and dinner, I sat down and got my lesson in Paley. We are now upon a part of his work which I can see but little objection to but which I feel to be a system of morals adapted rather to make me a villain by seeing how easily the barriers may be broken than by really making me conscious of principles, bind me to a regular course of action.
The afternoon over with Prayers, I spent an hour writing my Journal and then attended Mr. Ticknor’s Lecture. In 1642 [1643] Corneille presented the Menteur, a comedy which made an example upon the French stage which awakened Moliere. In 1646 he came out with Rodogune a play which he himself preferred above all others but the four first acts are entirely sacrificed to form the tremendous power of the fifth. Next came Don Sancho of Arragon, a piece drawn from { 364 } the Spanish of Lope de Vega—it is full of wild and romantic incident but it fell at last—it failed upon representation. This reminded him it was time to leave the stage, as has been previously mentioned, and he did not come again upon it until 1659 when he wrote Andromeda and Psyche and for the thirteen years following he wrote twelve pieces, none however so good as his former attempts. Hitherto he had enjoyed the field undisputed, without a rival, but now he was about to find an obstacle in a man who was to be a rival and in time to become his superior upon the French stage, in 1664.
Racine at this time produced his Andromaque in 1667. Henrietta, the princess who was at this time residing here, determined that these two great writers should take the same subject and she managed it so that they knew nothing of what each other were doing. Thus they produced at about the same time the tragedy of Berenice. She had formerly been in love with the king, but as policy required a separation, she had given way. This sacrifice to principle is so similar to what she had read in the story of Berenice in Tacitus that she requested a play to be made of it. That of Racine’s was represented a week before Corneille’s and was completely successful, while the other as totally failed. He afterwards produced Surena but he felt that it was time for him to retire. He had written much lately but there was no probability he would ever equal what had gone before. Racine had now come out with Iphigenia and was evidently fast eclipsing him, he therefore employed himself in writing afterwards books of a religious nature such as the version of Thomas a Kempis which are of little or no value. He was the author of thirty four dramas and by it was the founder of French tragedy and comedy. A revolutionary movement had commenced in the preceding age and he was under its influence. The power of the nobles even had been crushed by Louis the 11th and liberty was gone. This was what galled Corneille and many passages of the Horatii breathe principles which evidently show a violent contest in his mind between his natural feelings and his desire to please the reigning power.
He then summed up in more space than I can give the character of the man which he said we liked when we discovered what was really his own. Racine was born in 1639, at five years of age he became an orphan, he was educated at Port Royal and would never have been distinguished had it not been for a chance ode to Cardinal Mazarin which attracted notice and was followed up by another to the Queen. They neither have much merit but they got him a pension. In 1664 he produced les Freres Ennemis, a regular play but not at all predic• { 365 } tive of his future merit as a writer. He said more which I shall insert in my tomorrow’s account as I have filled enough today. I returned home, wrote my Journal, spent half an hour with Otis and retired.
1. See Everett’s Synopsis , p. 17.
2. Same, p. 20–21.
3. Same, p. 21–22.
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