G. Gregory Smith, ed. Elizabethan Critical Essays. 1904.
George Chapman (1559?1634)
II. Dedication, etc. of Achilles Shield 1598
[Later in 1598 Chapman published a further instalment of his translation of Homer, entitled Achilles Shield, Translated as the other seuen Bookes of Homer out of his eighteenth booke of Iliades (also printed by John Windet). The following passages constitute the prefatory matter, which, like the Note To the Reader given above, were not reprinted in the later and more complete issues of 1609 and 1611. The text is that of the British Museum copy (C. 39, d. 54), which is bound up with a copy of the Seaven Bookes and was once in the possession of Ben Jonson.]
To the Most Honored Earle, Earle Marshall.
Spondanus, one of the most desertfull Commentars of Homer, cals all sorts of all men learned to be iudicial beholders of this more then Artificiall and no lesse then Diuine Rapture, then which nothing can be imagined more full of soule and humaine extraction: for what is here prefigurde by our miraculous Artist but the vniuersall world, which, being so spatious and almost vnmeasurable, one circlet of a Shield representes and imbraceth? In it heauen turnes, the starres shine, the earth is enflowered, the sea swelles and rageth, Citties are built, one in the happinesse and sweetnesse of peace, the other in open warre & the terrors of ambush, &c.: and all these so liuely proposde, as not without reason many in times past haue belieued that all these thinges haue in them a kind of voluntarie motion, euen as those Tripods of Vulcan and that Dedalian Venus [Greek]. Nor can I be resolud that their opinions be sufficiently refuted by Aristonicus, for so are all things here described by our diuinest Poet as if they consisted not of hard and solid mettals, but of a truely liuing and mouing soule. The ground of his inuention he shews out of Eustathius, intending by the Orbiguitie of the Shield the roundnesse of the world, by the foure mettalles the foure elementes, viz. by gold fire, by brasse earth, for the hardnes, by Tinne water, for the softnes and inclination to fluxure, by siluer Aire, for the grosnes & obscuritie of the mettal before it be refind. That which he calls [Greek] he vnderstands the Zodiack, which is said to be triple for the latitude it contains, & shining by reason of the perpetual course of the Sun made in that circle, by [Greek] the Axletree, about which heauen hath his motion, &c. Nor do I deny (saith Spondanus) Eneas arms to be forged with an exceeding height of wit by Virgil, but comparde with these of Homer they are nothing. And this is it (most honorde) that maketh me thus sodainely translate this Shield of Achilles, for since my publication of the other seuen bookes comparison hath beene made betweene Virgill and Homer; who can be comparde in nothing with more decysall & cutting of all argument then in these two Shieldes. And whosoeuer shall reade Homer throughly and worthily will know the question comes from a superficiall and too vnripe a reader; for Homers Poems were writ from a free furie, an absolute & full soule, Virgils out of a courtly, laborious, and altogether imitatorie spirit: not a Simile hee hath but is Homers: not an inuention, person, or disposition, but is wholly or originally built vpon Homericall foundations, and in many places hath the verie wordes Homer vseth: besides, where Virgill hath had no more plentifull and liberall a wit then to frame twelue imperfect bookes of the troubles and trauailes of Æneas, Homer hath of as little subiect finisht eight & fortie perfect. And that the triuiall obiection may be answerd, that not the number of bookes but the nature and excellence of the worke commends itall Homers bookes are such as haue beene presidents euer since of all sortes of Poems; imitating none, nor euer worthily imitated of any. Yet would I not be thought so ill created as to bee a malicious detracter of so admired a Poet as Virgill, but a true iustifier of Homer, who must not bee read for a few lynes with leaues turned ouer caprichiously in dismembred fractions, but throughout, the whole drift, weight, & height of his workes set before the apprensiue eyes of his iudge: the maiestie he enthrones and the spirit he infuseth into the scope of his worke so farre outshining Virgill, that his skirmishes are but meere scramblings of boyes to Homers; the silken body of Virgils muse curiously drest in guilt and embrodered siluer, but Homers in plaine massie and vnualued gold; not onely all learning, gouernment, and wisedome being deduct as from a bottomlesse fountaine from him, but all wit, elegancie, disposition, and iudgement. [Greek], &c.; Homer (saith Plato) was the Prince and maister of all prayses and vertues, the Emperour of wise men, an host of men against any deprauer in any principle he held. All the ancient and lately learned haue had him in equall estimation. And for anie to be now contrarilie affected, it must needes proceed from a meere wantonnesse of witte, an Idle vnthriftie spirit, wilfull because they may choose whether they will think otherwise or not, & haue power and fortune enough to liue like true men without truth; or els they must presume of puritanicall inspiration, to haue that with delicacie & squemishnes, which others with as good means, ten times more time, and ten thousand times more labour could neuer conceiue. But some will conuey their imperfections vnder his Greeke Shield, and from thence bestowe bitter arrowes against the traduction, affirming their want of admiration grows from defect of our language, not able to expresse the coppie and elegancie of the originall. But this easie and traditionall pretext hides them not enough: for how full of height and roundnesse soeuer Greeke be aboue English, yet is there no depth of conceipt triumphing in it, but, as in a meere admirer it may bee imagined, so in a sufficient translator it may be exprest. And Homer that hath his chiefe holinesse of estimation for matter and instruction would scorne to haue his supreame worthinesse glosing in his courtshippe and priuiledge of tongue. And if Italian, French, & Spanish haue not made it daintie, nor thought it any presumption to turne him into their languages, but a fit and honorable labour and (in respect of their countries profit and their poesies credit) almost necessarie, what curious, proud, and poore shamefastnesse should let an English muse to traduce him, when the language she workes withall is more conformable, fluent, and expressiue; which I would your Lordship would commaunde mee to proue against all our whippers of their owne complement in their countries dialect.
O what peeuish ingratitude and most vnreasonable scorne of our selues we commit to bee so extrauagant and forreignely witted to honour and imitate that in a strange tongue which wee condemne and contemne in our natiue! For if the substance of the Poets will be exprest, and his sentence and sence rendred with truth and elocution, hee that takes iudiciall pleasure in him in Greeke cannot beare so rough a browe to him in English, to entombe his acceptance in austeritie.
But thou soule-blind Scalliger, that neuer hadst anything but place, time, and termes to paint thy proficiencie in learning, nor euer writest any thing of thine owne impotent braine but thy onely impalsied diminuation of Homer (which I may sweare was the absolute inspiration of thine owne ridiculous Genius), neuer didst thou more palpably damn thy drossy spirit in al thy all-countries-exploded filcheries, which are so grossely illiterate that no man will vouchsafe their refutation, then in thy sencelesse reprehensions of Homer, whose spirit flew asmuch aboue thy groueling capacitie as heauen moues aboue Barathrum. But as none will vouchsafe repetition nor answere of thy other vnmanly fooleries, no more will I of these, my Epistle being too tedious to your Lo. besides, and no mans iudgement seruing better (if your high affaires could admit their deligent perusall) then your Lo. to refute and reiect him. But alas Homer is not now to bee lift vp by my weake arme, more then he is now deprest by more feeble oppositions. If any feele not their conceiptes so rauisht with the eminent beauties of his ascentiall muse, as the greatest men of all sorts and of all ages haue beene. Their most modest course is (vnlesse they will be powerfully insolent) to ascribe the defect to their apprehension, because they read him but sleightly, not in his surmised frugalitie of obiect, that really and most feastfully powres out himselfe in right diuine occasion. But the chiefe and vnanswerable meane to his generall and iust acceptance must be your Lo. high and of all men expected president, without which hee must, like a poore snayle, pull in his English homes, that out of all other languages (in regard of the countries affection, and royaltie of his Patrones) hath appeared like an Angell from a clowde, or the world out of Chaos, when no language can make comparison of him with ours if he be worthily conuerted; wherein before he should haue beene borne so lame and defectiue, as the French midwife hath brought him forth, he had neuer made question how your Lo. would accept him: and yet haue two of their Kings embraced him as a wealthy ornament to their studies, and the main battayle of their armies.
If then your bountie would do me but the grace to conferre my vnhappie labours with theirs so successfull & commended (your iudgement seruing you much better then your leysure, & yet your leisure in thinges honourable being to bee inforced by your iudgement), no malitious & dishonorable whisperer that comes armed with an army of authority and state against harmeles & armeles vertue could wrest your wonted impression so much from it self to reiect (with imitation of tiranous contempt) any affection so zealous & able in this kind to honor your estate as mine. Onely kings & princes haue been Homers Patrones, amongst whom Ptolomie wold say, he that had sleight handes to entertayne Homer had as sleight braines to rule his common wealth. And an vsuall seueritie he vsed, but a most rationall (how precise and ridiculous soeuer it may seeme to men made of ridiculous matter), that, in reuerence of the pietie and perfect humanitie he taught, whosoeuer writ or committed any proud detraction against Homer (as euen so much a man wanted not his malitious deprauers), hee put him with torments to extreamest death. O high and magically raysed prospect, from whence a true eye may see meanes to the absolute redresse, or much to be wished extenuation, of all the vnmanly degeneracies now tyranysing amongst vs! For if that which teacheth happinesse and hath vnpainefull corosiues in it (being entertayned and obserued) to eate out the hart of that raging vlcer, which like a Lernean Fen of corruption furnaceth the vniuersall sighes and complaintes of this transposed world, were seriously and as with armed garrisons defended and hartned, that which engenders & disperseth that wilfull pestilence would bee purged and extirpate; but that which teacheth being ouerturned, that which is taught is consequently subiect to euersion; and if the honour, happinesse, and preseruation of true humanitie consist in obseruing the lawes fit for mans dignitie, and that the elaborate prescription of those lawes must of necessitie be authorised, fauoured, and defended before any obseruations can succeed, is it vnreasonable to punish the contempt of that mouing prescription with one mans death, when at the heeles of it followes common neglect of obseruation, and in the necke of it an vniuersall ruine? This my Lord I enforce only to interrupt in others that may reade this vnsauorie stuffe, the too open mouthed damnation of royall & vertuous Ptolomies seueritie. For to digest, transforme, and sweat a mans soule into rules and attractions to societie, such as are fashioned and tempered with her exact and long laborde contention of studie, in which she tosseth with her impertiall discourse before her all cause of fantasticall obiections and reproofes, and without which she were as wise as the greatest number of detractors that shall presume to censure her, and yet by their flash and insolent castigations to bee sleighted and turnde ouer their miserably vaine tongues in an instant, is an iniurie worthy no lesse penaltie then Ptolomie inflicted. To take away the heeles of which running prophanation, I hope your Lo. honourable countenance will be as the Vnicorns horne, to leade the way to English Homers yet poysoned fountaine: for till that fauour be vouchsafed, the herde will neuer drinke, since the venemous galles of their fellowes haue infected it, whom alas I pittie. Thus confidently affirming your name and dignities shall neuer bee more honored in a poore booke then in English Homer, I cease to afflict your Lordshippe with my tedious dedicatories, and to still sacred Homers spirit through a language so fitte and so fauourles; humbly presenting your Achilleian vertues with Achilles Shield; wishing as it is much more admirable and diuine, so it were as many times more rich then the Shield the Cardinall pawned at Anwerp.
You are not euery bodie; to you (as to one of my very few friends) I may be bold to vtter my minde; nor is it more empaire to an honest and absolute mans sufficiencie to haue few friendes then to an Homericall Poeme to haue few commenders, for neyther doe common dispositions keepe fitte or plausible consort with iudiciall and simple honestie, nor are idle capacities comprehensible of an elaborate Poeme. My Epistle dedicatorie before my seuen bookes is accounted darke and too much laboured: for the darkenes there is nothing good or bad, hard or softe, darke or perspicuous but in respect, & in respect of mens light, sleight, or enuious perusalles (to whose loose capacities any worke worthily composde is knit with a riddle); & that the stile is materiall, flowing & not ranke, it may perhaps seeme darke to ranke riders or readers that haue no more soules then burbolts: but to your comprehension, & in it selfe, I know it is not. For the affected labour bestowed in it, I protest two morninges both ended it and the Readers Epistle: but the truth is, my desire & strange disposition in all thinges I write is to set downe vncommon and most profitable coherents for the time, yet further remoued from abhorde affectation then from the most popular and cold disgestion. And I euer imagine that as Italian & French Poems to our studious linguistes win much of their discountryed affection, as well because the vnderstanding of forreigne tongues is sweete to their apprehension as that the matter & inuention is pleasing, so my farre fetcht and, as it were, beyond sea manner of writing, if they would take as much paines for their poore countrimen as for a proud stranger when they once vnderstand it, should be much more gracious to their choice conceiptes then a discourse that fals naked before them, and hath nothing but what mixeth it selfe with ordinarie table talke. For my varietie of new wordes, I haue none Inckepot I am sure you know, but such as I giue pasport with such authoritie, so significant and not ill sounding, that if my countrey language were an usurer, or a man of this age speaking it, hee would thanke mee for enriching him. Why, alas, will my young mayster the reader affect nothing common, and yet like nothing extraordinarie? Swaggering is a new worde amongst them, and rounde headed custome giues it priuiledge with much imitation, being created as it were by a naturall Prosopopeia without etimologie or deriuation; and why may not an elegancie authentically deriued, & as I may say of the vpper house, bee entertayned as well in their lower consultation with authoritie of Arte as their owne forgeries lickt up by nature? All tongues haue inricht themselues from their originall (onely the Hebrew & Greeke which are not spoken amongst vs) with good neighbourly borrowing, and as with infusion of fresh ayre and nourishment of newe blood in their still growing bodies, & why may not ours? Chaucer (by whom we will needes authorise our true english) had more newe wordes for his time then any man needes to deuise now. And therefore for currant wits to crie from standing braines, like a broode of Frogs from a ditch, to haue the ceaselesse flowing riuer of our tongue turnde into their Frogpoole, is a song farre from their arrogation of sweetnes, & a sin wold soone bring the plague of barbarisme amongst vs; which in faith needes not bee hastned with defences of his ignorant furtherers, since it comes with mealemouthd toleration too sauagely vpon vs. To be short, since I had the reward of my labours in their consummation, and the chiefe pleasure of them in mine owne profit, no young preiudicate or castigatorie braine hath reason to thinke I stande trembling vnder the ayry stroke of his feuerie censure, or that I did euer expect any flowing applause from his drie fingers; but the satisfaction and delight that might probably redound to euerie true louer of vertue I set in the seat of mine owne profit and contentment; and if there be any one in whome this successe is enflowred, a few sprigges of it shall bee my garland. Since then this neuer equald Poet is to bee vnderstood, and so full of gouernment and direction to all estates, sterne anger and the affrights of warre bearing the mayne face of his subiect, soldiers shall neuer spende their idle howres more profitablie then with his studious and industrious perusall; in whose honors his deserts are infinite. Counsellors haue neuer better oracles then his lines: fathers haue no morales so profitable for their children as his counsailes; nor shal they euer giue them more honord iniunctions then to learne Homer without book, that, being continually conuersant in him, his height may descend to their capacities, and his substance proue their worthiest riches. Husbands, wiues, louers, friends, and allies hauing in him mirrors for all their duties; all sortes of which concourse and societie in other more happy ages haue in steed of sonnets & lasciuious ballades sung his Iliades. Let the length of the verse neuer discourage your endeuours; for talke our quidditicall Italianistes of what proportion soeuer their strooting lips affect, vnlesse it be in these coopplets into which I haue hastely translated this Shield, they shall neuer doe Homer so much right, in any octaues, canzons, canzonets, or with whatsoeuer fustian Epigraphes they shall entitle their measures. Onely the extreame false printing troubles my conscience, for feare of your deserued discouragement in the empaire of our Poets sweetnes; whose generall diuinitie of spirit, clad in my willing labours (enuious of none nor detracting any), I commit to your good nature and solid capacitie.