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increases in brilliancy. Homer indulges in no lengthy introduction, but hurries on with his narrative, omits what he cannot adorn, and never loses the thread of his story (128-152).
If you want your play to succeed, you must study the “strange, eventful history ” of human life, and note the characteristics of the several ages of man, so that the different periods may not be confused (153-178). Events may be set forth in action or, less preferably, in narrative. The latter method, however, must be used in the case of revolting and incredible incidents (179-188).
A play should be in five acts. The deus ex machina should be employed only rarely, and there should never be more than three characters on the stage at one time (189-192). The Chorus should take a real part in the action; it should not sing anything irrelevant, and should promote the cause of morality and religion (193-201). As to the music, the flute was once a simple instrument, which accompanied the chorus, and was not expected to fill large theatres as nowadays. With the growth of wealth and luxury in the state, and the consequent deterioration in the taste and character of the audience, the music became more florid and sensational, the diction more artificial, and the sentiments more obscure and oracular (202-219).
The satyric drama, with its chorus of goat-footed fauns, which was devised for spectators in their lighter moods, naturally assumed a gay and frolicsome tone as compared with the serious tragedy from which it sprang, but this does not warrant a writer in permitting his gods and heroes to use vulgar speech, or on the other hand in allowing them to indulge in ranting. There should be a happy mean between the language of tragedy and that of comedy. I would aim at a familiar style, so that anyone might think it easy to write in that fashion, but on trying would find out his mistake. The rustic fauns must not talk like city wits, nor yet use such coarse language that they will give offence to the better part of an audience (220-250).
As to metre, the iambic is strictly a rapid measure, so that a senarius is counted as a trimeter. But the older poets admitted the spondee so freely, that it obscured the rhythm and made it heavy. In fact, it is not every critic that can detect unmusical verses, and too much freedom has been allowed our native poets. Shall I presume on this or shall I write with caution ? If I follow the latter course, I may avoid criticism, but I shall not win praise. The proper course is to study Greek models night and day. He who is conversant with them will see that our fathers' admiration for the rhythms, as well as the wit, of Plautus, was uncalled for (251-274).
Thespis, we are told, invented Tragedy, and Aeschylus perfected it. Old Attic Comedy, too, won no little renown until its licence had to be checked by law and its chorus was silenced (275-284). Our Roman poets, besides following the Greeks, were bold enough to invent forms of a national drama, and might have rivalled their masters, had they taken more pains. I beg you, my friends, to condemn every poem
which has not been subjected to the finishing touch (285-294).
The idea that genius is allied to madness is carried so far that many would-be poets are slovenly in appearance and neglect their health. It is not worth while to compose poetry at the expense of your wits, so, refraining from writing myself, I will teach the art to others, even as à whetstone can sharpen knives, though it cannot cut (295-308).
The first essential is wisdom. This you can cultivate by study of the philosophers, and when you
have first learned from them valuable lessons of life, you should apply yourself to life itself, and then your personages will speak like real living beings. Sometimes striking passages and characters properly portrayed commend a mediocre play better than do verses which lack substance, mere trifles, however melodious (309-322).
The Greeks had genius, eloquence, and ambition ; the Romans are too practical, even in their elementary schooling. How can we expect a people thus trained to develop poets ? Poetry aims at both instruction and pleasure. In your didactic passages, be not long-winded ; in your fiction, avoid extravagance. Combine the utile with the dulce, for only thus will you produce a book that will sell, and enjoy a wide and lasting fame (323-346).
Absolute perfection, however, is not to be expected, and we must allow for slight defects. When I come across a good line in a poor poem, I am surprised and amused; I am merely grieved if Homer now and then nods (347-360). The critic must bear in mind that poetry is like painting. In each case the aim in view is to be considered. A miniature should bear close inspection ; a wall-painting is to be seen from a distance. One thing which may
be tolerated in other fields, but which in the sphere of poetry, whose aim is to give pleasure, is never allowed, is mediocrity. Like the athlete, therefore, the poet needs training-a truth overlooked by many. But you are too sensible to make a mistake here. You will write only when Minerva is auspicious, and what you write you will submit to a good critic. Even then you will be in no haste to publish (361-390).
Remember the glorious history of poetry, whichas the stories of Orpheus and Amphion show-has from the very infancy of the race promoted the cause of civilization. Then, from Homer on, it has inspired valour, has taught wisdom, has won the favour of princes, and has afforded relief after toil. Never need you be ashamed of the Muse (391-407).
The question has been asked whether it is natural ability or teaching that makes the poet. Both are necessary. However much people may boast of their gifts, ability without training will accomplish no more in writing than in running a race or in fute-playing (408-418).
It is easy for a rich poet to buy applause. Flatterers are like hired mourners at a funeral, who feel no grief, however much they may weep. So be not deceived, but take a lesson from those kings, who, acting on the adage in vino veritas, make men
disclose the truth by plying them with wine (419-437).
Quintilius Varus was a frank and sincere critic, and if you would not take his advice he would leave you to your self-conceit. No honest man, for fear of giving offence, will conceal his friend's faults from him, for those faults may lead to serious consequences (438-452).
And think of the danger of a crazy poet roaming at large. First, there is danger for himself, for if,
goes about with upturned gaze, he fall into a ditch, nobody will pull him out. Indeed, he may
have gone in on purpose, like Empedocles, who, thinking himself divine, once leaped into burning Aetna. And secondly, there is danger for others, for if he is so stark, staring mad as to be ever making verses, he will become a public scourge, and if he catches some poor wretch he will fasten on him. like a leech, and make him listen to his recitations until he has bored him to death (453-476) !
The sketch of a crazy poet with which the poem closes corresponds to that of the crazy painter with which it opens. Both painter and poet are used to impress upon readers the lesson that in poetry as in other arts the main principle to be followed is propriety. This idea of literary propriety, which runs through the whole epistle, is illustrated in many ways, and may be said to give the Ars Poetica an artistic unity. (So Roy Kenneth Hack, “The Doctrine of Literary Forms ” in Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, vol. xxvii., 1916.)