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Ovid has closely imitated Lucretius and Virgil, and in his view of the subject there is little which is new, except that he has combined the two diseases of men and cattle. The ancients had so many superstitious feelings connected with the burial of the dead, that a plague must have been a more awful thing to them than even in modern times. The scrupulous care which was employed by the ancients, more particularly the Greeks, after a battle, to collect the dead, and what ceremonials were performed on this occasion, are well known. In Athens, a neglect of this kind has brought down ruin on the heads of the most successful commanders, and a whole series of victories tarnished and, indeed, rendered abominable and hateful by the unavoidable loss of a corpse. The funeral ceremonies were of the most elaborate and sacred nature; the most lavish expenses were bestowed upon them, and the nicest care exacted in order to prevent the occurrence of any thing ill-omened, disrespectful, or incomplete. It was deemed, that there was something defiling in the presence of a corpse, and a death, though an accidental one, in a temple, was nearly an inexpiable offence. We may gather how these feelings of deep and rooted superstition, unknown to us, were offended, when their funerals were either absolutely unperformed or, at best, hurried over; when heaps of unburied carcases filled their streets, and the very altars and pavements of their temples were, in every corner, violated by the impure touch of death. Great stress is laid upon this circumstance in all the poets we have mentioned. Thucydides is actuated with a vast sense of its importance ; and it is with him a proof of the licentiousness incident to a plague, that men violated the sanctity of the funeral pile; “ For when one had made a funeral pile, another, getting before him, would throw on his dead, and give it fire. And while one was burning, another would come, and having cast thereon him whom he carried, go his way again.”—(Hobbes.)
“ What could I do? what succour? what resource?
The rivers and their banks, and hills around,
With pious sacrilege, a grave I stole :
Lucretius has remarked the indecorous haste of the funerals, and the absence of the usual pageants, in a forcible line.
“Incomitata rapi certabant funera vasta.”
Ovid has expanded the idea of Thucydides. .
“None o'er their urns with decent honors grieve,
Ovid. Met. vii.
In modern times comparatively little importance is attached to the pageantry and pomp of interment, the feelings with which we regard death are only those natural to beings who must all die,--the dead body of an indifferent person is indeed turned away from, in some measure, with disgust, for when life, the embalmer, is gone, what is it but corruption? Towards the body of a friend much of personal regard is continued, and now that it is helpless and unable to execute its own wishes, we take upon ourselves that tender care of it which its owner himself would have extended over it. There is, indeed, thought and care about a grave, but we extend the notions of life to the repose of death. That which fills the mind, while living, with images of quiet, stillness, retirement, nay, even comfort, is chosen as a suitable and desirable place for our last abode. We associate ideas of melancholy with a foreign burial, and even in death we love to assemble in a family circle. The pains of death have been half removed by an assurance of mouldering among kindred dust. Pope has touched this string in his “Elegy on the Death of an unfortunate Lady.”
“By foreign hands thy dying eyes were clos’d,
And in Mickle's translation of Camoëns there is an affecting passage which hangs on these life-in-death feelings:
each dreary mournful hour we gave
In the great plague of Marseilles we find, at one time, the whole city in a state of rebellion against the magistrates for a grave. The clergy, out of a regard for the living, would not permit the vaults of the churches to be used for this purpose. But when the streets became impassable from the heaps of dead bodies, and the labourers employed in clearing them away sunk down as dead as their burdens, the city was in an uproar, broke open the churches, tore up the vaults, and filled them with their dead.
“Omnia, denique, sancta deđm delubra replerat
During the plague of Athens there was a more than ordinary reason for this violation of the temples. The city was, at the same moment, besieged by an enemy without, while it was destroyed by this scourge within. All the inhabitants of the country had fled to the city for refuge, and it was thus pent up in a crowded town, dwelling together in stifling booths, built for the occasion in the squares, and the open places about the
* “ At length the temples of the gods themselves
Chang'd into charnels, and their sacred shrines
temples, and even in them, the disease commenced his attack upon the poor beleaguered population. In modern times, as has been mentioned, the accumulation of dead bodies in the streets has been so great as to render them impassable, and absolutely to cause the removal of the remaining inhabitants to less incumbered districts. What must it have been then in Athens, crammed with inhabitants as it was at this unfortunate moment? In the ancient cities there was another great cause of filling the highways with the dead and dying,—the fountains and conduits, which always adorned them, attracted multitudes of poor wretches who were raving under the tortures of thirst, and here they tumbled one over another until death, not the water, relieved their pains
“ And now each sex, regardless of their shame,
Ovid. Met. vü. Wandering and restlessness is another characteristic of this calamity, which tended to crowd the streets with corpses. Neglected sufferers, who were the million, when delirium supervened, would struggle into the streets to die. This, too, Ovid has noticed.
“Here from his bed one wretch uneasy flies,
Ovid. Met. vii.
The Bishop of Rochester has most strangely fretted and interlaced the sober and solemn account of Thucydides, in his Pindaric on the Plague of Athens, with his own fancies. In the manner of Cowley he has filled his descriptions with the most outrageous conceits and the wildest similes. To give a specimen, he says that the disease first shewed itself in the head and eyes, and he thus expresses the fact :
“Upon the head first the disease,
* Creech, in his translation of Lucretius, seems to have had his eye as much upon the right reverend poet, as upon his author. It is curious to observe how this translator thought the classic was to be improved, either by hints from the Bishop of Rochester, or original touches of his own. We have collected a few lines from his translation, for which our readers will instantly see he was not in the least indebted to Lucretius. The lines in brackets are genuine Creech.
Lucretius, B. vi. 1099.
[In vain they drank, for when the water came
When one poor wretch was fall'n, to others fled :
The shepherd, midst his flocks, resign'd his breath,