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By no reader of classical antiquity will any of its remains be regarded as entirely devoid of worth. The “fine gold” will naturally stand first in estimation, but the “silver and brass and iron,” nay even the “iron mingled with miry clay," will each possess its respective value. Accordingly, while the foremost place will ever be assigned to its Historians, Philosophers, Orators, and Poets, the time will not be esteemed thrown away which makes him acquainted with those authors who struck out a new vein of writing, and abandoning the facts of history and the inventions of mythology, drew upon their own imagination and sought for subjects in the manners and pursuits of domestic life.
The publication of a revised translation of Heliodorus and Longus, and of a new translation of Achilles Tatius, calls for some brief prefatory observations upon the origin of fictitious narrative among the Greeks; that department of literature which, above any other, has been prolific in finding followers, more especially in modern times; and which, according to the spirit in which it is handled, is capable of producing some of the best or worst effects upon society.
Works of fiction may, as we know, administer a poisoned cup, but they may also supply a wholesome and pleasing draught; they may be the ministers of the grossest immorality and absurdity, but they may likewise be the vehicles of sound sense and profitable instruction.
“As real History,” says Bacon, "gives us not the success of things according to the deserts of vice and virtue, Fiction connects it, and presents us with the fates and for. tunes of persons, rewarded or punished according to merit."
“It is chiefly in the fictions of an age," saye Dunlop, " that we can discover the modes of living, dress, and manners of the period ;” and he goes on to say—“But even if the utility which is derived from Fiction were less than it is, how much are we indebted to it for pleasure and enjoyment! It sweetens solitude and charms sorrow-it occupies the attention of the vacant, and unbends the mind of the philosopher. Like the enchanter, Fiction shows us, as it were in a mirror, the most agreeable objects; recalls from a distance the forms which are dear to us, and soothes our own grief by awakening our sympathy for others. By its means the recluse is placed in the midst of society; and he who is harassed and agitated in the city is transported to rural tranquillity and repose. The rude are refined by an introduction, as it were, to the higher orders of mankind, and even the dissipated and selfish are, in some degree, corrected by chose paintings of virtue and simple nature, which must ever be employed by the novelist, if he wish to awaken emotion or delight.”
Huet, Bishop of Avranches, was the first who wrote a regular and systematic treatise on the origin of fictitious narrative—“De origine Fabularum Romanensium."
He gives it as his opinion, that “not in Provence (Provincia Romanorum), nor yet in Spain, are we to look for the fatherland of those amusing compositions called Romances ; but that it is among the people of the East, the Arabs, the Egyptians, the Persians, and the Syrians, that the germ and origin is to be found, of this species of fictitious narrative, for which the peculiar genius and poetical temperament of these nations particularly adapt them, and in which they delight to a degree scarcely to be credited; for even their ordinary discourse is interspersed with figurative expressions, and their maxims of theology and philosophy, and above all, of morals and political science, are invariably couched under the guise of allegory or parable.” In confirmation of this opinion he remarks, that “nearly all those who in early times distinguished themselves as writers of what are now called Romances, were of Oriental birth or extraction;"-and he instances “ Clearchus, a pupil
of Aristotle, who was a native of Soli, in Cilicia, Iamblicus, a Syrian-Heliodorus and Lucian, natives, the one of Emessa, the other of Samosata—Achilles Tatius, of Alexandria.”
This statement of Huet's is admitted to hold good, gene. rally, by the author of a very interesting Article on the “ Early Greek Romances," in No. CCCXXXIII. of Blackwood's Magazine ; who however differs from the learned Bishop in some particulars.
“ While fully admitting,” he says, " that it is to the vivid fancy and picturesque imagination of the Orientals that we owe the origin of all those popular legends, which have penetrated under various changes of costume, into every corner of Europe, we still hold, that the invention of the Romance of ordinary life, on which the interest of the story depends upon occurrences in some measure within the bounds of probability, and in which the heroes and heroines are neither invested with superhuman qualities, nor extricated from their difficulties by supernatural means, must be ascribed to a more European state of society than that which produced those tales of wonder, which are commonly considered as characteristic of the climes of the East."
This difference of opinion he fortifies, by remarking that “ the authors enumerated by the Bishop of Avranches himself were all denizens of Greek cities of Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt, and consequently, in all probability, Greeks by descent; and though the scene of their works is frequently laid in Asia, the costumes and characters introduced are almost invariably on the Greek model.”
He concludes this part of his subject by saying; "these writers, therefore, may fairly be considered as constituting a distinct class from those more strictly Oriental-not only in birth but in language and ideas; and as being in fact the legitimate forerunners of modern novelists."
The first to imbibe a love for fictitious narrative from the Eastern people among whom they dwelt, were the Milesians, a colony of Greeks, and from them this species of narrative derived the name of “Sermo Milesius.”' * A
* In the opening of his celebrated novel, the “ Golden A88," Apuleius says" At ego tibi sermone isto Milesio varias fabulas conseram,” &c.