be satisfied by poems on a smaller scale than the old epics, and
answering in length to the group of tragedies presented at a single
Epic poetry has, however, a great- a special- capacity for enlarging
its dimensions, and we can see the reason. In Tragedy we cannot
imitate several lines of actions carried on at one and the same
time; we must confine ourselves to the action on the stage and the
part taken by the players. But in Epic poetry, owing to the
narrative form, many events simultaneously transacted can be
presented; and these, if relevant to the subject, add mass and dignity
to the poem. The Epic has here an advantage, and one that conduces
to grandeur of effect, to diverting the mind of the hearer, and
relieving the story with varying episodes. For sameness of incident
soon produces satiety, and makes tragedies fail on the stage.
As for the meter, the heroic measure has proved its fitness by
hexameter test of experience. If a narrative poem in any other meter
or in many meters were now composed, it would be found incongruous.
For of all measures the heroic is the stateliest and the most massive;
and hence it most readily admits rare words and metaphors, which is
another point in which the narrative form of imitation stands alone.
On the other hand, the iambic and the trochaic tetrameter are stirring
measures, the latter being akin to dancing, the former expressive of
action. Still more absurd would it be to mix together different
meters, as was done by Chaeremon. Hence no one has ever composed a
poem on a great scale in any other than heroic verse. Nature herself,
as we have said, teaches the choice of the proper measure.
Homer, admirable in all respects, has the special merit of being the
only poet who rightly appreciates the part he should take himself. The
poet should speak as little as possible in his own person, for it is
not this that makes him an imitator. Other poets appear themselves
upon the scene throughout, and imitate but little and rarely. Homer,
after a few prefatory words, at once brings in a man, or woman, or