Achilles with Warts and Moles

John Dryden, Preface to his translation of The Aeneid:

“By this example the critics have concluded that it is not necessary the manners of the hero should be virtuous. They are poetically good, if they are of a piece: tho’, where a character of perfect virtue is set before us, ’t is more lovely; for there the whole hero is to be imitated. This is the Æneas of our author; this is that idea of perfection in an epic poem which painters and statuaries have only in their minds, and which no hands are able to express. These are the beauties of a god in a human body. When the picture of Achilles is drawn in tragedy, he is taken with those warts, and moles, and hard features, by those who represent him on the stage, or he is no more Achilles; for his creator, Homer, has so describ’d him. Yet even thus he appears a perfect hero, tho’ an imperfect character of virtue. Horace paints him after Homer, and delivers him to be copied on the stage with all those imperfections. Therefore they are either not faults in a heroic poem, or faults common to the drama. After all, on the whole merits of the cause, it must be acknowledg’d that the epic poem is more for the manners, and tragedy for the passions. The passions, as I have said, are violent; and acute distempers require medicines of a strong and speedy operation. Ill habits of the mind are like chronical diseases, to be corrected by degrees, and cur’d by alteratives; wherein, tho’ purges are sometimes necessary, yet diet, good air, and moderate exercise have the greatest part.”

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One thought on “Achilles with Warts and Moles

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