Is There a Charm in Sounds of Greek?

John Trumbull, The Progress of Dulness:

“Come ye, who finer arts despise,

And scoff at verse as heathen lies;

In all the pride of dulness rage

At Pope, or Milton’s deathless page;

Or stung by truth’s deep-searching line.

Rave ev’n at rhymes as low as mine;

Say ye, who boast the name of wise,

Wherein substantial learning lies.

Is it, superb in classic lore,

To speak what Homer spoke before,

To write the language Tully wrote,

The style, the cadence and the note?

Is there a charm in sounds of Greek,

No language else can learn to speak;

That cures distemper’d brains at once,

Like Pliny’s rhymes for broken bones?

Is there a spirit found in Latin,

That must evap’rate in translating ?

And say are sense and genius bound

To any vehicles of sound?

Can knowledge never reach the brains.

Unless convey’d in ancient strains?

While Homer sets before your eyes

Achilles’ rage, Ulysses’ lies,

Th’ amours of Jove in masquerade,

And Mars entrapp’d by Phoebus’ aid;

While Virgil sings, in verses grave,

His lovers meeting in a cave,

His ships turn’d nymphs, in pagan fables,

And how the Trojans eat their tables;

While half this learning but displays

The follies of the former days;

And for our linguists, fairly try them,

A tutor’d parrot might defy them.

Go to the vulgar ’tis decreed,

There you must preach and write or plead:

Broach every curious Latin phrase

From Tully down to Lily’s days:

All this your hearers have no share in,

Bate but their laughing and their staring.

Interpreters must pass between,

To let them know a word you mean.

Yet could you reach that lofty tongue

Which Plato wrote and Homer sung;

Or ape the Latin verse and scanning,

Like Vida, Cowley or Buchanan;

Or bear ten phrase-books in your head;

Yet know, these languages are dead,

And nothing, e’er, by death, was seen

Improved in beauty, strength or mien,

Whether the sexton use his spade,

Or sorcerer wake the parted shade.

Think how would Tully stare or smile

At these wan spectres of his style,

Or Horace in his jovial way

Ask what these babblers mean to say.”

Image result for medieval manuscript reading

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