Criticism, Summer 1993 v35 n3 p391(28)
Cowley's 'Pindarique Odes' and the politics of the inter-regnum.
Revard, Stella P.
Abstract: The Preface to Abraham Cowley's 1656 'Poems,' which includes his 'Pindarique Odes,' states that Cowley chose to translate Pindar for Pindar's style rather than any political allusions to English politics. However, the Odes were written while Cowley was in prison and include many hidden references to Prince Charles and the Royalist position as well as biblical references equating the Commonwealth government with the Egyptian plagues and pestilence. The Preface helped Cowley be released from prison and so his statements are suspect especially when the content is clearly political.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1993 Wayne State University Press
Cowley's Pindarique Odes first appeared in his 1656 volume of Poems together with the Mistresse, the other poems of the Miscellanies and the Davideis. If we believe Sprat's and Cowley's own account, nothing could have been further from Cowley's mind when he created them than the political situation in England and the hopes to revive the monarchy with the young Prince Charles--the future Charles II. Sprat tells us in his Life of Cowley that the "occasion of [Cowley's] falling on the Pindaric way of Writing, was his accidental meeting with Pindars Works, in a place, where he had other Books to direct him" and where "having then considered at leisure the height of his Invention, and the Majesty of his Style, he try'd immediately to imitate it in English."(1) Cowley's own Prefaces tell us little more. In translating two odes of Pindar and in imitating Pindar's style and manner in a dozen more, Cowley professes no further intention than to introduce into English "the noblest and highest kind of writing in Verse."(2) His attention in both his General Preface and in the Preface to the Pindarique Odes, in fact, is all on Pindar's poetics and the difficulties of rendering into English the peculiarities of his style while remaining true to the spirit of his poetry. "I am in great doubt," Cowley tells readers in the General Preface, "whether they will be understood by most Readers; nay, even by very many who are well enough acquainted with the common Roads, and ordinary Tracks of Poesie." The difficulty Cowley attributes to the "high" and "grand" style, the many "Sudden and sometimes long" digressions, and the unusual and bold figures. In the Preface to the Pindarique Odes themselves, he once more makes apology for the extravagance of the original odes, which cannot be translated literally without having it appear that "one Mad-man had translated another." Further, he goes on to expound on "the great difference of time betwixt his age and ours," difference in religion, customs, and "a thousand pirticularities of places, persons, and manners. These differences, Cowley says, make the task of the translator even more problematic. For this reason, he tells us, he has "taken, left out, and added what [he] please[d]," his aim being not so much to render what Pindar spoke, but his "way and manner of speaking." Cowley says almost nothing about the content of the poetry he is rendering into English nor of the reputation and the politics of the ancient Greek poet who produced it.
We ought to be suspicious of this blandly apolitical account of Pindar, as we should also be of the apolitical picture of Cowley the gentleman poet leisurely turning to reading, studying, and imitating Pindar. If, as Nethercot and most other Cowley scholars believe, the Pindariques were a product of Cowley's stay in Jersey in 1651 and were written between 1651 and 1655 when he returned to England and was imprisoned, it was hardly a apolitical time in Cowley's life.(3) He was intensely concerned with the fortunes of the future Charles II, who after the disasters of the Scottish campaign and Worcester had returned to France. Cowley himself was busy throughout 1651 with an expedition to Scotland, to the Netherlands, to the Channel Islands, back to France, and finally again to Jersey where (reportedly at leisure) he fell upon the Pindarical way. Never were the royal fortunes lower than during Cowley's Pindaric period, so we can hardly assume that politics were absent from his mind while he waited for the political winds to change.
In turning to Pindar, Cowley turned to a poet who was well acquainted with the vagaries of royal patronage. One of the most productive periods of Pindar's life was spent in royal service to the immensely wealthy, prestigious, but also troubled tyrants of Sicily-Hieron of Syracuse and Theron of Acragas--for whom he composed some of the most ambitious of his odes--the famous Olympia 1, which lauds Hieron's victory in the horse race at the Olympic games in 476 B.C.--and Olympia 2, which commemorates Theron's victory in the chariot race in the same year. Olympia 2 was one of the most popular odes and was imitated in antiquity, as in the Renaissance, whenever a poet wished to laud a king or some other ruler. Horace does not hesitate in I, xii to raise his voice with Pindaric declamation to ask what man, what hero, what god he should praise ("Quem virum, aut heroa lyra vel acri / tibia sumis celebrare, Clio, / quem deum?" [I, xii, 1-3]). In addressing Augustus Caesar, Horace found it useful to echo Olympia 2, one of Pindar's most famous odes, and so by implication to associate the accomplishments of his own master with that of the munificent Theron or to invoke, as Pindar did, the protection and favor of the highest god--here the Roman Jupiter--for his own lord and man of men. When he chose Olympia 2 as the first of his Pindaric translations, Cowley could hardly have been ignorant of its close connections with royal encomium nor of how many poets before him had used it as a model for their verses to kings. In the Renaissance Pindaric ode had been employed again and again as a favored form to celebrate the fortunes and misfortunes of kings and emperors. Francesco Filelfo and Benedetto Lampridio in Italy, two early experimenters, address Pindarically inspired odes to Charles VIII of France, to Henry VIII of England, and to Pope Leo X. Luigi Alamanni and Salmon Macrin employ Pindaric techniques in odes to Francis I of France; Antonio Minturno has two elaborate pindarics (in Latin) to the Emperor Charles V, and Ronsard adapts Pindaric techniques for his odes to Henri II. Many of his odes directly echo the famous opening of Olympia 2. Ronsard so firmly established the Pindaric style in France, though he himself later abandoned it, that well into the seventeenth century, French poets were addressing every prince, princelet, duke, count or semi-count in France in Pindaric triads. Nor was English royalty unacquainted with Pindarics. Long before Ben Jonson addressed his ode to Cary and the memory of Morison, Pindar's lyre had been struck for compliments to English royalty. Paulus Melissus in Schediasmeta Poetica (1586) celebrated both Elizabeth and Cecil in Latin pindarics, and John Soowthern in Pandora (London, 1584) offered his compliments to the Earl of Oxford by plucking a string from Pindar's lyre.(4) Was Cowley ignorant of Pindar and the political uses of the Pindaric ode until he happened to come upon a copy of Benedictus' edition in Jersey? I think not. If he had not encountered Pindar's odes when he was a student at Cambridge and a close friend to the deeply learned Richard Crashaw (who would have known both the Greek originals and the neo-Latin imitations), he could not have escaped knowledge of Pindar while in France, where the political pindaric had flourished for over a hundred years and where the young Rene Rapin was beginning to formulate critical theories about Pindaric irregularities so very like those Cowley voices in his Preface.
As Annabel Patterson reminds us in her book, Censorship and Interpretation, Cowley might have had a rather subtle political purpose in espousing the famous so-called obscurities of the Pindaric style. She argues that Cowley presents the Pindaric ode as "generically enigmatic, unusually dependent for its interpretation upon readers with special competence."(5) In 1656 when he published his Pindarique Odes, he needed to have it both ways--to reconcile himself to the Commonwealth then in power and yet to remain loyal to the Royalist cause to which he had devoted his life since he was ejected from Cambridge in 1643-44. The Pindarique odes became the perfect medium to do both. The poetry that he publishes in 1656, he professes in the General Preface, is that of a man who urges that we "lay down our Pens, as well as our Arms," that we march "out of our Cause." He contends that after the war it is necessary to dismantle the "Works and Fortification" both of war and of the "Wit and Reason by which we defended it." In return for the "General Amnestie," he and his fellow Royalists have received from the Victor, he professes to have practiced "the Art of Oblivion," destroying all the work of his pen that had defended the cause, including his incomplete epic on the Civil War, and abstaining from printing any new work in the former cause.
What do we make of this profession of literary surrender? First of all, we know that Cowley was not altogether truthful, for he had not, in fact, destroyed the first three books of the Civil War, even if he did not complete the epic. We also know that this so-called act of "Oblivion" caused him both embarrassment and charges of disloyalty at the time of the Restoration, so much so that he ordered the passage excised from the Preface to the 1668 Poems.(6) Sprat, Cowley's literary executor, also felt compelled to defend the poet against charges of disloyalty to the king, brought against him because of these "few lines" in the 1656 Preface. Sprat contends that the lines were designed deliberately to "insinuate into the Usurpers minds" by pretending that "men of his Principles were now willing to be quiet." His declaration was also designed to "perswade the poor oppressed Royalists to conceal their affections, for better occasions," while he himself used the "declaration of his peaceful intentions" to pursue his own ends. Sprat further contends that the declaration helped rather than harmed Charles's cause. "For certainly it was one of the greatest helps to the Kings Affairs, about the latter end of that Tyranny, that many of his best Friends dissembled their Counsels, and acted the same Designs, under the Disguises and Names of other Parties." If we take Sprat's defense seriously, and there is no reason why we should not, then we need to re-evaluate the contents of the 1656 volume and particularly that of the Pindarique Odes, which were written during this very period of so-called dissembling. It is my feeling that both of Cowley's translations from Pindar and many of the Pindarique odes that follow act out one design under the disguise and name of another, that is, that Cowley, far from having laid down his pen in the king's cause, merely pretended to have done so.
Cowley's political agenda appears first of all in his silence about the political underpinnings of the odes he translates--Olympia 2 and Nemea 1. Both, however, are politically charged odes, addressed to Sicilian men of eminence--the first to the tyrant Theron of Acragas or Agrigentum, the second to Chromius of Aetna, a nobleman close to the tyrant Hieron who had appointed him guardian of his son Deinomenes, the ruler of Aetna. Both praise the glories of the Sicilian city-states, but both also allude to the troubled political conditions that beset the tyrants Hieron and Theron, who were at odds with one another and were troubled with rebellion at home and with danger of attack from without in the ever present threat of the Carthaginians. Cowley glosses over most of this in his headnotes.(7) The first ode, he says, commends Theron for his nobility, riches, hospitality, munificence, and other virtues, but consists of many digressions. The second praises a young gentleman of Sicily, Chromius, for his person, his great endowments of mind and body, and likens him to Heracles. In choosing a royal subject for the first ode and a young and virtuous man for the second, Cowley is offering us ciphers for two personages well known to his audience. The first is the powerful, munificent, but unfortunate king, Charles 1, whom he served so devotedly; the second the young Prince Charles, whose virtues and promise he wishes to promote to the throne. Although in 1656 he dare not speak their names, much less praise their virtues, he can offer in these Pindaric translations ciphers for the princes he admires. The agent who wrote and carried so many coded letters between King Charles and his Queen now presents in his poetry a coded message to the people of England, one which those in the know may very easily decipher and read.
Although Pindar's Theron in many ways resembles Charles 1, we should not read in Cowley's ode a direct translation of Sicilian tyrant to English king. Theron at the time Pindar addressed him was happy and was exulting in a chariot-victory in the Olympic games--the most prestigious contest in the most prestigious games. Cowley could perhaps look back on Charles at his height of power and equate him with Theron at that moment--but it was not the Charles of the Civil Wars or the Charles of 1649 that clearly he was thinking of. Rather it is Charles as he represents the institution of monarchy--of an English monarchy that preserves the traditions and the honor of the country. Cowley might well describe this Charles, as he described Theron, as "first in Pisa's, and in Virtues Race" (1.16). Further, though Pindar congratulates Theron throughout the ode on his happiness and his success, he never ceases to remind him that human happiness is a transitory thing. The true theme of Olympia 2 is conveyed in its digressions rather than in its main text--and these digressions tell not so much of the happiness of Theron's dynasty, but of its survival despite the disasters of the past and the dangers of the present that threaten it. As often as Pindar lauds Theron's wealth and happiness, just as often he counsels patience in adversity. For what he celebrates is not the happiness of an individual--even a king--at the present moment, but the happiness of a race that has survived against the odds and the happiness that lies for all--that is all the virtuous--beyond the grave.
After its triumphant opening, the second through the fifth stanzas recount the "past sufferings of this noble Race" (3.1), the "rough ways" through which the sons of Cadmus had to pass before they could plant their noble city, Agrigentum, in "fair-fac'ed Sicilie." These sufferings include the persecution and death of Cadmus" daughters Semele and Ino, the trials of the "innocent Parricide," Oedipus, and the death of his wrathful sons, Polyneices and Eteocles, at their own hands. In recounting their history, Cowley follows Pindar very closely. In his notes, he explains Pindar's mention of "these tragical accidents and actions of Oedipus and his Sons, in an Ode dedicated to the praise of Theron"--on the grounds that they were "so notorious, that it was better to excuse then conceal them" (8). Even as Cowley makes an excuse for Pindar, he also excuses the tragical accidents of another family, the Stuarts, which include the deaths of Mary Stuart and her grandson Charles, that neatly parallel the unfortunate cases of Semele and the political misfortunes of Oedipus and his sons.
In Olympia 2 Pindar tells us that the past sufferings of Cadmus' descendants are redeemed in Thersander. Thersander was the son of Polyneices and the grandson of Oedipus, the sole survivor of a family wiped out by misfortune, who going to Sicily became the ancestral founder of the city that Theron ruled. Cowley tells us that Thersander lives again now both in his verse and in Theron's virtuous person. In Cowley's version of the myth, the figure of Thersander may also suggest Prince Charles, the surviving son of a family that, like Oedipus', Cowley might well have felt, had been hunted down by misfortune. In Charles, as in Thersander, were the seeds of grace, the warranters of continuation for the race to come.
In his translation, Cowley does not pass up the opportunity to give us other echoes and allusions to the young Prince Charles. When Pindar describes Theron's success in the games at Olympia, he also--for such was the practice of the epinician ode--alludes to Theron's brother's victories at Pytho and in the Isthmus. Cowley picks up and expands this allusion to the brother--and by giving the allusion to a brother greater prominence than it had in the original, he emphasizes that the Stuart virtue was found not only in Charles, but also in his brother James:
For the well-natur'ed honour there
Which with thy Brother thou didst share,
Was to thee double grown
By not being all thine own.
The sections of Pindar's ode that deal with the vicissitudes of life and promises of immortality in heaven also apply, though in a different way, to the Stuart myth that Cowley is promoting in this ode and may touch on perhaps the most delicate question of all--the martyrdom of Charles I. Pindar's allusions to the afterlife in this ode had received a good deal of attention by commentators and editors in the sixteenth and seventeenth century who had argued that they were very close to Christian beliefs. Pindar seems to look on the afterlife as a place where the good were rewarded and the evil punished. Further, he seems to believe that the injustices of earth were righted in heaven. Cadmus' unlucky daughters Semele and Ino perish only to achieve greater happiness in heaven. So too Achilles enjoys his reward in the isles of the dead. The Achilles figure in Pindar corresponds in Cowley's translation to the heroic Charles, untimely cut off, who will attain a reward among the isles of the dead that was denied him on earth. In the original ode, Pindar grants Achilles immortality because of his achievements as the military hero who cut down Hector and Memnon. Cowley drops these references and alludes instead to how the divine mother Thetis, having failed to secure her son's invulnerability on earth, purges his soul from wrath and renders a divine hardness to his soul.
The concluding stanzas of Cowley's translation illuminate other aspects of the Stuart myth. In the original ode, Pindar draws a contrast between the divinely inspired poet and the eagle at which the envious crows vainly caw and chatter. Though Cowley renders this passage correctly, he adds a comparison of his own, commenting how the eagle the Jovian bird bore Ganymede aloft.
. . . like the sacred Bird of Jove
Now bears loud Thunder, and anon with silent joy
The beauteous Phrygian Boy,
Defeats the Strong, oretakes the Flying prey;
And sometimes basks in th'open Flames of Day,
And sometimes too he shrowds,
His soaring wings among the Clouds.
Unlike Pindar's eagle, who functions only as an emblem for the poet, Cowley's eagle is a Jovian figure of divine justice, defeating the strong and soaring above the earth. Who is this "beauteous Phrygian Boy" that he carries aloft? Could it be the young triumphant Charles, whose right the Jovian eagle vindicates?
In the last strophe of the original ode, Pindar joins his praise of Theron with a brief allusion to those envious and spiteful that grudge him praise. Cowley makes spiteful envy, not Theron, the principal subject of his final stanza.
But in this thankless world the Givers
Are envi'ed ev'en by the Receivers.
'Tis now the cheap and frugal fashion,
Rather to Hide then Pay the Obligation.
Nay worser much then so
It now an Artifice does grow,
Wrongs and outrages to do,
Lest men should think we ow.
What is Cowley alluding to? Not, I think, to the envy that Pindar's Theron incurred from his enemies. Cowley's words have a more pointed and contemporary ring. He alludes to the world of the Commonwealth that has forgotten its obligation to kings and with it all sense of generosity and common thanks.
The second of the odes that Cowley translates (Nemea 1) features Chromius of Aetna and recounts the story of the infant Heracles strangling the serpents sent to kill him. Although Cowley reshapes certain details to reinforce the connection between Chromius of Aetna and Prince Charles, the ode already was perfect raw material out of which to fashion a propaganda piece for the Stuarts. It begins with a promise of renewal. Alpheus, the river god, having pursued the fleeing nymph Arethusa from Greece, finds a new breathing place in Sicily and mingles his waters with those of Arethusa transformed into a fountain. Not only does the wedding of the river god with the nymph promise prosperity to Sicily, but it also sets the tone of the ode as that of new beginnings. Having begun with the account of Alpheus' new birth in Sicily, Pindar recounts how Zeus dedicates the island to Proserpina, herself reborn and returned from Hades to rejoin her mother. In his translation Cowley emphasizes how this island kingdom--he stresses the word isle--will flourish under the goddess's protection, just as England, that sceptered isle, might also flourish in the future. Just before he starts to recount the story of Hercules' birth, Cowley turns to the victor from Aetna, Chromius, or as he calls him, young Chromius.
How early has young Chromius begun
The Race of Virtue, and how swiftly run,
And born the noble Prize away,
Whilst other youths yet at the Barriere stay?
These lines are an interpolation. Cowley also interpolates that key adjective, "young," using it both to describe Chromius in his prefatory note, in the first reference to him in the poem, and again at this juncture, where he says it seemed to him "necessary to make a little more perspicuous" "the connexion between Chromius and the story of Hercules" (16). His interpolations also make a little more clear the connection between Chromius and Prince Charles.
Young is a word Pindar never applies to Chromius, the simple reason being that the historical Chromius that Pindar addresses in the ode was not young, having served under three Sicilian tyrants and having been appointed guardian both to Gelon's and Hieron's sons respectively, as well as governor of Aetna. Pindar praises Chromius for his hospitality, for being a man mighty in mind and body, but not for youthful expectation. That is Cowley's addition, as is the detailed description of Chromius' strength, beauty, and prospects of great fortune:
Nature herself, whilst in the womb he was,
Sow'd Strength and Beauty through the forming Mass,
They mov'ed the vital Lump in every part,
And carv'ed the Members out with wondrous art.
She fill'd his Mind with Courage, and with Wit
And a vast Bounty, apt and fit
For the great Dowre which Fortune made to it.
This description better fits a young Prince than an elder patron, particularly a young prince such as Charles, being groomed as a future king.(8)
Other details that Cowley adds are just as telling. Remarking upon the prospects of fortune that await Chromius, Cowley says,
Though Happy men the present goods possess,
Th' Unhappy have their share in future Hopes no less.
Pindar's original says nothing whatsoever about happy or unhappy men--much less identifying who the one or the other might be. He merely tells us that hope is common to all men alike. In pointing to the happy in possession of present goods and the unhappy sharing only in future hopes, Cowley teases us to connect the first with the present governors, the second with those expectant exiles--without, of course, divulging the identity of either.
Upon introducing the myth of Hercules, he points still more directly at Charles in expectation of an illustrious future. Cowley describes the infant Hercules--"wrapt in purple swadling-bands" (6.11) --the royal purple is Cowley's addition--a figure for the young Charles confronted with the vipers of sedition that threaten to deprive him of his right. Hercules had been a favorite patron hero for royal houses since the time of Pindar; he was no less in favor in the Renaissance as the patron hero of Italian and French nobility. In Pindarically inspired odes that Cowley could well have known, the Italian Luigi Alamanni and the French Salmon Macrin both recounted myths of Hercules to compliment their royal patron Francis I of France. Cowley is merely folowing a well-established precedent, as he frames a compliment for his exiled prince.
Although Pindar tells us that Hercules in strangling the snakes performed his first feat of battle, Cowley makes the occasion even more warlike as Hercules quells his snaky foes.
The mighty Infant seem'd well pleas'ed
At his gay gilded foes,
And as their spotted necks up to the Cradle rose,
With his young warlike hands on both he seis'ed,
In vain they rag'd, in vain they hist,
In vain their armed Tails they twist,
And angry Circles cast about,
Black Blood, and fiery Breath, and poys'onous Soul he squeezes out. (7.8-15)
Pietro Reggio, an Italian musician resident in London in the 1660s, set Cowley's Hercules stanzas to music, probably in compliment to Charles II, for whom he wrote a patriotic drinking song. Dryden imitates these stanzas in the "Threnodia Augustalis," but he makes James, not Charles, the Herculean hero, attributing both the feat of strangling the serpents and the prophetic destiny to James. Dryden was both an astute imitator as well as an astute interpreter of Cowley.(9)
Seeing Hercules--the conquering boy, as Cowley calls him--the prophet Teiresias predicts from this single deed of conquest a triumphant future which includes slaying of monsters on sea and land, vanquishing the hateful giant Antaeus, and meeting with the gods and giants on the plain of Phlegra. To this list of conquests, our translator Cowley adds one more category, no where to be found in the Pindaric list--the slaying of mighty tyrants.
From what Monsters he should free
The Earth, the Ayr, and Sea
What mighty Tyrants he should slay,
More Monsters far than They.
Who may these mighty tyrants be that Hercules is to slay? Cowley provides an interesting gloss in his notes, identifying them as Antaeus, Busiris, and Augias--the first a giant whom Hercules is to slay, the others tyrant-kings. In his essay, "Of Greatness" and in his tract "A Discourse on the Government of Oliver Cromwell," Cowley calls Cromwell both tyrant and giant. He goes on in "Of Greatness" to describe how the "late Gyant of our Nation" attempted, like the giants in Greek myth, to scale heaven and was thrown down (Works, 24-25). Clearly Cowley was predicting Charles's "conquest" of Cromwell.
In the final stanza Cowley effects one more turn upon the Pindaric original that directs our attention to London rather than Thebes or Syracuse. Pindar, alluding to the aftermath of the battle at Phlegra, merely tells us that Hercules rested from his labors, now married to Hebe and dwelling in the house of Zeus. Cowley, however, makes Hercules the very savior of the Olympian gods
And that the grateful Gods at last,
The race of his laborious Virtue past,
Heaven, which he sav'ed, should to him give...
Moreover, he concludes the ode not with Hercules in repose in heaven, but with him walking aloft in the "Groves of never-withering Light," now frighting, as he had the Monsters on earth, the constellations of the sky--the lion, bear, bull, centaur, scorpion--"all the radiant Monsters there" (9.8,11).(10)
If anyone doubts that Cowley anticipates in these two translations from Pindar the return of the young Charles to England--the Thersander of the first, the Chromius-Hercules of the second ode, let her or him glance at the Pindaric ode that the poet produced in 1660, "Upon the Blessed Restoration and Returne of His Sacred Majestie, Charls the Second."(11) It is filled with the kind of Pindaric flourishes that Cowley employed in his translations--now employed directly and openly to compliment the returning king.
He begins by making the heavens signal with a star the prodigious wonder of Charles's birth, just as Pindar had celebrated the prodigious coming of the infant Heracles. The Jovian eagle that in Olympia 2 appeared to guarantee justice reappears as a dove returned to an England restored to peace and justice--the Augean stables of the church, having been cleaned by a restored Hercules (3.15). After the Restoration, Charles was not infrequently described as the Hercules who had strangled the viper of sedition, had cleansed the Augean stables of a Commonwealth England, in short, had accomplished those labors that guaranteed felicity to England.(12) Cromwell in turn--now named--is the defeated serpent:
That great Serpent, which was all a Tayl,
(And in his poys'nous folds whole Nations prisoners made).
As Charles was covertly celebrated in Olympia 2 with his brother, now he is openly welcomed:
He who has seen the double Pair
Of Brothers heavenly good, and Sisters heavenly fair,
Might have perceiv'd (me thinks) with ease,
That God had no intent t'extinquish quite
The pious King's eclipsed Right.
The martyr'd Charles 1, who covertly made appearance in Olympia 2 under the guise of the innocent parricide and the slain Achilles, now is proclaimed as the royal blood that is the "seed from whence the Church did grow" (9.2). The malice, wrongs, and outrages that Cowley complained of at the end of Olympia 2 he now announces banished by the united force of King and Truth:
No frantick Common-wealths or Tyrannies,
No Cheats, and Perjuries, and Lies,
No Nets of human Policies.
The tyrannies only alluded to at the end of Nemea 1 are now openly named. Moreover, the constellations of Nemea 1 find their counterparts in the stars, meteors, comets that misled, Cromwell himself being named a large Comet:
Where's the large Comet now whose rageing flame
So fatall to our Monarchy became?
Charles is portrayed as the Anti-Comet that has "frighted it away," just as Hercules has frighted the radiant monsters of the heavens.
Like the translations from Pindar, the Restoration ode is filled with philosophical reflections on life and commentary on the perplexing ways in which human happiness is granted or withheld. Like Pindar, Cowley reflects that, although happiness on earth is uncertain, yet it is better to experience misfortune early in life if it leads to true felicity. True felicity is what this Restoration ode proclaims, however, with all the Pindaric stops pulled out. As a Pindarist Cowley began under the veil of an ancient Greek mode and with the means of Greek mythic equivalents at his disposal. Like the ancient priest in a "Poetick rage," he murmurs against the present order while he looks forward to the golden age. In the Restoration ode, he proclaims the golden age come and, dropping the ciphers of Theron, Chromius, Oedipus, and Hercules, he introduces without cipher the true eikon of the returned king.
In different ways the twelve original imitations of Pindar that follow the opening translations in the 1656 collection reflect Cowley's dilemma as a Royalist who was employing the license of an ancient poetic mode to speak what he could not otherwise. Cowley adopts the pose that subject matter as well as style has been dictated to him by his decision to bring Pindar and his odes to the attention of the English public. Cowley's subject matter, in fact, aside from the opening translations, little resembles Pindar's own, though it does resemble that of the Pindaric imitations that had been produced in Italy and France since the Pindaric revival. Cowley's Pindarique Odes fall into four main groups. The introductory ode, "The Praise of Pindar," an imitation of Horace's ode 4.2 and the first two odes--"The Resurrection" and "The Muse"--do indeed deal with poetics, but a poetics, as we shall see, with a very specific agenda. The next group of odes are to actual living persons--to Thomas Hobbes and to Dr. Scarborough--and, between the two, an ode on "Destinie" and another on "Brutus"--certainly the most controversial of all the odes. The next group of odes concern philosophical topics--"Life and Fame," "The Extasie," "To the New Year," "Life"--and the last group, which contains the longest of the odes is on two biblical subjects drawn from the Old Testament--the "34th Chapter of Isaiah" and "The Plagues of Egypt." It is a carefully designed collection and sequence, not a mere miscellany, and it is a sequence with a very definite political sub-text. Like the two translations, the odes themselves are designed to "insinuate into the Usurpers minds," to conceal true affections and intent, and to bide the time for "better occasions."
The introductory Horatian ode and the two odes that follow seem to deal only with Pindar's poetics. It is significant that Cowley translates only about half of the actual ode of Horace, the innocent half. He omits Horace's references to political matters and Horace's praise of Augustus. It is true that his presentation of Pindar as the Theban swan soaring aloft and his presentation of his own "tim'erous Muse," pursuing her own "Unambitious tracks" like an laborous bee, content with "Humble Sweets," is very close to Horace. "Unambitious," however, is Cowley's own word, and Horace does not close his poem with the bee disporting herself in the meadows. Cowley does. It is a picture of poetics without a program. Cowley's poetics, however, have a very definite program. One of his purposes is to persuade the public that Pindar is an enthusiastical, highly obscure poet devoted to poetry alone and to high and sublime religious and philosophical subjects. As an untamed genius, Pindar is totally unpredictable and uncontrolled; his "vig'orous heat" is liable to carry him and any hapless imitator away. As Sprat was to say in his 1668 Introduction, "If any are displeas'd at the boldness of his [Cowley's] Metaphors, and the length of his Digressions, they contend not against Mr. Cowley, but Pindar himself" (Works, n.p.). All of the difficulties, obscurities, oblique references, and subtle indirections in Cowley's own imitations then must to attributed to Pindaric style rather than Cowleian design. It was not until after 1700 that Congreve, protesting the looseness of the Cowleian ode, was to assert that irregularity was not a characteristic of Pindar's original odes, that the strophes, antistrophes, and epodes of Pindar's original odes follow an absolutely regular pattern.(13) The irregular stanzas that Cowley espouses for Pindar, Congreve points out, have no warrant whatsoever in the original poet. It is wholly Cowley's license as a translator-imitator. Moreover, Pindaric structure, like Pindaric meter, is far more predictable than Cowley presents it. Even the usual so-called digressions or myths are a formulaic and predictable parts of most odes, and are used functionally to coordinate the praise of the victor of the ode with praise of a legendary hero or event that has some connection with him. Pindar is never random in his choices. The edition of Pindar that Cowley used--Benedictus' 1620 volume, printed in Saumur--has ample notes and introductions that explain the Pindaric method and references.(14) That Cowley closely follows Benedictus is evident from his adoption--without acknowledgement, however--of Benedictus' Latin translations for his own translations and notes for his own notes. Moreover, other editions and commentaries of Pindar--for example, the edition of Erasmus Schmid (Wittenberg, 1616), which Benedictus used--supply a diagram for each ode that shows how it is arranged structurally into interconnecting parts. Nothing could be more orderly than the progression of parts that Schmid presents for Olympia 2 or Nemea 1, for example. Cowley's exaggeration of the difficulties of Pindar's odes and his promotion of the idea that Pindar is a chaotic and obscure poet may plead more than poetic license. In the opening Horace ode and in this two "poetic" apologies, Cowley lays the groundwork to proceed as he pleases.
The political references in the next four odes are cautious, tentative, and contradictory. The most direct references--in fact, one of the few actual references to the Civil War--occur in the last of these, the ode to Dr. Scarborough, the physician friend who provided the bail for Cowley's release from prison. Adopting the metaphor of disease to describe the "epidemick" progress of that war through the nation, Cowley regrets that war, like a plague, has unpeopled the nation. The metaphor of disease will recur--not only in this poem but in others, where it more subtly alludes to the pestilential quality of Commonwealth politics. Cowley's references to the civil conflict in the Scarborough ode, however, are unproblematical. Royalist and Puritan alike might regret the "Tragick Scene" of slaughter, might even shake the head ruefully over the "Ruines of a Civil War," might for the afflictions of "our mad Nation." These words are perfectly consonant with Cowley's conciliatory preface that promised not "to rip up old wounds" or "to give new ones."
The second personal address in this section--"To Mr. Hobs"--lauds the author of Leviathan and a number of treatises on government and physics as the "great Columbus of the Golden Lands of new Philosophies' (4.8). It contains nothing exceptional in itself, being an ode of praise that follows in the tradition of the "familiar Pindaric," developed in the early part of the sixteenth century by Neo-Latin poets such as Benedetto Lampridio, well-known as a Pindaric experimenter." But, we must consider Hobbes himself and his position in England in 1656, ambiguous in many ways as Cowley's own, for Hobbes had been tutor to Prince Charles and an exile in France during the entire period of the Civil Wars. Cowley's address to him as the new Stagirite raises some questions. From one point of view the author of Leviathan might be seen as a "friend" to Cromwell in that Hobbes's treatise approved the establishment of strong leadership after civil strife; from another point of view, however (and it was the one that Charles II, who rewarded Hobbes, was content to take), Leviathan paved the road to the Restoration. Cowley's ode to Hobbes eschews political comment, but its very presence in the collection raises some political issues.
The two odes that follow--"Destinie" and "Brutus"--contain political references that would be difficult to ignore. On the surface "Destinie" is a perfectly apolitical poem that recounts how the "Midwife Muse" chooses the poet as her own, hence determining his destiny. But its opening two sections use the politically charged metaphor of life as a game of chess, supervised by angelic arbiters. In this game that pits pawns against kings, how can we not silently identify the proud Pawn" who "still advancing higher / At top of all became / Another Thing and Name" (1.8-11)? Or can we pass over Cowley's sly naming of himself as the "losing party" who blames his loss on "those false Moves that break the Game"? And what about the characterization of the game as over when the "conquered Pieces" are brought "to their Grave the Bag" (1.16). Can the "Mated King" be Charles I himself whose "ill Conduct" brings about his demise or can "ill Conduct" equally describe the actions towards the King as his own actions? Cowley nonchalantly presents this round of chess as a cosmic game only gods and angels can control or understand. But might some Royalist sympathizer silently nod and understand that Cowley is alluding to the events of the previous decade?
Some climb to good, some from good Fortune fall,
Some Wisemen, and some Fools we call,
Figures, alas, of Speech, Destiny plays us all.
The problems of "Destinie," however, are minor to those of the ode that follows it. Is the famous or infamous "Brutus" a tribute to the king-killing Cromwell or one to a would--be Royalist assassin of the Protector, who would remove the tyrant from the State, as Brutus had removed Caesar? There are good arguments for both readings, but neither proves absolutely conclusive, so ambiguous is Cowley's description of the ancient Roman.(16) In his other writings Cowley is generally favorable to the historical Brutus whom he describes as virtuous, without entirely approving his action in assassinating Caesar.(17) The opening encomium of the ode is entirely consonant with the later description of the ancient Brutus: "Excellent Brutus, of all humane race, / The best till Nature was improv'ed by Grace" (1.1-2). Were not Roman republicanism so charged an issue in the 1650s and the connection between the assassins of Caesar and the parliamentarians who killed the king so generally assumed by both sides, we might simply take it for granted that Cowley is describing the position of Brutus in a pre-Christian world and nothing else. There are problems with taking the ode as a grudging compliment to Cromwell, accorded in light of the amnesty Cowley professes in the "Preface," for we cannot imagine that Cromwell would have been entirely pleased with a poem, which, though it praises Brutus' refusal of Caesar's usurpt place, dwells on his suicide ("who kill'd Himself rather than serve" [2.4]) and his defeat at the hands of "false Octavius" and "wilde Antonie" (5.6). Cowley's ode, in fact, deals as much with the dangers of Brutus' principled actions as with their virtues.
As Cowley makes clear in his "Discourse on the Government of Oliver Cromwell," the word tyrant can apply both to an established king who abuses his power and to a man who usurps that power by force--hence both to Charles I and to Cromwell himself. Cowley consistently uses the word tyrant for Cromwell in the "Discourse," which is, after all, a Royalist treatise written after Cromwell's death and on the eve of the Restoration. As one in a sequence of odes that Cowley wrote in the period of the Protectorate after his return to England, "Brutus" makes better sense as an ode cautioning a would-be assassin of that tyrant-protector on the dangers of tyrant-killing. A "noble" Royalist assassin undertaking such a deed runs as great a risk of perishing as succeeding. That Cowley should be cautious and ambiguous is understandable; that he should write an ode complimenting the Protector on being a tyrant-killer, when he would, on Cromwell's death, revile him for that killing is entirely inconsistent with the plan of the Pindarique Odes. Cowley did not withdraw the Brutus ode from the 1668 collection, as he did the troublesome paragraph in the Preface in which he professed conciliation, Further, the Brutus ode concludes, not by resolving the issue of what a virtuous Brutus should or should not have done, but of raising the entire question of "Humane Virtues" to a higher plain, testing them by applying the Christian standard of a "God crucifi'ed" (5.22-23). The question of "tyrant-killing" did not fade away with Charles I's death on the scaffold; it continued to apply not only to a deed accomplished but to one that might, in turn, be accomplished against Charles I's successor. As with most issues of the Inter-regnum this one too was double-edged.
The next four odes are almost without political comment and best attest to Cowley's boast that he had laid down the partisan pen and was devoting himself to other things, namely here to philosophical reflections on life and death drawn from sources such as Pindar, Plato, Euripides, Cicero, Xenophon, and Scripture. Although not without indirect application, only one ode alludes directly to the troubles of the past era. Briefly, in "The Extasie" Cowley glances down as though from a flight above the earth on the British Land, "a Grain o' th' Sand," and bitterly comments:
For this will any sin, or Bleed?
Of Civil Wars is this the Meed?
And is it this, alas, which we
(Oh Irony of Words!) we call Great Britainie?
Only one other reflection is potentially political and that occurs in the notes to the ode, "To the New Year," where Cowley alludes to the fact that the doors of Janus, which open the new year, must in fact be shut (as the doors of the actual temple were in antiquity during a time of peace) for any good fortune to come about.
The last two odes in the book--"The 34 Chapter of the Prophet Isaiah" and "The Plagues of Egypt"--might appear at first an apt closing to the philosophical sequence on life and death.(18) These two Old Testament odes are, however, like the two Pindaric paraphrases that begin the book, the most intense statements about the political situation of the 1650s and, like the paraphrases, must be read allegorically. In his first footnote to the Isaiah ode Cowley tells us in fact that he wants us to read these odes "Pindarically," remarking that "The manner of the Prophets writing, especially of Isaiah, seems to me very like that of Pindar" (50). It is true that some sixteenth- and seventeenth-century commentators compared Pindar's style to that of Psalms, Proverbs, and the Prophets, even to the point of compiling comparative quotations.(19) Cowley, I believe, has another purpose in mind when he proposes these biblical odes. Only a few years later, in the first of three projected discourses, he employs the voice of the Old Testament prophet. In his Advertisement to his 1661 edition of "A Vision, concerning his late Pretended Highnesse Cromwell, the Wicked," printed anonymously, Cowley professes that he has adopted the manner of the "Prophetical Threatnings of the Old Testament"; his aim, he says, was "to denounce heavy Judgments against the three Kingdoms . . . unless they prevented them speedily by serious Repentance, and that greatest and hardest work of it, Restitution."(20) The manner that he assumes in the Isaiah ode is similar, though he does not openly profess that he is translating the words of the prophet in order to denounce judgments against a wicked nation. Further, as with the Pindaric paraphrases, he translates as he pleases, omitting here and adding there. He also assumes, moreover, an Old Testament manner in the second ode on the plagues of Egypt, an ode which also has as sub-text the history of his own troubled era in England. The closing odes, like the opening ones, offer coded messages to the Royalist sympathizers during the Inter-regnum.
Both odes describe the desolation of a proud and disobedient Israel --a "Rebel" nation. The first ode is a prophecy of doom delivered to a recalcitrant Judaea; the second an account of the plagues that resistance to God's will brought down on Egypt. Both poems offer rereadings of biblical history from the Royalist rather than the Parliamentarian stance. The Puritan saints were fond of identifying their cause with an oppressed Israel; they looked to their leaders as prophets who denounced royal evil. Cromwell could be identified as Moses who led his people out of Egypt, away from the tyranny of a Royalist Pharoah.(21) Cowley takes these Puritan readings of Scripture and turns them on their head, identifying the Royalists with the prophets and the chosen people whom a kingly Moses will lead to the promised land. He is cautious, of course, both in his text and in his interpretive notes. He delivers the allegorical message; he does not interpret it for us, as he does in the Restoration ode he writes for Charles's return or in his prose Discourse on Oliver Cromwell. Yet the message is there. Cowley's paraphrase, "The 34 Chapter of the Prophet Isaiah," is addressed to the "Rebel World":
Awake, and with attention hear,
Thou drowsie World, for it concerns thee near;
Awake, I say, and listen well,
To what from God, I, his loud Prophet, tell.
A dreadful Host of Judgements is gone out;
In strength and number more
Then ere was rais'd by God before,
To scourge the Rebel World, and march it round about.
"Rebel" is Cowley's choice of word, but its force is almost immediately tempered by his note. To whom is the prophecy addressed and what does it prophesy? Cowley assures us that commentators differ: "some would have it to be a Prediction of the destruction of Judaea . . . the rest understand it as a Prophesie of the Day of Judgement" (50). Cowley himself will have it both ways: "The design of it to me seems to be this, first to denounce great desolations and ruines to all Countreys, and then to do it more particularly to Judaea . . . and to illustrate these confusions by the similitude of them to those of the last Day" (50). He admits that in the text there is "no Transition from the subject to the similitude," but excuses that as the "old fashion of writing . . . where half is left out to be supplyed by the Hearer" (50).
What we are left with then is a cautious application of the prophecy to a rebel Judaea that we may, if we wish, apply also to Commonwealth England. Cowley's paraphrase of Isaiah 34 delivers a grim judgment of total destruction. The sword of God is about to fall on a "cursed Land" that does not understand that it stands on a precipice. The fearful storm from God threatens men and beasts and will level the land; a plague threatens all living and the destroying angel measures the ground. All of these metaphors of destruction will recur in the ode that follows: "The Plagues of Egypt." These metaphors were also used in Cowley's previous Pindariques to describe the devastation of Civil War and recur in "A Discourse . . . on the Government of Oliver Cromwell," which describes the Protector as the destroyer who has brought devastation on the land.
Particularly provocative, as Annabel Patterson has rightly noted, is Cowley's use of a "Sword of God" brandished above the land, its scabbard cast away. The biblical verse says nothing about a castaway scabbard, but Cowley notes of that scabbard, as though to explain the metaphor: "he who draws his sword against his Prince, should fling away the Scabbard" (51). Also provocative is Cowley's note that he has omitted verses 7 through 10 that refer metaphorically to the destruction of "Great Tyrants" (50).
However suggestive the metaphors and images of the ode, its context in the book of Isaiah is still more suggestive. Cowley tells us nothing about how Chapter 34 fits into the larger design of Isaiah's prophetic message to Judaea. Yet, curiously enough, this grim prophecy stands between two chapters that promise deliverance to Judaea. True, Chapter 34 shows us a Destroying Angel measuring the ground. But verse 17 of Chapter 33 promises: "Thine eyes shall see the king in his beauty; they shall behold a far stretching land." Verse 20 of Chapter 33 speaks of peace and comfort: "Look upon Zion, thy city of our solemnities, thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitition." Chapter 35 is still more exultant in its promises of ransom and vindication. Verse 4 reassures, "Be strong, fear not, behold our God will come with vengeance, with the recompence of God; he will come and save you"; and verse 10 foretells, "the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come with singing into Zion; and everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away." Why did Cowley not paraphrase these lines, rather than the grim but ambiguous apocalypse of Chapter 34? 1 believe that he wished to send out a two-fold message. One was a message of doom: the regime of the Puritan "saints" would not continue. Already the wolves were howling in the lower rooms, and the Raven and the Owl in "gilt Chambers." The "royal" lion could say to the leopard:
Brother Leopard come away;
Behold a Land which God has giv'en us in prey!
Behold a Land from whence we see
Mankinde expulst, His and Our common Enemie!
This unpeopling of the land, of course, need not prophesy total doom --only the end of one order and the beginning of the next. The present order has turned things upside down: Men lurk in dens, "Beasts in the Palaces . . . raign" (6.13). But those knowing enough would understand that this was only half of Isaiah's prophecy-chapters 33 and 35 promised fortune and favor to Israel.(22)
This interpretation of the Isaiah ode is reinforced by reading it in tandem with the final ode, "The Plagues of Egypt," and also with Cowley's 1661 tract on Cromwell's government and with the Restoration ode on Charles's return. Not only do we find images in these works that resemble those of the Isaiah ode, but also allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament as figuring forth events of the 1650s. Cowley's Restoration ode is full of Old Testament images of restoration and return. Charles is a Moses who has led his people "through a rough Red sea," had been "by Wonders guarded, and Wonders fed," and has after "many years of trouble and distresse," wandering through the "fatal Wilderness" come at last, without "murmur or reapine," conducted by "Almighty Mercy" "to their own Promis'd Land" (8.14-23). Such is Cowley's peculiar Royalist reading of the Moses story in which Charles and not Cromwell is the leader of his people to safety. Parlimentarians such as Milton have so persuaded us that "Egypt" is England under the Stuarts and Cromwell the savior of his people from that servitude that it is a little strange to see Charles wear the Mosaic mantle and Cromwell assume the robes of Pharoah. Yet this is Cowley's allegorical reading not only in the Restoration ode, but also in the semi-prose, semi-poetic tract on the government of Oliver Cromwell. The tract, which purports to be a vision that comes upon the speaker after the funeral of the late Protector, depicts the desolation of the once "happy Isle," now "chang'd and curst" to "Chaos and Confusion." The isle is like a "guilty, perishing Vessel," tossed and torn, that its late master, "the Royal Martyr," prays will be saved (53-54). Cowley depicts Cromwell as "a great Monster," a son of Earth, who rebelled aginst God--this is what it means to be a tyrant, he says, one who brings "Bloud, Confusion, Ruine, to obtain / A short and miserable Reign" (59). As in the Restoration ode, Cromwell is "a mischievous serpent" and a "Basilisk," once he is in possession of a crown. Cowley makes extensive use of serpent imagery in "The Plagues of Egypt." He refers to the serpents in Egypt's land that were all under the command of the "Old Serpent"--a title he applies in the Restoration ode and the Discourse to Cromwell. In "The Plagues of Egypt," moreover, he stages a contest between the Serpent of Moses's transformed wand and the Egyptian serpents that it challenges and destroys. In the ode, however, it is not the tyrant-pharoah who is the Basilisk, but Moses himself.
Cowley's Pindaric ode, "The Plagues of Egypt," has a double focus. It indicts the Pharoah who brings plagues upon his land and who stubbornly defies God's will, but it also indicts the Israelites who submit to his authority. The opening stanza might well have been directed to the English under Cromwell, content to remain captive to "Tyrant Sin," to forsake their status as "the choice Race," and refuse the calls of "Prophets and Apostles" to come "Home to the promis'ed Canaan."
Rebel to God, and Slave to all beside!
Captiv'ed by every thing! and onely Free
To fly from thine own Libertie!
In "A Discourse" Cowley makes specific analogies between God's vengeance on Egypt and that on an England under Cromwell. He depicts Cromwell himself as the cause of God's anger and also the means for God's punishing the pride of his people: "A Tyrant is a Rod and Serpent too, / And brings worst Plagues than Egypt knew" (60). And he prays that God will no longer afflict England: "Let, Gracious God, let never more thine hand / Lift up this Rod against our Land" (60). In "A Discourse" he consistently employs the imagery of plague to describe the troubles in England during the Civil Wars, referring to rivers of blood, storms and hail, ulcerous disease:
What Rivers stain'd with blood have been?
What Storm and Hail-shot have we seen?
What Sores deform'd the Ulcerous State?
What darkness to be felt has buried us of late?
Correspondingly, the imagery of plague in the Pindaric ode deliberately, I believe, intensifies war-like associations. Moses raises his hand and "Squadrons" of Thunder, Tempest, Hail and Rain descend from the "stormy Magazins of the North" (11.14). The elements fall like gun-shot. When the locusts come, they come in legions. And God's management of the plagues is like the management of a war: "first light Skirmishes" and then "The Shock and bloody battel now begins/ The plenteous Harvest of full-ripened Sins" (14.2-4). Michael raises the Sword of God--"the sharpest Sword that ere was laid / Up in the Magazins of God to scourge a wicked Land" (15.13-14).
There are still further connections between "The Plagues of Egypt" and "A Discourse." In "A Discourse" Cowley compares the "croaking sects and Vermin" that tormented the nation with those pests of Egypt, "Flies and Locusts." He hopes that Divine Justice will be satisfied before it brings down on England, as it had on Egypt, "the last extremity." With this reference to final judgment Cowley looks back not only on his Egypt ode, but also on the Isaiah ode. But the use of biblical imagery is not all that connects Cowley's "A Discourse" with his earlier Pindaric odes. Reflecting on the inscrutable ways of Eternal Providence, he tells us that God uses small means to confound the mighty, for when God wished to "correct the Pride of the Egyptians," he did not "assemble the Serpents and Monsters of Afrique," but instead called for his "Armies of Locusts out of Aethiopia, and formed new ones of Vermine out of the very dust" (67). Cowley's phrasing here is almost a direct recollection of his earlier ode: "every Dust did an arm'ed Vermine prove . . . and 'twas but just / To punish thus mans pride, to punish Dust with Dust" (7.10, 18-19). In the next stanza "Armies" of insects rise, and a little further on Cowley remarks how "Beasts for Mans Rebellion dy," (10.1) employing once more that word rebellion.
Both Cowley's Old Testament pindarics and his "Discourse" are propaganda pieces with specific intents: to issue apocalyptic warnings that would bring comfort to Royalists and might bring Commonwealth England to her senses. In "A Discourse" Cowley says, "It is easie to apply this general observation to the particular case of our troubles in England and that they seem only to be meant for a temporary chastisement of our sins" (67). The sufferings under Cromwell were not meant, Cowley argues, to destroy the English, but to apply a cure. As Cowley predicts, the "tormented Commonwealth . . . will have the wit at last to send for a true Physician" (68) that is, Charles II. Cowley's track is invaluable as a gloss on both pindarics, but especially on "The Plagues of Egypt." Like "A Discourse," "The Plagues of Egypt" condemns only the great Tyrant, Pharoah Cromwell, who in vain calls on Moses and Moses's God "with a Repentance true too late" (19.27-28). For the people, however, the plagues are but medicine to effect a cure:
God did on Man a Gentler Medicine try,
And a Disease for Physick did apply.
Cowley's last two pindarics, like his first two, are coded messages to the Royalists under Cromwell that God's purposes will work out in the end. By arguing that Pindaric ode is the closest classical equivalent to the manner of the Old Testament prophets, Cowley veils his bold biblical allegory under Pindaric figures that are, as his General Preface promised, "unusual and bold, even to Temeritie," thus placing both the interpretation of the figures and the overall design, "wholly at the Mercy of the Reader." What a Puritan reader would have made of biblical material so familiar and so capable of being construed as the Commonwealth's own history in Pindaric dress, we can only guess. But had the Protector rightly understood Cowley's subversive messages, he might well have returned the poet to the prison cell from which his notorious Preface effected his release.
(1.) Thomas Sprat, "An Account of the Life and Writing of Mr. Abraham Cowley," The Works of Mr. Abraham Cowley (London, 1668), n.p.
(2.) Abraham Cowley, "Preface," Pindarique Odes (London, 1656). All quotations from the Pindarique Odes are to this edition.
(3.) Arthur H. Nethercot, Abraham Cowley, The Muse's Hannibal (London: Humphrey Mitford, 1931), 135-39. Also see Jean Loiseau, Abraham Cowley: Sa Vie, Son Oeuvre (Paris: H. Didier, 1931), 87-112. For commentary on Cowley's arrest and release from prison see Thomas Corns, Uncloistered Virtue: English Political Literature, 1640-60 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 252-55.
(4.) See Carol Maddison, Apollo and the Nine (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1960) for a discussion of Pindaric imitation in England and on the Continent. In his Preface to the Pindarique Odes Cowley says that he is the first to imitate Pindar, commenting that Pindaric ode "has not been yet (that I know of) introduced into English." If Cowley did not know Soowtherne's or Drayton's imitations, surely he would have known Jonson's Cary-Morison ode. The comment is puzzling, unless Cowley is referring to translation of Pindar into English rather than imitation.
(5.) Annabel Patterson, Censorship and Interpretation (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), 146.
(6.) In 1659, when he returned to France, Cowley had to appeal both to Jermyn and to Ormonde in order to be pardoned and restored to the King's good graces. That he was never fully restored is attested by the meagre rewards for service that he received from Charles II. See Loiseau, 126-44.
(7.) See Basil Gildersleeve's edition of The Olympian and Pythian Odes (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1885) for commentary on Sicilian politics. Cowley used Benedictus' edition of Pindar's odes, drawing also on Latin translations and on other material. His English headnotes to the odes, however, are not merely translations of Benedictus' headnotes. Cowley keeps what he wishes from Benedictus and adds to it freely.
(8.) For another view on Cowley's additions, see Robert B. Hinman, Abraham Cowley's World of Order (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), 201-202.
(9.) For Reggio's song, see BL MSS Add. 33234, fols. 17-18v, and 63626, fols. 11v-13r (my thanks to Thomas Calhoun for these references). Dryden's poem describes the future James II as a Hercules who early performed heroic deeds:
And there he grappled first with Fate:
In his young Hand the hissing Snakes he prest,
So early was this Deity confest.
Like Cowley and, before him, Pindar, Dryden goes on to comment how this early sign of heroism prefigures future triumphs, such as the slaying of the hydra, a popular seventeenth-century figure for sedition:
And to his Infant Arms oppose
His Father's Rebels, and his Brother's Foes;
The more opprest the higher still he rose:
Those were the Preludes of his Fate,
That form'd his Manhood, to subdue
The Hydra of the many-headed, hissing Crew.
(459-64 [The Poems of John Dryden, ed. James Kinsley, 4 vols. (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1958), 1:442-561)
Dryden used the story a second time in "Britannia Rediviva," the ode he wrote in 1688 to celebrate the birth of Prince James to James II and Mary of Modena, nor was he the only poet, to use the story for propaganda purposes. In the university collection, Strenae Natalitiae (Oxford, 1688), Christopher Codrington proclaims that young Prince James began his noble acts even earlier than Hercules, having managed a war even in the womb. When the serpents make their way against the young James, "With all their venemous Tongues they hist, / They flung, they grin'd, they rag'd for spight, / In vain they rag'd, they spouted Fire in vain, / The Poison they receive again" (R2r).
(10.) See Annabel Patterson's commentary (146-47) on Cowley's additions here and in the passage above. She identifies Cowley's Hercules with Cromwell, however, rather than with Charles.
(11.) First printed by Herringman in 1660, it is reprinted in Works in 1668 with a different title, "Upon His Majesties Restoration and Return," and with a slightly different text. I quote from the first edition. This is not the first ode that Cowley had produced in honor of a returning monarch. In Sylva, or Divers Copies of Verse (London, 1637) he included an English ode to Charles I, "On his Majesties returne out of Scotland" and in Irenodia Cantabrigiensis (1641) two odes on the King's return from Scotland, one in English, one in Latin, reprinting the English ode revised and with direct references to the Civil Wars in 1656 and 1668. The Latin ode was not reprinted until later. See Abraham Cowley, A Bibliography, ed. M. R. Perkin (Folkestone: Dawson, 1977), 79.
(12.) See the Oxford and Cambridge collection of odes for Charles's return: Britannia Rediviva (Oxford, 1660) and [epsilon][omega][epsilon]ETPA, sive Ad Carolum II, reducem (Cambridge, 1660). See also the Cambridge collection of odes published to commemorate the death of Charles II and the accession of James II: Moestissimae ac Laetissimae Academiae Cantabrigiensis Affectus. Decente Carolo II. Succedente Jacobo II (Cambridge: 1684/5).
(13.) William Congreve. A Pindarique Ode Humbly Offer'd to the Queen on the Victorious Progress of Her Majesty's Arms, under the Conduct of the Duke of Marlborough. To which is prefix'd, A Discourse on the Pindarique Ode (London, 1706).
(14.) Johannes Benedictus, ed., Pindarus, Periodos (Saumur, 1620).
(15.) Lampridio's odes had been printed in 1550 and were reprinted in collections of Latin poetry in 1576 by Toscanus and in 1608 by Gherus, both popular Neo-Latin anthologies. He establishes the familiar Pindaric ode that many later poets follow, particularly in France.
(16.) See Patterson, 153. Also see T. R. Langley, "Abraham Cowley's |Brutus': Royalist or Republican?" Yale University Studies 6 (1976): 41-52; James J. Keough, "Cowley's Brutus Ode: Historical Precepts and the Politics of Defeat," Texas Studies in Language and Literature 19 (1977): 382-91; also see Corns, 264-65.
(17.) In "A Discourse concerning the Government of Oliver Cromwell," Works (London, 1668), Cowley comments: "not all the wisdom and power of the Roman Senate, nor the wit and eloquence of Cicero, nor the Courage and Virtue of Brutus was able to defend their Country or themselves against the inexperienced rashness of a beardless Boy, and the loose rage of a voluptuous Madman" (67). Although Cowley does not accord Caesar the title and position of a legitimate king, he does not regard his victory over Pompey or his assumption of leadership in the Roman state as wholly unapproved acts. As Cromwell acts the part of Caesar in Marvell's Horatian ode, he may or may not be Caesar here. We cannot, however, automatically assume that Charles I is Caesar solely because he, like Caesar, was a leader killed after a period of civil war.
(18.) See Corns's comments on these odes, 259-61.
(19.) Franciscus Gomarus, a noted Hebraic scholar, compares Pindaric and biblical texts, citing and analyzing in Davidis Lyra (1637) the meter of parallel passages in Pindar (also in Sophocles) with passages from Psalms, Proverbs, and job. His aim was to demonstrate that Hebraic verse was constructed on the same strict principles of metrical composition as that of the best Greek writers of lyric poetry.
(20.) [Abraham Cowley], A Vision, Concerning his late pretended Highnesse Cromwell, the Wicked; Containing a Discourse in Vindication of him by a pretended Angel, and the Confutation thereof by the Author (London, 1661). Cowey tells us that he wrote the Discourse during the time of the "late Protector Richard the Little" and that he originally planned to write a series of three discourses, but was prevented from doing so by the Restoration. He decided, however, to print the first Discourse to expose Cromwell's wickedness and to prevent any man from justifying or approving his actions. Cowley printed an earlier version of the Discourse under the pseudonym Ezekiel Grebner (see Loisier, 135-36). The Discourse is reprinted in Cowley's Works in 1668 as "A Discourse By way of Vision concerning the Government of Oliver Cromwell." It is this version I cite,
(21.) Even as late as 1660 Milton in The Ready and Easy Way looks on Royalist oppression as Egyptian and urges the English not to "put [their] necks again under kingship as was made use of by the Jews to return back to Egypt and to the worship of their idol queen" (John Milton, Complete Poems and Major Prose, ed. Merritt Y. Hughes [New York: Odyssey Press, 1957], 898).
(22.) For an interesting gloss on this passage on "wild beasts" in government see "A Discourse on the Government of Oliver Cromwell": "If these [Cromwell's crimes] be to be allowed, we must break up humane society, retire into the Woods, and equally there stand upon our Guards against our Brethren Mankind, and our Rebels the wild Beasts" (63).