Item of the Day: Epistles of Phalaris, 1749 (cont’d)

Full Title: The Epistles of Phalaris. Translated from the Greek. To which are added, Some Select Epistles of the most eminent Greek Writers. By Thomas Francklin. London: Printed for R. Francklin, in Russel-Street, Covent-Garden, MDCCXLIX.

(See previous post of August 22, 2007 for the earlier section of the “Preface” to The Epistles of Phalaris).

[…] As Greece was in those ages an utter stranger to tyranny and arbitrary power, (for according to Pliny he was the first tyrant that ever reign’d) it is no wonder that the Agrigentines, even tho’ Phalaris had been a much milder master, should endeavor to shake off the yoke; or that they should, as Plutarch informs us, immediately after his death send forth strict orders forbidding any man to wear a blue garment; which it seems was the colour worn by Phalaris‘s guards; that so not the least trace or footstep might remain of a form of government, which they held in the greatest detestation.

It will naturally be expected that I should say here something of the celebrated dispute between the late lord Orrery and doctor Bentley concerning these Epistles.  It will, I think, be sufficient to inform the unlearned reader (which all besides are already acquainted with) that in the year 1695, the late lord Orrery, by the desire of doctor Aldrich, then dean of Christ-Church, put out a new and correct edition of the Epistles with a Latin translation.  A reflection on doctor Bentley in the preface occasion’d a small quarrel between them, which produced a book, publish’d about two years and a half after by the doctor, call’d, A dissertation on the Epistles of Phalaris.  The dissertation was answer’d by mr. Boyle, and replied to by doctor Bentley.  The controversy was on both sides carried on with great learning and spirit, and convinced the world that no subject was so inconsiderable, but, if in the hands of able men, might produce something worthy of their attention. 

I never heard my lord Orrery‘s abilities as a scholar call’d into question, and doctor Bentley was always look’d on as a man of wits and parts, and yet I have been assured that, whilst the dispute was in its height, the partizans of each side behaved with a partiality, usual in such cases.  The friends of Phalaris and mr. Boyle would not allow their adversary any wit, whilst the doctor’s advocates on the other hand made it their business to represent mr. Boyle as void of learning; and attributed all the merit of his book to the assistance of some men of distinguish’d merit in the college and university, of which he was member, and so far did this malicious assertion prevail, that doctor Swift alludes to it as a fact in his battle of the books, where he says, that Boyle had a suit of armour given him by all the gods.  Many indeed, who gave into this foolish opinion, did at the same time allow, in justice to the late lord Orrery, that if the weapons were put into his hand he had at least to manage them to the best advantage. 

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Filed under 1690's, 1740's, Ancient Greece, Eighteenth century, Greek/Roman Translations, Jonathan Swift

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