"The poetry of them is often extremely noble; and the mysterious air which prevails in them, together with its delightful impression upon the mind, cannot be better expressed than in that remarkable description with which they inspired the German editor Eschenbach."
— Akenside, Mark (1720-1771)
But the Love designed in our text, is the one self-existent and infinite mind, whom if the generality of ancient mythologists have not introduced or truly described in accounting for the production of the world and its appearances; yet, to a modern poet, it can be no objection that he hath ventured to differ from them in this particular; though, in other respects, he professeth to imitate their manner and conform to their opinions. For, in these great points of natural theology, they differ no less remarkably among themselves; and are perpetually confounding the philosophical relations of things with the traditionary circumstances of mythic history: upon which very account, Callimachus, in his hymn to Jupiter, declareth his dissent from them concerning even an article of the national creed; adding, that the ancient bards were by no means to be depended on. And yet in the exordium of the old Argonautic poem, ascribed to Orpheus, it is said, that "Love, whom mortals in later times call Phanes, was the father of the eternally-begotten Night;" who is generally represented by these mythological poets, as being herself the parent of all things; and who, in the Indigitamenta, or Orphic Hymns, is said to be the same with Cypris, or Love itself. Moreover, in the body of this Argonautic poem, where the personated Orpheus introduceth himself singing to his lyre in reply to Chiron, he celebrateth "the obscure memory of Chaos, and the natures which it contained within itself in a state of perpetual vicissitude; how the heaven had its boundary determined; the generation of the earth; the depth of the ocean; and also the sapient Love, the most ancient, the self-sufficient; with all the beings which he produced when he separated one thing from another." Which noble passage is more directly to Aristotle's purpose in the first book of his metaphysics than any of those which he has there quoted, to shew that the ancient poets and mythologists agreed with Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and the other more sober philosophers, in that natural anticipation and common notion of mankind concerning the necessity of mind and reason to account for the connexion, motion, and good order of the world. For, though neither this poem, nor the hymns which pass under the same name, are, it should seem, the work of the real Orpheus; yet beyond all question, they are very ancient. The hymns, more particularly, are allowed to be older than the invasion of Greece by Xerxes; and were probably a sett of public and solemn forms of devotion: as appears by a passage in one of them, which Demosthenes hath almost literally cited in his first oration against Aristogiton, as the saying of Orpheus, the founder of their most holy mysteries. On this account, they are of higher authority than any other mythological work now extant, the Theogony of Hesiod himself not excepted. The poetry of them is often extremely noble; and the mysterious air which prevails in them, together with its delightful impression upon the mind, cannot be better expressed than in that remarkable description with which they inspired the German editor Eschenbach, when he accidentally met with them at Leipsic: "Thesaurum me reperisse credidi, says he, & profecto thesaurum reperi. Incredibile dictu quo me sacro horrore asslaverint indigitamenta ista deorum: nam et tempus ad illorum lectionem eligere cogebar, quod vel solum horrorem incutere animo potest, nocturnum; cum enim totam diem consumserim in contemplando urbis splendore, & in adeundis, quibus scatet urbs illa, viris doctis; sola nox restabat, quam Orpheo consecrare potui. In abyssum quendam mysteriorum venerandæ antiquitatis descendere videbar, quotiescunque silente mundo, solis vigilantibus astris et luna, μελανηφάτους istos hymnos ad manus sumsi."
Text from The Poems Of Mark Akenside (London: Printed by W. Bowyer and J. Nichols, 1772). <Link to ESTC>
Poem, without notes, found in A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. by Several Hands. vol 6 of 6 (London: Printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley, 1758), pp. 3-15. <Link to ECCO>