1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Homer
HOMER (Ὅµηρος), the great epic poet of Greece. Many of the works once attributed to him are lost; those which remain are the two great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey, thirty-three Hymns, a mock epic (the Battle of the Frogs and Mice), and some pieces of a few lines each (the so-called Epigrams).
Ancient Accounts of Homer.
Of the date of Homer probably no record, real or pretended, ever existed. Herodotus (ii. 53) maintains that Hesiod and Homer lived not more than 400 years before his own time, consequently not much before 850 B.C. From the controversial tone in which he expresses himself it is evident that others had made Homer more ancient; and accordingly the dates given by later authorities, though very various, generally fall within the 10th and 11th centuries B.C. But none of these statements has any claim to the character of external evidence.
The extant lives of Homer (edited in Westermann’s Vitarum Scriptores Graeci minores) are eight in number, including the piece called the Contest of Hesiod and Homer. The longest is written in the Ionic dialect, and bears the name of Herodotus, but is certainly spurious. In all probability it belongs to the time which was fruitful beyond all others in literary forgeries, viz. the 2nd century of our era. The other lives are certainly not more ancient. Their chief value consists in the curious short poems or fragments of verse which they have preserved — the so-called Epigrams, which used to be printed at the end of editions of Homer. These are easily recognized as “Popular Rhymes,” a form of folk-lore to be met with in most countries, treasured by the people as a kind of proverbs. In the Homeric epigrams the interest turns sometimes on the characteristics of particular localities — Smyrna and Cyme (Epigr. iv.), Erythrae (Epigr. vi., vii.), Mt Ida (Epigr. x.), Neon Teichos (Epigr. i.); others relate to certain trades or occupations — potters (Epigr. xiv.), sailors, fishermen, goat herds, &c. Some may be fragments of longer poems, but evidently they are not the work of any one poet. The fact that they were all ascribed to Homer merely means that they belong to a period in the history of the Ionian and Aeolian colonies when “Homer” was a name which drew to itself all ancient and popular verse.
Again, comparing the “epigrams” with the legends and anecdotes told in the Lives of Homer, we can hardly doubt that they were the chief source from which these Lives were derived. Thus in Epigr. iv. we find a blind poet, a native of Aeolian Smyrna, through which flows the water of the sacred Meles. Here is doubtless the source of the chief incident of the Herodotean Life — the birth of Homer “Son of the Meles.” The epithet Aeolian implies high antiquity, inasmuch as according to Herodotus Smyrna became Ionian about 688 B.C. Naturally the Ionians had their own version of the story — a version which made Homer come out with the first Athenian colonists.
The same line of argument may be extended to the Hymns, and even to some of the lost works of the post-Homeric or so-called “Cyclic” poets. Thus: —
- The hymn to the Delian Apollo ends with an address of the poet to his audience. When any stranger comes and asks who is the sweetest singer, they are to answer with one voice, the “blind man that dwells in rocky Chios; his songs deserve the prize for all time to come.” Thucydides, who quotes this passage to show the ancient character of the Delian festival, seems to have no doubt of the Homeric authorship of the hymn. Hence we may most naturally account for the belief that Homer was a Chian.
- The Margites — a humorous poem which kept its ground as the reputed work of Homer down to the time of Aristotle began with the words, “There came to Colophon an old man, a divine singer, servant of the Muses and Apollo.” Hence doubtless the claim of Colophon to be the native city of Homer a claim supported in the early times of Homeric learning by the Colophonian poet and grammarian Antimachus.
- The poem called the Cypria was said to have been given by Homer to Stasinus of Cyprus as a daughter’s dowry. The connexion with Cyprus appears further in the predominance given in the poem to Aphrodite.
- The Little Iliad and the Phocaïs, according to the Herodotean life, were composed by Homer when he lived at Phocaea with a certain Thestorides, who carried them off to Chios and there gained fame by reciting them as his own. The name Thestorides occurs in Epigr. v.
- A similar story was told about the poem called the Taking of Oechalia (Οἰχαλίας Ἅλωσις), the subject of which was one of the exploits of Heracles. It passed under the name of Creophylus, a friend or (as some said) a son-in-law of Homer; but it was generally believed to have been in fact the work of the poet himself.
- Finally the Thebaid always counted as the work of Homer. As to the Epigoni, which carried on the Theban story, some doubt seems to have been felt.
These indications render it probable that the stories connecting Homer with different cities and islands grew up after his poems had become known and famous, especially in the new and flourishing colonies of Aeolis and Ionia. The contention for Homer, in short, began at a time when his real history was lost, and he had become a sort of mythical figure, an “eponymous hero,” or personification of a great school of poetry.
An interesting confirmation of this view from the negative side is furnished by the city which ranked as chief among the Asiatic colonies of Greece, viz. Miletus. No legend claims for Miletus even a visit from Homer, or a share in the authorship of any Homeric poem. Yet Arctinus of Miletus was said to have been a “disciple of Homer,” and was certainly one of the earliest and most considerable of the “Cyclic” poets. His Aethiopis was composed as a sequel to the Iliad; and the structure and general character of his poems show that he took the Iliad as his model. Yet in his case we find no trace of the disputed authorship which is so common with other “Cyclic” poems. How has this come about? Why have the works of Arctinus escaped the attraction which drew to the name of Homer such epics as the Cypria, the Little Iliad, the Thebaid, the Epigoni, the Taking of Oechalia and the Phocaïs. The most obvious account of the matter is that Arctinus was never so far forgotten that his poems became the subject of dispute. We seem through him to obtain a glimpse of an early post-Homeric age in Ionia, when the immediate disciples and successors of Homer were distinct figures in a trustworthy tradition — when they had not yet merged their individuality in the legendary “Homer” of the Epic Cycle.
Recitation of the Poems.
The recitation of epic poetry was called in historical times “rhapsody” (ῥαψῳδία). The word ῥαψῳδός is post-Homeric, but was known to Pindar, who gives two different explanations of it — “singer of stitched verse” (ῥαπτῶν ἐπέων ἀοιδοί), and “singer with the wand” (ῥαβδός). Of these the first is etymologically correct (except that it should rather be “stitcher of verse”); the second was suggested by the fact, for which there is early evidence, that the reciter was accustomed to hold a wand in his hand — perhaps, like the sceptre in the Homeric assembly, as a symbol of the right to a hearing.
The first notice of rhapsody meets us at Sicyon, in the reign of Cleisthenes (600-560 B.C.), who “put down the rhapsodists on account of the poems of Homer, because they are all about Argos and the Argives” (Hdt. v. 67). This description applies very well to the Iliad, in which Argos and Argives occur on almost every page. It may have suited the Thebaid still better, but there is no need to understand it only of that poem, as Grote does. The incident shows that the poems of the Ionic Homer had gained in the 6th century B.C., and in the Doric parts of the Peloponnesus, the ascendancy, the national importance and the almost canonical character which they ever afterwards retained.
At Athens there was a law that the Homeric poems should be recited (ῥαψῳδεῖσθαι) on every occasion of the Panathenaea. This law is appealed to as an especial glory of Athens by the orator Lycurgus (Leocr. 102). Perhaps therefore the custom of public recitation was exceptional, and unfortunately we do not know when or by whom it was introduced. The Platonic dialogue Hipparchus attributes it to Hipparchus, son of Peisistratus. This, however, is part of the historical romance of which the dialogue mainly consists. The author makes (perhaps wilfully) all the mistakes about the family of Peisistratus which Thucydides notices in a well-known passage (vi. 54-59). In one point, however, the writer’s testimony is valuable. He tells us that the law required the rhapsodists to recite “taking each other up in order (ἐξ ὑπολήψεως ἐφεξῆς), as they still do.” This recurs in a different form in the statement of Diogenes Laertius (i. 2. 57) that Solon made a law that the poems should be recited “with prompting” (ἐξ ὑποβολῆς). The question as between Solon and Hipparchus cannot be settled; but it is at least clear that a due order of recitation was secured by the presence of a person charged to give the rhapsodists their cue (ὑποβάλλειν). It was necessary, of course, to divide the poem to be recited into parts, and to compel each contending rhapsodist to take the part assigned to him. Otherwise they would have chosen favourite or show passages.
The practice of poets or rhapsodists contending for the prize at the great religious festivals is of considerable antiquity, though apparently post-Homeric. It is brought vividly before us in the Hymn to Apollo (see the passage mentioned above), and in two Hymns to Aphrodite (v. and ix.). The latter of these may evidently be taken to belong to Salamis in Cyprus and the festival of the Cyprian Aphrodite, in the same way that the Hymn to Apollo belongs to Delos and the Delian gathering. The earliest trace of such contests is to be found in the story of Thamyris, the Thracian singer, who boasted that he could conquer even the Muses in song (Il. ii. 594 ff.).
Much has been made in this part of the subject of a family or clan (γένος) of Homeridae in the island of Chios. On the one hand, it seemed to follow from the existence of such a family that Homer was a mere “eponymus,” or mythical ancestor; on the other hand, it became easy to imagine the Homeric poems handed down orally in a family whose hereditary occupation it was to recite them, possibly to add new episodes from time to time, or to combine their materials in new ways, as their poetical gifts permitted. But, although there is no reason to doubt the existence of a family of “Homeridae,” it is far from certain that they had anything to do with Homeric poetry. The word occurs first in Pindar (Nem. 2. 2), who applies it to the rhapsodists (‘Οµηρίδαι ῥαπτῶν ἐπέων ἀοιδοί). On this a scholiast says that the name “Homeridae” denoted originally descendants of Homer, who sang his poems in succession, but afterwards was applied to rhapsodists who did not claim descent from him. He adds that there was a famous rhapsodist, Cynaethus of Chios, who was said to be the author of the Hymn to Apollo, and to have first recited Homer at Syracuse about the 69th Olympiad. Nothing here connects the Homeridae with Chios. The statement of the scholiast is evidently a mere inference from the patronymic form of the word. If it proves anything, it proves that Cynaethus, who was a Chian and a rhapsodist, made no claim to Homeric descent. On the other hand our knowledge of Chian Homeridae comes chiefly from the lexicon of Harpocration, where we are told that Acusilaus and Hellanicus said that they were so called from the poet; whereas Seleucus pronounced this to be an error. Strabo also says that the Chians put forward the Homeridae as an argument in support of their claim to Homer. These Homeridae, then, belonged to Chios, but there is no indication of their being rhapsodists. On the contrary, Plato and other Attic writers use the word to include interpreters and admirers — in short, the whole “spiritual kindred” — of Homer. And although we hear of “descendants of Creophylus” as in possession of the Homeric poems, there is no similar story about descendants of Homer himself. Such is the evidence on which so many inferences are based.
The result of the notices now collected is to show that the early history of epic recitation consists of (1) passages in the Homeric hymns showing that poets contended for the prize at the great festivals, (2) the passing mention in Herodotus of rhapsodists at Sicyon, and (3) a law at Athens, of unknown date, regulating the recitation at the Panathenaea. Let us now compare these data with the account given in the Homeric poems. The word “rhapsode” does not yet exist; we hear only of the “singer” (ἀοιδός), who does not carry a wand or laurel-branch, but the lyre (φόρµιγξ), with which he accompanies his “song.” In the Iliad even the epic “singer” is not met with. It is Achilles himself who sings the stories of heroes (κλέα ἀνδρῶν) in his tent, and Patroclus is waiting (respondere paratus), to take up the song in his turn (Il. ix. 191). Again we do not hear of poetical contests (except in the story of Thamyris already mentioned) or of recitation of epic poetry at festivals. The Odyssey gives us pictures of two great houses, and each has its singer. The song is on a subject taken from the Trojan war, at some point chosen by the singer himself, or by his hearers. Phemius pleases the suitors by singing of the calamitous return of the Greeks; Demodocus sings of a quarrel between Ulysses and Achilles, and afterwards of the wooden horse and the capture of Troy.
It may be granted that the author of the Odyssey can hardly have been just such a singer as he himself describes. The songs of Phemius and Demodocus are too short, and have too much the character of improvisations. Nor is it necessary to suppose that epic poetry, at the time to which the picture in the Odyssey belongs, was confined to the one type represented. Yet in several respects the conditions under which the singer finds himself in the house of a chieftain like Odysseus or Alcinous are more in harmony with the character of Homeric poetry than those of the later rhapsodic contests. The subdivision of a poem like the Iliad or Odyssey among different and necessarily unequal performers must have been injurious to the effect. The highly theatrical manner of recitation which was fostered by the spirit of competition, and by the example of the stage, cannot have done justice to the even movement of the epic style. It is not certain indeed that the practice of reciting a long poem by the agency of several competitors was ancient, or that it prevailed elsewhere than at Athens; but as rhapsodists were numerous, and popular favour throughout Greece became more and more confined to one or two great works, it must have become almost a necessity. That it was the mode of recitation contemplated by the author of the Iliad or Odyssey it is impossible to believe.
The difference made by substituting the wand or branch of laurel for the lyre of the Homeric singer is a slighter one, though not without significance. The recitation of the Hesiodic poems was from the first unaccompanied by the lyre, i.e. they were confessedly said, not sung; and it was natural that the example should be extended to Homer. For it is difficult to believe that the Homeric poems were ever “sung” in the strict sense of the word. We can only suppose that the lyre in the hands of the epic poet or reciter was in reality a piece of convention, a “survival” from the stage in which narrative poetry had a lyrical character. Probably the poets of the Homeric school — that which dealt with war and adventure — were the genuine descendants of minstrels whose “lays” or “ballads” were the amusement of the feasts in an earlier heroic age; whereas the Hesiodic compositions were non-lyrical from the first, and were only in verse because that was the universal form of literature.
It seems, then, that if we imagine Homer as a singer in a royal house of the Homeric age, but with more freedom regarding the limits of his subject, and a more tranquil audience than is allowed him in the rapid movement of the Odyssey, we shall probably not be far from the truth.
Time and Place of Homer.
The oldest direct references to the Iliad and Odyssey are in Herodotus, who quotes from both poems (ii. 53). The quotation from the Iliad is of interest because it is made in order to show that Homer supported the story of the travels of Paris to Egypt and Sidon (whereas the Cyclic poem called the Cypria ignored them), and also because the part of the Iliad from which it comes is cited as the “Aristeia of Diomede.” This was therefore a recognized part of the poem.
The earliest mention of the name of Homer is found in a fragment of the philosopher Xenophanes (of the 6th century B.C., or possibly earlier), who complains of the false notions implanted through the teaching of Homer. The passage shows, not merely that Homer was well known at Colophon in the time of Xenophanes, but also that the great advance in moral and religious ideas which forced Plato to banish Homer from his republic had made itself felt in the days of the early Ionic philosophers.
Failing external testimony, the time and place of the Homeric poems can only be determined (if at all) by internal evidence. This is of two main kinds: (a) evidence of history, consisting in a comparison of the political and social condition, the geography, the institutions, the manners, arts and ideas of Homer with those of other times; (b) evidence of language, consisting in a comparison with later dialects, in respect of grammar and vocabulary. To these may be added, as occasionally of value, (c) much evidence of the direct influence of Homer upon the subsequent course of literature and art.
(a) The political condition of Greece in the earliest times known to history is separated from the Greece of Homer by an interval which can hardly be overestimated. The great national names are different: instead of Achaeans, Argives, Danai, we find Hellenes, subdivided into Dorians, Ionians, Aeolians — names either unknown to Homer, or mentioned in terms more significant than silence. At the dawn of Greek history Mycenae is no longer the seat of empire; new empires, polities and civilizations have grown up — Sparta with its military discipline, Delphi with its religious supremacy, Miletus with its commerce and numberless colonies, Aeolis and Ionia, Sicily and Magna Graecia.
While the political centre of Homeric Greece is at Mycenae, the real centre is rather to be found in Boeotia. The Catalogue of the Ships begins with Boeotia; the list of Boeotian towns is much the longest; and they sail, not from the bay of Argos, but from the Boeotian harbour of Aulis. This position is not due to its chiefs, who are all of inferior rank. The importance of Boeotia for Greek civilization is further shown by the ancient worship of the Muses on Mount Helicon, and the fact that the oldest poet whose birthplace was known was the Boeotian Hesiod. Next to Boeotia and the neighbouring countries, it appears that the Peloponnesus, Crete and Thessaly were the most important seats of Greek population.
In the Peloponnesus the face of things was completely altered by the Dorian conquest, no trace of which is found in Homer. The only Dorians known in Homer are those that the Odyssey (xix. 177) places in Crete. It is difficult to connect them with the Dorians of history.
The eastern shores of the Aegean, which the earliest historical records represent to us as the seat of a brilliant civilization, giving way before the advance of the great military empires (Lydia and afterwards Persia), are almost a blank in Homer’s map. The line of settlements can be traced in the Catalogue from Crete to Rhodes, and embraces the neighbouring islands of Cos and Calymnos. The colonization of Rhodes by Tlepolemus is related (Il. ii. 661 ff.), and seems to mark the farthest point reached in the Homeric age. Between Rhodes and the Troad Homer knows of but one city, Miletus — which is a Carian ally of Troy — and the mouth of one river, the Cayster. Even the Cyclades — Naxos, Paros, Melos — are unknown to the Homeric world. The disposition of the Greeks to look to the west for the centres of religious feeling appears in the mention of Dodona and the Dodonaean Zeus, put in the mouth of the Thessalian Achilles.
To the north we find the Thracians, known from the stories of Thamyris the singer (Il. ii. 595), and Lycurgus, the enemy of the young god Dionysus (II. vi. 130). Here the Trojan empire begins. It does not appear, however, that the Trojans are thought of as people of a different language. As this is expressly said of the Carians, and of the Trojan allies who were “summoned from afar,” the contrary rather is implied regarding Troy itself.
The mixed type of government described by Homer — consisting of a king guided by a council of elders, and bringing all important resolutions before the assembly of the fighting men — does not seem to have been universal in Indo-European communities, but to have grown up in many different parts of the world under the stress of similar conditions. The king is the commander in war, and the office probably owed its existence to military necessities. It is not surrounded with any special sacredness. There were ruling families, laying claim to divine descent, from whom the king was naturally chosen, but his own fitness is the essence of his title. The aged Laertes is set aside; the young Telemachus does not succeed as a matter of course. Nor are any very definite rights attached to the office. Each tribe in the army before Troy was commanded by its own king (or kings); but Agamemnon was supreme, and was “more a king” (βασιλείτερος) than any other. The assembly is summoned on all critical occasions, and its approval is the ultimate sanction. A king therefore stands in almost as much need of oratory as of warlike skill and prowess. Even the division of the spoil is not made in the Iliad by Agamemnon, but by “the Achaeans” (II. i. 162, 368). The taking of Briseïs from Achilles was an arbitrary act, and against all rule and custom. The council is more difficult to understand. The “elders” (γέροντες) of the Iliad are the same as the subordinate “kings”; they are summoned by Agamemnon to his tent, and form a small council of nine or ten persons. In Troy we hear of elders of the people (δημογέροντες) who are with Priam, and are men past the military age. So in Ithaca there are elders who have not gone to Troy with the army. It would seem therefore that the meeting in Agamemnon’s tent was only a copy or adaptation of the true constitutional “council of elders,” which indeed was essentially unfitted for the purposes of military service. The king’s palace, if we may judge from Tiryns and Mycenae, was usually in a strong situation on an “acropolis.” In the later times of democracy the acropolis was reserved for the temples of the principal gods.
Priesthood in Homer is found in the case of particular temples, where an officer is naturally wanted to take charge of the sacred inclosure and the sacrifices offered within it. It is perhaps an accident that we do not hear of priests in Ithaca. Agamemnon performs sacrifice himself, not because a priestly character was attached to the kingly office, but simply because he was “master in his own house.”
The conception of “law” is foreign to Homer. The later words for it (νόμος, ῥήτρα) are unknown, and the terms which he uses (δίκη and θέμις) mean merely “custom.” Judicial functions are in the hands of the elders, who “have to do with suits” (δικασπόλοι), and “uphold judgments” (θέμιστας εἰρύαται). On such matters as the compensation in cases of homicide, it is evident that there were no rules, but merely a feeling, created by use and wont, that the relatives of the slain man should be willing to accept payment. The sense of anger which follows a violation of custom has the name of “Nemesis” — righteous displeasure.
As there is no law in Homer, so there is no morality. That is to say, there are no general principles of action, and no words which indicate that acts have been classified as good or bad, right or wrong. Moral feeling, indeed, existed and was denoted by “Aidos”; but the numerous meanings of this word — shame, veneration, pity — show how rudimentary the idea was. And when we look to practice we find that cruel and even treacherous deeds are spoken of without the least sense that they deserve censure. The heroes of Homer are hardly more moral agents than the giants and enchanters of a fairy tale.
The religious ideas of Homer differ in some important points from those of later Greece. The Apollo of the Iliad has the character of a local Asiatic deity — “ruler of Chryse and goodly Cilia and Tenedos.” He may be compared with the Clarian and the Lycian god, but he is unlike the Apollo of Dorian times, the “deliverer” and giver of oracles. Again, the worship of Dionysus, and of Demeter and Persephone, is mainly or wholly post-Homeric. The greatest difference, however, lies in the absence of hero-worship from the Homeric order of things. Castor and Polydeuces, for instance, are simply brothers of Helen who died before the expedition to Troy (Il. iii. 243.)
The military tactics of Homer belong to the age when the chariot was the principal engine of warfare. Cavalry is unknown, and the battles are mainly decided by the prowess of the chiefs. The use of the trumpet is also later. It has been supposed indeed that the art of riding was known in Homer’s own time, because it occurs in comparisons. But the riding which he describes (Il. xv. 679) is a mere exhibition of skill, such as we may see in a modern circus. And though he mentions the trumpet (Il. xviii. 219), there is nothing to show that it was used, as in historical times, to give the signal for the charge.
The chief industries of Homeric times are those of the carpenter (τέκτων), the worker in leather (σκυτοτόμος), the smith or worker in metal (χαλκεύς) — whose implements are the hammer and pincers — and the potter (κεραμεύς); also spinning and weaving, which were carried on by the women. The fine arts are represented by sculpture in relief, carving in wood and ivory, embroidery. Statuary is later; it appears to have come into existence in the 7th century, about the time when casting in metal was invented by Rhoecus of Samos. In general, as was well shown by A. S. Murray, Homeric art does not rise above the stage of decoration, applied to objects in common use; while in point of style it is characterized by a richness and variety of ornament which is in the strongest contrast to the simplicity of the best periods. It is the work, in short, not of artists but of skilled workmen; the ideal artist is “Daedalus,” a name which implies mechanical skill and intricate workmanship, not beauty of design.
One art of the highest importance remains. The question whether writing was known in the time of Homer was raised in antiquity, and has been debated with especial eagerness ever since the appearance of Wolf’s Prolegomena. In this case we have to consider not merely the indications of the poems, but also the external evidence which we possess regarding the use of writing in Greece. This latter kind of evidence is much more considerable now than it was in Wolf’s time. (See Writing elsewhere in these volumes.)
The oldest known stage of the Greek alphabet appears to be represented by inscriptions of the islands of Thera, Melos and Crete, which are referred to the 40th Olympiad (620 B.C.). The oldest specimen of a distinctively Ionian alphabet is the famous inscription of the mercenaries of Psammetichus, in Upper Egypt, as to which the only doubt is whether the Psammetichus in question is the first or the second, and consequently whether the inscription is to be dated Ol. 40 or Ol. 47. Considering that the divergence of two alphabets (like the difference of two dialects) requires both time and familiar use, we may gather from these facts that writing was well known in Greece early in the 7th century B.C.
The rise of prose composition in the 6th century B.C. has been thought to mark the time when memory was practically superseded by writing as a means of preserving literature — the earlier use of letters being confined to short documents, such as lists of names, treaties, laws, &c. This conclusion, however, is by no means necessary. It may be that down to comparatively late times poetry was not commonly read, but was recited from memory. But the question is — From what time are we to suppose that the preservation of long poems was generally secured by the existence of written copies? Now, without counting the Homeric poems — which doubtless had exceptional advantages in their fame and popularity — we find a body of literature dating from the 8th century B.C. to which the theory of oral transmission is surely inapplicable. In the Trojan cycle alone we know of the two epics of Arctinus, the Little Iliad of Lesches, the Cypria, the Nostoi. The Theban cycle is represented by the Thebaid (which Callinus, who was of the 7th century, ascribed to Homer) and the Epigoni. Other ancient epics — ancient enough to have passed under the name of Homer — are the Taking of Oechalia, and the Phocaïs. Again, there are the numerous works attributed to Hesiod and other poets of the didactic, mythological and quasi-historical schools — Eumelus of Corinth, Cinaethon of Sparta, Agias of Troezen, and many more. The preservation of this vast mass can only be attributed to writing, which must therefore have been in use for two centuries or more before there was any considerable prose literature. Nor is this in itself improbable.
The further question, whether the Iliad and Odyssey were originally written, is much more difficult. External evidence does not reach back so far, and the internal evidence is curiously indecisive. The only passage which can be interpreted as a reference to writing occurs in the story of Bellerophon, told by Glaucus in the sixth book of the Iliad. Proetus, king of Corinth, sent Bellerophon to his father-in-law the king of Lycia, and gave him “baneful tokens” (σήματα λυγρά, i.e. tokens which were messages of death), “scratching on a folded tablet many spirit-destroying things, and bade him show this to his father-in-law, that he might perish.” The king of Lycia asked duly (on the tenth day from the guest's coming) for a token (ᾔτεε σῆμα ἰδέσθαι), and then knew what Proetus wished to be done. In this account there is nothing to show exactly how the message of Proetus was expressed. The use of writing for the purpose of the token between “guest-friends” (tessera hospitalis) is certainly very ancient. Mommsen (Röm. Forsch. i. 338 ff.) aptly compares the use in treaties, which are the oldest species of public documents. But we may suppose that tokens of some kind — like the marks which the Greek chiefs make on the lots (Il. vii. 175 ff.) — were in use before writing was known. In any system of signs there were doubtless means of recommending a friend, or giving warning of the presence of an enemy. There is no difficulty, therefore, in understanding the message of Proetus without alphabetical writing. But, on the other hand, there is no reason for so understanding it.
If the language of Homer is so ambiguous where the use of writing would naturally be mentioned, we cannot expect to find more decisive references elsewhere. Arguments have been founded upon the descriptions of the blind singers in the Odyssey, with their songs inspired directly by the Muse; upon the appeals of the poet to the Muses, especially in such a place as the opening of the Catalogue; upon the Catalogue itself, which is a kind of historical document put into verse to help the memory; upon the shipowner in the Odyssey, who has “a good memory for his cargo,” &c. It may be answered, however, that much of this is traditional, handed down from the time when all poetry was unwritten. Moreover it is one thing to recognize that a literature is essentially oral in its form, characteristic of an age which was one of hearing rather than of reading, and quite another to hold that the same literature was preserved entirely by oral transmission.
The result of these various considerations seems to be that the age which we may call the Homeric — the age which is brought before us in vivid outlines in the Iliad and Odyssey — lies beyond the earliest point to which history enables us to penetrate. And so far as we can draw any conclusion as to the author (or authors) of the two poems, it is that the whole debate between the cities of Aeolis and Ionia was wide of the mark. The author of the Iliad, at least, was evidently a European Greek who lived before the colonization of Asia Minor; and the claims of the Asiatic cities mean no more than that in the days of their prosperity these were the chief seats of the fame of Homer.
This is perhaps the place to consider whether the poems are to be regarded as possessing in any degree the character of historical record. The question is one which in the absence of satisfactory criteria will generally be decided by taste and predilection. A few suggestions, however, may be made.
1. The events of the Iliad take place in a real locality, the general features of which are kept steadily in view. There is no doubt about Sigeum and Rhoeteum, or the river Scamander, or the islands Imbros, Lemnos and Tenedos. It is at least remarkable that a legend of the national interest of the “tale of Troy” should be so definitely localized, and that in a district which was never famous as a seat of Greek population. It may be urged, too, that the story of the Iliad is singularly free from the exaggerated and marvellous character which belongs as a rule to the legends of primitive peoples. The apple of discord, the arrows of Philoctetes, the invulnerability of Achilles, and similar fancies, are the additions of later poets. This sobriety, however, belongs not to the whole Iliad, but to the events and characters of the war. Such figures as Bellerophon, Nïobe, the Amazons, which are thought of as traditions from an earlier generation, show the marvellous element at work.
2. Certain persons and events in the story have a distinctly mythical stamp. Helen is a figure of this kind. There was another story according to which she was carried off by Theseus, and recovered by her brothers the Dioscuri. There are even traces of a third version, in which the Messenian twins, Idas and Lynceus, appear.
3. The analogy of the French epic, the Chanson de Roland, favours the belief that there was some nucleus of fact. The defeat of Roncevaux was really suffered by a part of Charlemagne’s army. But the Saracen army is purely mythical, the true enemy having been the Gascons. If similarly we leave, as historical, the plain of Troy, and the name Agamemnon, we shall perhaps not be far wrong.
(b) The dialect of Homer is an early or “primitive” form of the language which we know as that of Attica in the classical age of Greek literature. The proof of this proposition is to be obtained chiefly by comparing the grammatical formation and the syntax of Homer with those of Attic. The comparison of the vocabulary is in the nature of things less conclusive on the question of date. It would be impossible to give the evidence in full without writing a Homeric grammar, but a few specimens may be of interest.
1. The first aorist in Greek being a “weak” tense, i.e. formed by a suffix (-σᾰ), whereas the second aorist is a “strong” tense, distinguished by the form of the root-syllable, we expect to find a constant tendency to diminish the number of second aorists in use. No new second aorists, we may be sure, were formed any more than new “strong” tenses, such as came or sang, can be formed in English. Now in Homer there are upwards of 80 second aorists (not reckoning aorists of “Verbs in μι,” such as ἕστην, ἔβην), whereas in all Attic prose not more than 30 are found. In this point therefore the Homeric language is manifestly older. In Attic poets, it is true, the number of such aorists is much larger than in prose. But here again we find that they bear witness to Homer. Of the poetical aorists in Attic the larger part are also Homeric. Others are not really Attic at all, but borrowed from earlier Aeolic and Doric poetry. It is plain, in short, that the later poetical vocabulary was separated from that of prose mainly by the forms which the influence of Homer had saved from being forgotten.
2. While the whole class of “strong” aorists diminished, certain smaller groups in the class disappeared altogether. Thus we find in Homer, but not in the later language: —
(a) The second aorist middle without the “thematic” ε or ο: as ἕβλη-το, was struck; ἔφθι-το, perished; ᾶλ-το, leaped.
(b) The aorist formed by reduplication: as δέδαεν, taught; λελαβέσθαι, to seize. These constitute a distinct formation, generally with a “causative” meaning; the solitary Attic specimen is ἤγαγον.
3. It had long been known that the subjunctive in Homer often takes a short vowel (e.g. in the plural, -ομεν, -ετε instead of -ωμεν, -ητε, and in the Mid. -ομαι, &c. instead of -ωμαι, &c.). This was generally said to be done by “poetic licence,” or metri gratia. In fact, however, the Homeric subjunctive is almost quite “regular,” though the rule which it obeys is a different one from the Attic. It may be summed up by saying that the subjunctive takes ω or η when the indicative has ο or ε, and not otherwise. Thus Homer has ἴ-μεν, we go, ἴ-ο-μεν, let us go. The later ἴ-ω-μεν was at first a solecism, an attempt to conjugate a “verb in μι” like the “verbs in ω.” It will be evident that under this rule the perfect and first aorist subjunctive should always take a short vowel; and this accordingly is the case, with very few exceptions.
4. The article (ὁ, ἡ, τό) in Homer is chiefly used as an independent pronoun (he, she, it), a use which in Attic appears only in a few combinations (such as ὁ μὲν . . . ὁ δέ, the one . . . the other). This difference is parallel to the relation between the Latin ille and the article of the Romance languages.
5. The prepositions offer several points of comparison. What the grammarians called “tmesis,” the separation of the preposition from the verb with which it is compounded, is peculiar to Homer. The true account of the matter is that in Homer the place of the preposition is not rigidly fixed, as it was afterwards. Again, “with” is in Homer σύν (with the dative), in Attic prose μετά with the genitive. Here Attic poetry is intermediate; the use of σύν is retained as a piece of poetical tradition.
6. In addition to the particle ἄν, Homer has another, κεν, hardly distinguishable in meaning. The Homeric uses of ἄν and κεν are different in several respects from the Attic, the general result being that the Homeric syntax is more elastic. And yet it is perfectly definite and precise. Homer uses no constructions loosely or without corresponding differences of meaning. His rules are equally strict with those of the later language, but they are not the same rules. And they differ chiefly in this, that the less common combinations of the earlier period were disused altogether in the later.
7. In the vocabulary the most striking difference is that many words appear from the metre to have contained a sound which they afterwards lost, viz. that which is written in some Greek alphabets by the “digamma” ϝ. Thus the words ἄναξ, ἄστυ, ἔργον, ἔπος, and many others must have been written at one time ϝάναξ, ϝάστυ, ϝέργον, ϝέπος. This letter, however, died out earlier in Ionic than in most dialects, and there is no proof that the Homeric poems were ever written with it.
These are not, speaking generally, the differences that are produced by the gradual divergence of dialects in a language. They are rather to be classed with those which we find between the earlier and the later stages of every language which has had a long history. The Homeric dialect has passed into New Ionic and Attic by gradual but ceaseless development of the same kind as that which brought about the change from Vedic to classical Sanskrit, or from old high German to the present dialects of Germany.
The points that have been mentioned, to which many others might be added, make it clear that the Homeric and Attic dialects are separated by differences which affect the whole structure of the language, and require a considerable time for their development. At the same time there is hardly one of these differences which cannot be accounted for by the natural growth of the language. It has been thought indeed that the Homeric dialect was a mixed one, mainly Ionic, but containing Aeolic and even Doric forms; this, however, is a mistaken view of the processes of language. There are doubtless many Homeric forms which were unknown to the later Ionic and Attic, and which are found in Aeolic or other dialects. In general, however, these are older forms, which must have existed in Ionic at one time, and may very well have belonged to the Ionic of Homer’s time. So too the digamma is called “Aeolic” by grammarians, and is found on Aeolic and Doric inscriptions. But the letter was one of the original alphabet, and was retained universally as a numeral. It can only have fallen into disuse by degrees, as the sound which it denoted ceased to be pronounced. The fact that there are so many traces of it in Homer is a strong proof of the antiquity of the poems, but no proof of admixture with Aeolic.
There is one sense, however, in which an admixture of dialects may be recognized. It is clear that the variety of forms in Homer is too great for any actual spoken dialect. To take a single instance: it is impossible that the genitives in -οιο and in -ου should both have been in everyday use together. The form in -οιο must have been poetical or literary, like the old English forms that survive in the language of the Bible. The origin of such double forms is not far to seek. The effect of dialect on style was always recognized in Greece, and the dialect which had once been adopted by a particular kind of poetry was ever afterwards adhered to. The Epic of Homer was doubtless formed originally from a spoken variety of Greek, but became literary and conventional with time. It is Homer himself who tells us, in a striking passage (Il. iv. 437) that all the Greeks spoke the same language — that is to say, that they understood one another, in spite of the inevitable local differences. Experience shows how some one dialect in a country gains a literary supremacy to which the whole nation yields. So Tuscan became the type of Italian, and Anglian of English. But as soon as the dialect is adopted, it begins to diverge from the colloquial form. Just as modern poetical Italian uses many older grammatical forms peculiar to itself, so the language of poetry, even in Homeric times, had formed a deposit (so to speak) of archaic grammar. There were doubtless poets before Homer, as well as brave men before Agamemnon; and indeed the formation of a poetical dialect such as the Homeric must have been the work of several generations. The use of that dialect (instead of Aeolic) by the Boeotian poet Hesiod, in a kind of poetry which was not of the Homeric type, tends to the conclusion that the literary ascendancy of the epic dialect was anterior to the Iliad and Odyssey, and independent of the influence exercised by these poems.
What then was the original language of Homer? Where and when was it spoken? [The answer given to this question by Aug. Fick (in 1883) and still held, with modifications, by some European scholars can no longer be maintained. Fick’s original statement was that in or about the 6th century B.C. the poems, which had originally worn an Aeolic dress, were transposed into Ionic. To this it is easily answered that such an event is not only unique in history, but contrary to all that we know of the Greek genius. At the period in question an Aeolic literature, the lyrics of Sappho and Alcaeus, were in existence. If it was found necessary to transpose the Aeolic Homer, why did the Aeolic lyric verse escape? If, however, as is the view of some of Pick’s followers, the transposition took place several centuries earlier, before species of literature had appropriated particular dialects, then the linguistic facts upon which Pick relied to distinguish the “Aeolic” and “Ionic” elements in Homer disappear. We have no means of knowing what the Aeolic and Ionic of say the 9th century were, or if there were such dialects at all. Certain prominent historical differences between Aeolic and Ionic (the digamma and ᾱ) are known to be unoriginal. The view that Homer underwent at any time a passage from one dialect to another may be dismissed. The tendency of modern dialectologists is to divide the Greek dialects into Dorian and non-Dorian. The non-Dorian dialects, Ionic, Attic and the various forms of Aeolic, are regarded as relatively closely akin, and go by the common name “Achaean.” They formed the common language of Greece before the Doric invasion. As the scene which Homer depicts is prae-Dorian Greece, it is reasonable to call his language Achaean. The historical divergences of Achaean into Aeolian and Ionic were later than the Migration, and were due to the well-known effects of change of soil and air.
To what local variety of Achaean Homeric Greek belonged it is idle to ask. Thessaly, Boeotia and Mycenae have equal claims. It seems clearer that when once this local variety of Achaean had been used by poets of eminence as their vehicle for national history, it established its right to be considered the one poetical language of Hellas. As the dialect of the Arno in Italy, of Castille in Spain, by the virtue of the genius of the singers who used them, became literary “Italian” and “Spanish,” so this variety of Achaean elevated itself to the position of the volgare illustre of Greece. (T. W. A.)
(c) The influence of Homer upon the subsequent course of Greek literature is a large subject, even if we restrict it to the centuries which immediately followed the Homeric age. It will be enough to observe that in the earliest elegiac poets, such as Archilochus, Tyrtaeus and Theognis, reminiscences of Homeric language and thought meet us on every page. If the same cannot be said of the ancient epic poems, that is because of the extreme scantiness of the existing fragments. Much, however, is to be gathered from the arguments of the Trojan part of the Epic Cycle (preserved in the Codex Venetus of the Iliad, a full discussion of which will be found in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, 1884, pp. 1-40). An examination of these arguments throws light on two chief aspects of the relation between Homer and his “cyclic” successors.
1. The later poets sought to complete the story of the Trojan war by supplying the parts which did not fall within the Iliad and Odyssey — the so-called ante-homerica and post-homerica. They did so largely from hints and passing references in Homer. Thus the successive episodes of the siege related at length in the Little Iliad, and ending with the story of the Wooden Horse, are nearly all taken from passages in the Odyssey. Much the same may be said of the Nosti.
2. With this process of expansion and development (so to speak) of Homeric themes is combined the addition of new characters. Such, in the Little Iliad (e.g.), are the story of the Palladium and of the treachery of Sinon. Such, too, in the Cypria are the new legendary figures — Palamedes, Iphigenia, Telephus, Laocoon. These new elements in the narrative are evidently due not only to the natural growth of legend in a people highly endowed with imagination, but in a large proportion also to the new races and countries with which the Greeks came into contact, as well as to their own rapid advance in wealth and civilization. It will be observed that the two poems of Arctinus are remarkable for the proportion of new matter of the latter kind. The Aethiopis shows us the allies of Troy reinforced by two peoples that are evidently creations of oriental fancy, the Amazons and Memnon with his Aethiopians. The Iliu Persis, again, was the oldest authority for the story of Laocoon and of the consequent escape of Aeneas — a story which connected a surviving branch of the house of Priam with the later inhabitants of the Troad. On the other hand the fate of Creusa (sed me magna deum genetrix his detinet oris) is a link with the worship of Cybele. The journey of Calchas to Colophon and his death there, as told in the Nosti, is another instance of the kind. These facts point to a familiarity with the Greek colonies in Asia which contrasts strongly with the silence of the Iliad and Odyssey.
Study of Homer. — The Homeric Question.
The critical study of Homer began in Greece almost with the beginning of prose writing. The first name is that of Theagenes of Rhegium, contemporary of Cambyses (525 B.C.), who is said to have founded the “new grammar” (the older “grammar” being the art of reading and writing), and to have been the inventor of the allegorical interpretations by which it was sought to reconcile the Homeric mythology with the morality and speculative ideas of the 6th century B.C. The same attitude in the “ancient quarrel of poetry and philosophy” was soon afterwards taken by Anaxagoras; and after him by his pupil Metrodorus of Lampsacus, who explained away all the gods, and even the heroes, as elementary substances and forces (Agamemnon as the upper air, &c.).
The next writers on Homer of the “grammatical” type were Stesimbrotus of Thasos (contemporary with Cimon) and Antimachus of Colophon, himself an epic poet of mark. The Thebaid of Antimachus, however, was not popular, and seems to have been a great storehouse of mythological learning rather than a poem of the Homeric school.
Other names of the pre-Socratic and Socratic times are mentioned by Xenophon, Plato and Aristotle. These were the “ancient Homerics” (οἱ ἀρχαῖοι Ὁμηρικοί)), who busied themselves much with the hidden meanings of Homer; of whom Aristotle says, with his profound insight, that they see the small likenesses and overlook the great ones (Metaph. xii.).
The text of Homer must have attracted some attention when Antimachus came to be known as the “corrector” (διοθωτής) of a distinct edition (ἔκδοσις). Aristotle is said himself to have made a recension for the use of Alexander the Great. This is unlikely. His remarks on Homer (in the Poetics and elsewhere) show that he had made a careful study of the structure and leading ideas of the poems, but do not throw much light on the text.
The real work of criticism became possible only when great collections of manuscripts began to be made by the princes of the generation after Alexander, and when men of learning were employed to sift and arrange these treasures. In this way the great Alexandrian school of Homeric criticism began with Zenodotus, the first chief of the museum, and was continued by Aristophanes and Aristarchus. In Aristarchus ancient philology culminated, as philosophy had done in Socrates. All earlier learning either passed into his writings, or was lost; all subsequent research turned upon his critical and grammatical work.
The means of forming a judgment of the Alexandrine criticism are scanty. The literary form which preserved the works of the great historians was unfortunately wanting, or was not sufficiently valued, in the case of the grammarians. Abridgments and newer treatises soon drove out the writings of Aristarchus and other founders of the science. Moreover, a recension could not be reproduced without new errors soon creeping in. Thus we find that Didymus, writing in the time of Cicero, does not quote the readings of Aristarchus as we should quote a textus receptus. Indeed, the object of his work seems to have been to determine what those readings were. Enough, however, remains to show that Aristarchus had a clear notion of the chief problems of philology (except perhaps those concerning etymology). He saw, for example, that it was not enough to find a meaning for the archaic words (the γλῶσσαι, as they were called), but that common words (such as πόνος, φόβος) had their Homeric uses, which were to be gathered by due induction. In the same spirit he looked upon the ideas and beliefs of Homer as a consistent whole, which might be determined from the evidence of the poems. He noticed especially the difference between the stories known to Homer and those given by later poets, and made many comparisons between Homeric and later manners, arts and institutions. Again, he was sensible of the paramount value of manuscript authority, and appears to have introduced no readings from mere conjecture. The frequent mention in the Scholia of “better” and “inferior” texts may indicate a classification made by him or by the general opinion of critics. His use of the “obelus” to distinguish spurious verses, which made so large a part of his fame in antiquity, has rather told against him with modern scholars. It is chiefly interesting as a proof of the confusion in which the text must have been before the Alexandrian times; for it is impossible to understand the readiness of Aristarchus to suspect the genuineness of verses unless the state of the copies had pointed to the existence of numerous interpolations. On this matter, however, we are left to conjecture.
Our knowledge of Alexandrian criticism is derived almost wholly from a single document, the famous Iliad of the library of St Mark in Venice (Codex Venetus 454, or Ven. A), first published by the French scholar Villoison in 1788 (Scholia antiquissima ad Homeri Iliadem). This manuscript, written in the 10th century, contains (1) the best text of the Iliad, (2) the critical marks of Aristarchus and (3) Scholia, consisting mainly of extracts from four grammatical works, viz. Didymus (contemporary of Cicero) on the recension of Aristarchus, Aristonicus (fl. 24 B.C.) on the Critical marks of Aristarchus, Herodian (fl. A.D. 160) on the accentuation, and Nicanor (fl. A.D. 127) on the punctuation, of the Iliad.
These extracts present themselves in two distinct forms. One series of scholia is written in the usual way, on a margin reserved for the purpose. The other consists of brief scholia, written in very small characters (but of the same period) on the narrow space left vacant round the text. Occasionally a scholium of this kind gives the substance of one of the longer extracts; but as a rule they are distinct. It would seem, therefore, that after the manuscript was finished the “marginal scholia” were discovered to be extremely defective, and a new series of extracts was added in a form which interfered as little as possible with the appearance of the book.
The mention of the Venetian Scholia leads us at once to the Homeric controversy; for the immortal Prolegomena of F. A. Wolf appeared a few years after Villoison’s publication, and was founded in great measure upon the fresh and abundant materials which it furnished. Not that the “Wolfian theory” of the Homeric poems is directly supported by anything in the Scholia; the immediate object of the Prolegomena was not to put forward that theory, but to elucidate the new and remarkable conditions under which the text of Homer had to be settled, viz. the discovery of an apparatus criticus of the 2nd century B.C. The questions regarding the original structure and early history of the poems were raised (forced upon him, it may be said) by the critical problem; but they were really originated by facts and ideas of a wholly different order.
The 18th century, in which the spirit of classical correctness had the most absolute dominion, did not come to an end before a powerful reaction set in, which affected not only literature but also speculation and politics. In this movement the leading ideas were concentrated in the word Nature. The natural condition of society, natural law, natural religion, the poetry of nature, gained a singular hold, first on the English philosophers from Hume onwards, and then (through Rousseau chiefly) on the general drift of thought and action in Europe. In literature the effect of these ideas was to set up a false opposition between nature and art. As political writers imagined a patriarchal innocence prior to codes of law, so men of letters sought in popular unwritten poetry the freshness and simplicity which were wanting in the prevailing styles. The blind minstrel was the counterpart of the noble savage. The supposed discovery of the poems of Ossian fell in with this train of sentiment, and created an enthusiasm for the study of early popular poetry. Homer was soon drawn into the circle of inquiry. Blackwell (Professor of Greek at Aberdeen) had insisted, in a book published in 1735, on the “naturalness” of Homer; and Wood (Essay on the Original Genius of Homer, London, 1769) was the first who maintained that Homer composed without the help of writing, and supported his thesis by ancient authority, and also by the parallel of Ossian. Both these books were translated into German, and their ideas passed into the popular philosophy of the day. Everything in short was ripe for the reception of a book that brought together, with masterly ease and vigour, the old and the new Homeric learning, and drew from it the historical proof that Homer was no single poet, writing according to art and rule, but a name which stood for a golden age of the true spontaneous poetry of genius and nature.
The part of the Prolegomena which deals with the original form of the Homeric poems occupies pp. xl.-clx. (in the first edition). Wolf shows how the question of the date of writing meets us on the threshold of the textual criticism of Homer and accordingly enters into a full discussion, first of the external evidence, then of the indications furnished by the poems. Having satisfied himself that writing was unknown to Homer, he is led to consider the real mode of transmission, and finds this in the Rhapsodists, of whom the Homeridae were an hereditary school. And then comes the conclusion to which all this has been tending: “the die is cast” — the Iliad and Odyssey cannot have been composed in the form in which we know them without the aid of writing. They must therefore have been, as Bentley had said, “a sequel of songs and rhapsodies,” “loose songs not collected together in the form of an epic poem till about 500 years after.” This conclusion he then supports by the character attributed to the “Cyclic” poems (whose want of unity showed that the structure of the Iliad and Odyssey must be the work of a later time), by one or two indications of imperfect connexion, and by the doubts of ancient critics as to the genuineness of certain parts. These, however, are matters of conjecture. “Historia loquitur.” The voice of antiquity is unanimous in declaring that “Peisistratus first committed the poems of Homer to writing, and reduced them to the order in which we now read them.”
The appeal of Wolf to the “voice of all antiquity” is by no means borne out by the different statements on the subject. According to Heraclides Ponticus (pupil of Plato), the poetry of Homer was first brought to the Peloponnesus by Lycurgus, who obtained it from the descendants of Creophylus (Polit. fr. 2). Plutarch in his Life of Lycurgus (c. 4) repeats this story, with the addition that there was already a faint report of the poems in Greece, and that certain detached fragments were in the possession of a few persons. Again, the Platonic dialogue Hipparchus (which though not genuine is probably earlier than the Alexandrian times) asserts that Hipparchus, son of Peisistratus, first brought the poems to Athens, and obliged the rhapsodists at the Panathenaea to follow the order of the text, “as they still do,” instead of reciting portions chosen at will. The earliest authority for attributing any work of the kind to Peisistratus is the well-known passage of Cicero (De Orat. 3. 34: “Quis doctior eisdem temporibus illis, aut cujus eloquentia litteris instructior fuisse traditur quam Pisistrati? qui primus Homeri libros, confusos antea, sic disposuisse dicitur ut nunc habemus”). To the same effect Pausanias (vii. p. 594) says that the change of the name Donoessa to Gonoessa (in Il. ii. 573) was thought to have been made by “Peisistratus or one of his companions,” when he collected the poems, which were then in a fragmentary condition. Finally, Diogenes Laertius (i. 57) says that Solon made a law that the poems should be recited with the help of a prompter so that each rhapsodist should begin where the last left off; and he argues from this that Solon did more than Peisistratus to make Homer known. The argument is directed against a certain Dieuchidas of Megara, who appears to have maintained that the verses about Athens in the Catalogue (Il. ii. 546-556) were interpolated by Peisistratus. The passage is unfortunately corrupt, but it is at least clear that in the time of Solon, according to Diogenes, there were complete copies of the poems, such as could be used to control the recitations. Hence the account of Diogenes is quite irreconcilable with the notices on which Wolf relied.
It is needless to examine the attempts which have been made to harmonize these accounts. Such attempts usually start with the tacit assumption that each of the persons concerned — Lycurgus, Solon, Peisistratus, Hipparchus — must have done something for the text of Homer, or for the regulation of the rhapsodists. But we have first to consider whether any of the accounts come to us on such evidence that we are bound to consider them as containing a nucleus of truth.
In the first place, the statement that Lycurgus obtained the poems from descendants of Creophylus must be admitted to be purely mythical. But if we reject it, have we any better reason for believing the parallel assertion in the Platonic Hipparchus? It is true that Hipparchus is undoubtedly a real person. On the other hand it is evident that the Peisistratidae soon became the subject of many fables. Thucydides notices as a popular mistake the belief that Hipparchus was the eldest son of Peisistratus, and that consequently he was the reigning “tyrant” when he was killed by Aristogiton. The Platonic Hipparchus follows this erroneous version, and may therefore be regarded as representing (at best) mere local tradition. We may reasonably go further, and see in this part of the dialogue a piece of historical romance, designed to put the “tyrant” family in a favourable light, as patrons of literature and learning.
Again, the account of the Hipparchus is contradicted by Diogenes Laërtius, who says that Solon provided for the due recitation of the Homeric poems. The only good authorities as to this point are the orators Lycurgus and Isocrates, who mention the law prescribing the recitation, but do not say when or by whom it was enacted. The inference seems a fair one, that the author of the law was really unknown.
With regard to the statements which attribute some work in connexion with Homer to Peisistratus, it was noticed by Wolf that Cicero, Pausanias and the others who mention the matter do so nearly in the same words, and, therefore, appear to have drawn from a common source. This source was in all probability an epigram quoted in two of the short lives of Homer, and there said to have been inscribed on the statue of Peisistratus at Athens. In it Peisistratus is made to say of himself that he “collected Homer, who was formerly sung in fragments, for the golden poet was a citizen of ours, since we Athenians founded Smyrna.” The other statements repeat these words with various minor additions, chiefly intended to explain how the poems had been reduced to this fragmentary condition, and how Peisistratus set to work to restore them. Thus all the authority for the work of Peisistratus “reduces itself to the testimony of a single anonymous inscription” (Nutzhorn p. 40). Now, what is the value of that testimony? It is impossible of course to believe that a statue of Peisistratus was set up at Athens in the time of the free republic. The epigram is almost certainly a mere literary exercise. And what exactly does it say? Only that Homer was recited in fragments by the rhapsodists, and that these partial recitations were made into a continuous whole by Peisistratus; which does not necessarily mean more than that Peisistratus did what other authorities ascribe to Solon and Hipparchus, viz. regulated the recitation.
Against the theory which sees in Peisistratus the author of the first complete text of Homer we have to set the absolute silence of Herodotus, Thucydides, the orators and the Alexandrian grammarians. And it can hardly be thought that their silence is accidental. Herodotus and Thucydides seem to tell us all that they know of Peisistratus. The orators Lycurgus and Isocrates make a great deal of the recitation of Homer at the Panathenaea, but know nothing of the poems having been collected and arranged at Athens, a fact which would have redounded still more to the honour of the city. Finally, the Scholia of the Ven. A contain no reference or allusion to the story of Peisistratus. As these Scholia are derived in substance from the writings of Aristarchus, it seems impossible to believe that the story was known to him. The circumstance that it is referred to in the Scholia Townleiana and in Eustathius, gives additional weight to this argument.
The result of these considerations seems to be that nothing rests on good evidence beyond the fact that Homer was recited by law at the Panathenaic festival. The rest of the story is probably the result of gradual expansion and accretion. It was inevitable that later writers should speculate about the authorship of such a law, and that it should be attributed with more or less confidence to Solon or Peisistratus or Hipparchus. The choice would be determined in great measure by political feeling. It is probably not an accident that Dieuchidas, who attributed so much to Peisistratus, was a Megarian. The author of the Hipparchus is evidently influenced by the anti-democratical tendencies in which he only followed Plato. In the times to which the story of Peisistratus can be traced, the 1st century B.C., the substitution of the “tyrant” for the legislator was extremely natural. It was equally natural that the importance of his work as regards the text of Homer should be exaggerated. The splendid patronage of letters by the successors of Alexander, and especially the great institutions which had been founded at Alexandria and Pergamum, had made an impression on the imagination of learned men which was reflected in the current notions of the ancient despots. It may even be suspected that anecdotes in praise of Peisistratus and Hipparchus were a delicate form of flattery addressed to the reigning Ptolemy. Under these influences the older stories of Lycurgus bringing Homer to the Peloponnesus, and Solon providing for the recitation at Athens, were thrown into the shade.
In the later Byzantine times it was believed that Peisistratus was aided by seventy grammarians, of whom Zenodotus and Aristarchus were the chief. The great Alexandrian grammarians had become figures in a new mythology. It is true that Tzetzes, one of the writers from whom we have this story, gives a better version, according to which Peisistratus employed four men, viz. Onomacritus, Zopyrus of Heraclea, Orpheus of Croton, and one whose name is corrupt (written ἐπικόγκυλος). Many scholars (among them Ritschl) accept this account as probable. Yet it rests upon no better evidence than the other.
The effect of Wolf’s Prolegomena was so overwhelming that, although a few protests were made at the time, the true Homeric controversy did not begin till after Wolf’s death (1824). His speculations were thoroughly in harmony with the ideas and sentiment of the time, and his historical arguments, especially his long array of testimonies to the work of Peisistratus, were hardly challenged.
The first considerable antagonist of the Wolfian school was G. W. Nitzsch, whose writings cover the years 1828–1862, and deal with every side of the controversy. In the earlier part of his Meletemata (1830) he took up the question of written or unwritten literature, on which Wolf’s whole argument turned, and showed that the art of writing must be anterior to Peisistratus. In the later part of the same series of discussions (1837), and in his chief work (Die Sagenpoesie der Griechen, 1852), he investigated the structure of the Homeric poems, and their relation to the other epics of the Trojan cycle. These epics had meanwhile been made the subject of a work which for exhaustive learning and delicacy of artistic perception has few rivals in the history of philology, the Epic Cycle of F. G. Welcker. The confusion which previous scholars had made between the ancient post-Homeric poets (Arctinus, Lesches, &c.) and the learned mythological writers (such as the “scriptor cyclicus” of Horace) was first cleared up by Welcker. Wolf had argued that if the cyclic writers had known the Iliad and Odyssey which we possess, they would have imitated the unity of structure which distinguishes these two poems. The result of Welcker’s labours was to show that the Homeric poems had influenced both the form and the substance of epic poetry.
In this way there arose a conservative school who admitted more or less freely the absorption of pre-existing lays in the formation of the Iliad and Odyssey, and also the existence of considerable interpolations, but assigned the main work of formation to prehistoric times, and to the genius of a great poet. Whether the two epics were by the same author remained an open question; the tendency of this group of scholars was decidedly towards separation. Regarding the use of writing, too, they were not unanimous. K. O. Müller, for instance, maintained the view of Wolf on this point, while he strenuously combated the inference which Wolf drew from it.
The Prolegomena bore on the title-page the words “Volumen 1.”; but no second volume ever appeared, nor was any attempt made by Wolf himself to carry his theory further. The first important steps in that direction were taken by Gottfried Hermann, chiefly in two dissertations, De interpolationibus Homeri (Leipzig, 1832), and De iteratis Homeri (Leipzig, 1840), called forth by the writings of Nitzsch. As the word “interpolation” implies, Hermann did not maintain the hypothesis of a congeries of independent “lays.” Feeling the difficulty of supposing that all the ancient minstrels sang of the “wrath of Achilles” or the “return of Ulysses” (leaving out even the capture of Troy itself), he was led to assume that two poems of no great compass dealing with these two themes became so famous at an early period as to throw other parts of the Trojan story into the background, and were then enlarged by successive generations of rhapsodists. Some parts of the Iliad, moreover, seemed to him to be older than the poem on the wrath of Achilles; and thus in addition to the “Homeric” and “post-Homeric” matter he distinguished a “pre-Homeric” element.
The conjectures of Hermann, in which the Wolfian theory found a modified and tentative application, were presently thrown into the shade by the more trenchant method of Lachmann, who (in two papers react to the Berlin Academy in 1837 and 1841) sought to show that the Iliad was made up of sixteen independent “lays,” with various enlargements and interpolations, all finally reduced to order by Peisistratus. The first book, for instance, consists of a lay on the anger of Achilles (1-347), and two continuations, the return of Chryseis (430-492) and the scenes in Olympus (348-429, 493-611). The second book forms a second lay, but several passages, among them the speech of Ulysses (278-332), are interpolated. In the third book the scenes in which Helen and Priam take part (including the making of the truce) are pronounced to be interpolations; and so on. Regarding the evidence on which these sweeping results are founded, opinions will vary. The degree of smoothness or consistency which is to be expected on the hypothesis of a single author will be determined by taste rather than argument. The dissection of the first book, for instance, turns partly on a chronological inaccuracy which might well escape the poet as well as his hearers. In examining such points we are apt to forget that the contradictions by which a story is shown to be untrue are quite different from those by which a confessedly untrue story would be shown to be the work of different authors.
Structure of the Iliad.
The subject of the Iliad, as the first line proclaims, is the “anger of Achilles.” The manner in which this subject is worked out will appear from the following summary in which we distinguish (1) the plot, i.e. the story of the quarrel, (2) the main course of the war, which forms a sort of underplot, and (3) subordinate episodes.
- Quarrel of Achilles with Agamemnon and the Greek army — Agamemnon, having been compelled to give up his prize Chryseis, takes Briseis from Achilles — Thereupon Achilles appeals to his mother Thetis, who obtains from Zeus a promise that he will give victory to the Trojans until the Greeks pay due honour to her son — Meanwhile Achilles takes no part in the war.
- Agamemnon is persuaded by a dream sent from Zeus to take the field with all his forces. His attempt to test the temper of the army nearly leads to their return. Catalogue of the army (probably a later addition). Trojan muster — Trojan catalogue.
- Meeting of the Armies — Paris challenges Menelaus — Truce made. “Teichoscopy,” Helen pointing out to Priam the Greek leaders. The duel — Paris is saved by Aphrodite.
- Truce broken by Pandarus. Advance of the armies — Battle.
- Aristeia of Diomede — his combat with Aphrodite
- — Meeting with Glaucus — Visit of Hector to the city, and offering of a peplus to Athena. (1-311) Visit of Hector to Paris — to Andromache. (312-529)
- Return of Hector and Paris to the field. Duel of Ajax and Hector. Truce for burial of dead. The Greeks build a wall round their camp.
- Battle — The Trojans encamp on the field.
- Agamemnon sends an embassy by night, offering Achilles restitution and full amends — Achilles refuses.
- Doloneia — Night expedition of Odysseus and Diomede (in all probability added later).
- Aristeia of Agamemnon he is wounded — Wounding of Diomede and Odysseus. Achilles sends Antilochus to inquire about Machaon.
- Storming of the wall — the Trojans reach the ships.
- Zeus ceases to watch the field — Poseidon secretly comes to the aid of the Greeks.
- Sleep of Zeus, by the contrivance of Hera.
- Zeus awakened Restores the advantage to the Trojans — Ajax alone defends the ships.
- Achilles is persuaded to allow Patroclus to take the field. Patroclus drives back the Trojans — kills Sarpedon — is himself killed by Hector.
- Battle for the body of Patroclus — Aristeia of Menelaus.
- News of the death of Patroclus is brought to Achilles — Thetis comes with the Nereids — promises to obtain new armour for him from Hephaestus. The shield of Achilles described.
- Reconciliation of Achilles — His grief and desire to avenge Patroclus.
- The gods come down to the plain — Combat of Achilles with Aeneas and Hector, who escape.
- The Scamander is choked with slain — rises against Achilles, who is saved by Hephaestus.
- Hector alone stands against Achilles — his flight round the walls — he is slain.
- Burial of Patroclus — Funeral games.
- Priam ransoms the body of Hector — his burial.
Such is the “action” (πρᾶξις) which in Aristotle’s opinion showed the superiority of Homer to all later epic poets. But the proof that his scheme was the work of a great poet does not depend merely upon the artistic unity which excited the wonder of Aristotle. A number of separate “lays” might conceivably be arranged and connected by a man of poetical taste in a manner that would satisfy all requirements. In such a case, however, the connecting passages would be slight and weak. Now, in the Iliad these passages are the finest and most characteristic. The element of connexion and unity is the story of the “wrath of Achilles”; and we have only to look at the books which give the story of the wrath to see how essential they are. Even if the ninth book is rejected (as Grote proposed), there remain the speeches of the first, sixteenth and nineteenth books. These speeches form the cardinal points in the action of the Iliad — the framework into which everything else is set; and they have also the best title to the name of Homer.
The further question, however, remains, — What shorter narrative piece fulfilling the conditions of an independent poem has Lachmann succeeded in disengaging from the existing Iliad? It must be admitted that when tried by this test his “lays” generally fail. The “quarrel of the chiefs,” the “muster of the army,” the “duel of Paris and Menelaus,” &c., are excellent beginnings, but have no satisfying conclusion. And the reason is not far to seek. The Iliad is not a history, nor is it a series of incidents in the history, of the siege. It turns entirely upon a single incident, occupying a few days only. The several episodes of the poem are not so many distinct stories, each with an interest of its own. They are only parts of a single main event. Consequently the type of epic poem which would be produced by an aggregation of shorter lays is not the type which we have in the Iliad. Rather the Iliad is itself a single lay which has grown with the growth of poetical art to the dimensions of an epic.
But the original nucleus and parts of the incidents may be the work of a single great poet, and yet other episodes may be of different authorship, wrought into the structure of the poem in later times. Various theories have been based on this supposition. Grote in particular held that the original poem, which he called the Achilleïs, did not include books ii.-vii., ix., x., xxiii., xxiv. Such a view may be defended somewhat as follows.
Of the books which relate the events during the absence of Achilles from the Greek ranks (ii.-xv.), the last five are directly related to the main action. They describe the successive steps by which the Greeks are driven back, first from the plain to the rampart, then to their ships. Moreover, three of the chief heroes, Agamemnon, Diomede and Ulysses, are wounded, and this circumstance, as Lachmann himself admitted, is steadily kept in mind throughout. It is otherwise with the earlier books (especially ii.-vii.). The chief incidents in that part of the poem — the panic rush to the ships, the duels of Paris and Menelaus, and of Hector and Ajax, the Aristeia of Diomede — stand in no relation to the mainspring of the poem, the promise made by Zeus to Thetis. It is true that in the thirteenth and fourteenth books the purpose of Zeus is thwarted for a time by other gods; but in books ii.-vii. it is not so much thwarted as ignored. Further, the events follow without sufficient connexion. The truce of the third book is broken by Pandarus, and Agamemnon passes along the Greek ranks with words of encouragement, but without a hint of the treachery just committed. The Aristeia of Diomede ends in the middle of the sixth book; he is uppermost in all thoughts down to ver. 311, but from this point, in the meetings of Hector with Helen and Andromache, and again in the seventh book when Hector challenges the Greek chiefs, his prowess is forgotten. Once more, some of the incidents seem to belong properly to the beginning of the war. The joy of Menelaus on seeing Paris, Priam’s ignorance of the Greek leaders, the speeches of Agamemnon in his review of the ranks (in book iv.), the building of the wall — all these are in place after the Greek landing, but hardly in the ninth year of the siege.
On the other hand, it may be said, the second book opens with a direct reference to the events of the first, and the mention of Achilles in the speech of Thersites (ii. 239 sqq.) is sufficient to keep the main course of events in view. The Catalogue is connected with its place in the poem by the lines about Achilles (686-694) . When Diomede is at the height of his Aristeia Helenus says (Il. vi. 99), “We did not so fear even Achilles.” And when in the third book Priam asks Helen about the Greek captains, or when in the seventh book nine champions come forward to contend with Hector, the want of the greatest hero of all is sufficiently felt. If these passages do not belong to the period of the wrath of Achilles, how are we to account for his conspicuous absence?
Further, the want of smoothness and unity which is visible in this part of the Iliad may be due to other causes than difference of date or authorship. A national poet such as the author of the Iliad cannot always choose or arrange his matter at his own will. He is bound by the traditions of his art, and by the feelings and expectations of his hearers. The poet who brought the exploits of Diomede into the Iliad doubtless had his reasons for doing so, which were equally strong whether he was the poet of the Achilleïs or a later Homerid or rhapsodist. And if some of the incidents (those of the third book in particular) seem to belong to the beginning of the war, it must be considered that poetically, and to the hearers of the Iliad, the war opens in the third book, and the incidents are of the kind that is required in such a place. The truce makes a pause which heightens the interest of the impending battle; the duel and the scene on the walls are effective in bringing some of the leading characters on the stage, and in making us acquainted with the previous history. The story of Paris and Helen especially, and the general position of affairs in Troy, is put before us in a singularly vivid manner. The book in short forms so good a prologue to the action of the war that we can hardly be wrong in attributing it to the genius which devised the rest of the Iliad.
The case against the remaining books is of a different kind. The ninth and tenth seem like two independent pictures of the night before the great battle of xi.-xvii. Either is enough to fill the space in Homer’s canvas; and the suspicion arises (as when two Platonic dialogues bear the same name) that if either had been genuine, the other would not have come into existence. If one of the two is to be rejected it must be the tenth, which is certainly the less Homeric. It relates a picturesque adventure, conceived in a vein more approaching that of comedy than any other part of the Iliad. Moreover, the language in several places exhibits traces of post-Homeric date. The ninth book, on the other hand, was rejected by Grote, chiefly on the grounds that the embassy to Achilles ought to have put an end to the quarrel, and that it is ignored in later passages, especially in the speeches of Achilles (xi. 609; xvi. 72, 85). His argument, however, rests on an assumption which we are apt to bring with us to the reading of the Iliad , but which is not borne out by its language, viz. that there was some definite atonement demanded by Achilles, or due to him according to the custom and sentiment of the time. But in the Iliad the whole stress is laid on the anger of Achilles, which can only be satisfied by the defeat and extreme peril of the Greeks. He is influenced by his own feeling, and by nothing else. Accordingly, in the ninth book, when they are still protected by the rampart (see 348 sqq.), he rejects gifts and fair words alike; in the sixteenth he is moved by the tears and entreaties of Patroclus, and the sight of the Greek ships on fire; in the nineteenth his anger is quenched in grief. But he makes no conditions, either in rejecting the offers of the embassy or in returning to the Greek army. And this conduct is the result, not only of his fierce and inexorable character, but also (as the silence of Homer shows) of the want of any general rules or principles, any code of morality or of honour, which would have required him to act in a different way.
Finally, Grote objected to the two last books that they prolong the action of the Iliad beyond the exigencies of a coherent scheme. Of the two, the twenty-third could more easily be spared. In language, and. perhaps in style and manner, it is akin to the tenth; while the twenty-fourth is in the pathetic vein of the ninth, and like it serves to bring out new aspects of the character of Achilles.
Dr E. Kammer has given some strong reasons for doubting the genuineness of the passage in book xx. describing the duel between Achilles and Aeneas (79-352). The incident is certainly very much out of keeping with the vehement action of that part of the poem, and especially with the moment when Achilles returns to the field, eager to meet Hector and avenge the death of his friend. The interpolation (if it is one) is probably due to local interests. It contains the well-known prophecy that the descendants of Aeneas are to rule over the Trojans, — pointing to the existence of an Aenead dynasty in the Troad. So, too, the legend of Anchises in the Hymn to Aphrodite is evidently local; and Aeneas becomes more prominent in the later epics, especially the Cypria and the Ἰλίου πέρσις of Arctinus.
Structure of the Odyssey.
In the Odyssey, as in the Iliad, the events related fall within a short space of time. The difficulty of adapting the long wanderings of Ulysses to a plan of this type is got over by the device — first met with in the Odyssey — of making the hero tell the story of his own adventures. In this way the action is made to begin almost immediately before the actual return of Ulysses. Up to the time when he reaches Ithaca it moves on three distinct scenes: we follow the fortunes of Ulysses, of Telemachus on his voyage in the Peloponnesus, and of Penelope with the suitors. The art with which these threads are woven together was recognized by Wolf himself, who admitted the difficulty of applying his theory to the “admirabilis summa et compages” of the poem. Of the comparatively few attempts which have been made to dissect the Odyssey, the most moderate and at tractive is that of Professor A. Kirchhoff of Berlin.
According to Kirchhoff, the Odyssey as we have it is the result of additions made to an original nucleus. There was first of all a “Return of Odysseus,” relating chiefly the adventures with the Cyclops, Calypso and the Phaeacians; then a continuation, the scene of which lay in Ithaca, embracing the bulk of books xiii.-xxiii. The poem so formed was enlarged at some time between Ol. 30 and Ol. 50 by the stories of books x.-xii. (Circe, the Sirens, Scylla, &c.), and the adventures of Telemachus. Lastly, a few passages were interpolated in the time of Peisistratus.
The proof that the scenes in Ithaca are by a later hand than the ancient “Return” is found chiefly in a contradiction discussed by Kirchhoff in his sixth dissertation (pp. 135 sqq., ed. 1869). Sometimes Ulysses is represented as aged and worn by toil, so that Penelope, for instance, cannot recognize him; sometimes he is really in the prime of heroic vigour, and his appearing as a beggarly old man is the work of Athena’s wand. The first of these representations is evidently natural, considering the twenty eventful years that have passed; but the second, Kirchhoff holds, is the Ulysses of Calypso’s island and the Phaeacian court. He concludes that the aged Ulysses belongs to the “continuation” (the change wrought by Athena’s wand being a device to reconcile the two views), and hence that the continuation is the work of a different author.
Ingenious as this is, there is really very slender ground for Kirchhoff’s thesis. The passages in the second half of the Odyssey which describe the appearance of Ulysses do not give two well-marked representations of him. Sometimes Athena disguises him as a decrepit beggar, sometimes she bestows on him supernatural beauty and vigour. It must be admitted that we are not told exactly how long in each case the effect of these changes lasted. But neither answers to his natural appearance, or to the appearance which he is imagined to present in the earlier books. In the palace of Alcinous, for instance, it is noticed that he is vigorous but “marred by many ills” (Od. viii. 137); and this agrees with the scenes of recognition in the latter part of the poem.
The arguments by which Kirchhoff seeks to prove that the stories of books x.-xii. are much later than those of book ix. are not more convincing. He points put some resemblances between these three books and the Argonautic fables, among them the circumstance that a fountain Artacia occurs in both. In the Argonautic story this fountain is placed in the neighbourhood of Cyzicus, and answers to an actual fountain known in historical times. Kirchhoff argues that the Artacia of the Argonautic story must have been taken from the real Artacia, and the Artacia of the Odyssey again from that of the Argonautic story. And as Cyzicus was settled from Miletus, he infers that both sets of stories must be comparatively late. It is more probable, surely, that the name Artacia occurred independently (as most geographical names are found to occur) in more than one place. Or it may be that the Artacia of the Odyssey suggested the name to the colonists of Cyzicus, whence it was adopted into the later versions of the Argonautic story. The further argument that the Nostoi recognized a son of Calypso by Ulysses but no son of Circe, consequently that Circe was unknown to the poet of the Nostoi, rests (in the first place) upon a conjectural alteration of a passage in Eustathius, and, moreover, has all the weakness of an argument from silence, in addition to the uncertainty arising from our very slight knowledge of the author whose silence is in question. Finally, when Kirchhoff finds traces in books x.-xii. of their having been originally told by the poet himself instead of being put in the mouth of his hero, we feel that inaccuracies of this kind are apt to creep in wherever a fictitious story is thrown into the form of an autobiography.
Inquiries conducted with the refinement which characterizes those of Kirchhoff are always instructive, and his book contains very many just observations; but it is impossible to admit his main conclusions. And perhaps we may infer that no similar attempt can be more successful. It does not indeed follow that the Odyssey is free from interpolations. The Νεκυία of book xi. may be later (as Lauer maintained), or it may contain additions, which could easily be inserted in a description of the kind. And the last book is probably by a different hand, as the ancient critics believed. But the unity of the Odyssey as a whole is apparently beyond the reach of the existing weapons of criticism.
When we are satisfied that each of the great Homeric poems is either wholly or mainly the work of a single poet, a question remains which has been matter of controversy in ancient as well as modern times — Are they the work of the same poet? Two ancient grammarians, Xeno and Hellanicus, were known as the “separators” (οἱ χωρίζοντες); and Aristarchus appears to have written a treatise against their heresy. In modern times some of the greatest names have been on the side of the “Chorizontes.”
If, as has been maintained in the preceding pages, the external evidence regarding Homer is of no value, the problem now before us may be stated in this form: Given two poems of which nothing is known except that they are of the same school of poetry, what is the probability that they are by the same author? We may find a fair parallel by imagining two plays drawn at hazard from the works of the great tragic writers. It is evident that the burden of proof would rest with those who held them to be by the same hand.
The arguments used in this discussion have been of very various calibre. The ancient Chorizontes observed that the messenger of Zeus is Iris in the Iliad, but Hermes in the Odyssey; that the wife of Hephaestus is one of the Charites in the Iliad, but Aphrodite in the Odyssey; that the heroes in the Iliad do not eat fish; that Crete has a hundred cities according to the Iliad, and only ninety according to the Odyssey; that προπάροιθε is used in the Iliad of place, in the Odyssey of time, &c. Modern scholars have added to the list, especially by making careful comparisons of the two poems in respect of vocabulary and grammatical forms. Nothing is more difficult than to assign the degree of weight to be given to such facts. The difference of subject between the two poems is so great that it leads to the most striking differences of detail, especially in the vocabulary. For instance, the word φόβος, which in Homer means “flight in battle” (not “fear”), occurs thirty-nine times in the Iliad, and only once in the Odyssey; but then there are no battles in the Odyssey. Again, the verb ῥήγνυμι, “to break,” occurs forty-eight times in the Iliad, and once in the Odyssey, — the reason being that it is constantly used of breaking the armour of an enemy, the gate of a city, the hostile ranks, &c. Once more, the word σκότος, “darkness,” occurs fourteen times in the Iliad, once in the Odyssey. But in every one of the fourteen places it is used of “darkness” coming over the sight of a fallen warrior. On the other side, if words such as ἀσάμινθος, “a bath,” χέρνιψ, “a basin for the hands,” λέσχη, “a place to meet and talk,” &c., are peculiar to the Odyssey, we have only to remember that the scene in the Iliad is hardly ever laid within any walls except those of a tent. These examples will show that mere statistics of the occurrence of words prove little, and that we must begin by looking to the subject and character of each poem. When we do so, we at once find ourselves in the presence of differences of the broadest kind. The Iliad is much more historical in tone and character. The scene of the poem is a real place, and the poet sings (as Ulysses says of Demodocus) as though he had been present himself, or had heard from one who had been. The supernatural element is confined to an interference of the gods, which to the common eye hardly disturbs the natural current of affairs. The Odyssey, on the contrary, is full of the magical and romantic — “speciosa miracula,” as Horace called them. Moreover, these marvels — which in their original form are doubtless as old as anything in the Iliad, since in fact they are part of the vast stock of popular tales (Märchen) diffused all over the world — are mixed up in the Odyssey with the heroes of the Trojan war. This has been especially noticed in the case of the story of Polyphemus, one that is found in many countries, and in versions which cannot all be derived from Homer. W. Grimm has pointed out that the behaviour of Ulysses in that story is senseless and foolhardy, utterly beneath the wise and much-enduring Ulysses of the Trojan war. The reason is simple; he is not the Ulysses of the Trojan war, but a being of the same world as Polyphemus himself — the world of giants and ogres. The question then is — How long must the name of Ulysses have been familiar in the legend (Sage) of Troy before it made its way into the tales of giants and ogres (Märchen), where the poet of the Odyssey found it?
Again, the Trojan legend has itself received some extension between the time of the Iliad and that of the Odyssey. The story of the Wooden Horse is not only unknown to the Iliad, but is of a kind which we can hardly imagine the poet of the Iliad admitting. The part taken by Neoptolemus seems also to be a later addition. The tendency to amplify and complete the story shows itself still more in the Cyclic poets. Between the Iliad and these poets the Odyssey often occupies an intermediate position.
This great and significant change in the treatment of the heroic legends is accompanied by numerous minor differences (such as the ancients remarked) in belief, in manners and institutions, and in language. These differences bear out the inference that the Odyssey is of a later age. The progress of reflection is especially shown in the higher ideas entertained regarding the gods. The turbulent Olympian court has almost disappeared. Zeus has acquired the character of a supreme moral ruler; and although Athena and Poseidon are adverse influences in the poem, the notion of a direct contest between them is scrupulously avoided. The advance of morality is shown in the more frequent use of terms such as “just” (δίκαιος), “piety” (ὁσίη), “insolence” (ὕβρις), “god-fearing” (θεουδής), “pure” (ἁγνός); and also in the plot of the story, which is distinctly a contest between right and wrong. In matters bearing upon the arts of life it is unsafe to press the silence of the Iliad. We may note, however, the difference between the house of Priam, surrounded by distinct dwellings for his many sons and daughters, and the houses of Ulysses and Alcinous, with many chambers under a single roof. The singer, too, who is so prominent a figure in the Odyssey can hardly be thought to be absent from the Iliad merely because the scene is laid in a camp.
Style of Homer.
A few words remain to be said on the style and general character of the Homeric poems, and on the comparisons which may be made between Homer and analogous poetry in other countries.
The cardinal qualities of the style of Homer have been pointed out once for all by Matthew Arnold. “The translator of Homer,” he says, “should above all be penetrated by a sense of four qualities of his author — that he is eminently rapid; that he is eminently plain and direct, both in the evolution of his thought and in the expression of it, that is, both in his syntax and in his words; that he is eminently plain and direct in the substance of his thought, that is, in his matter and ideas; and, finally, that he is eminently noble” (On Translating Homer, p. 9).
The peculiar rapidity of Homer is due in great measure to his use of the hexameter verse. It is characteristic of early literature that the evolution of the thought — that is, the grammatical form of the sentence — is guided by the structure of the verse; and the correspondence which consequently obtains between the rhythm and the grammar — the thought being given out in lengths, as it were, and these again divided by tolerably uniform pauses — produces a swift flowing movement, such as is rarely found when the periods have been constructed without direct reference to the metre. That Homer possesses this rapidity without falling into the corresponding faults — that is, without becoming either “jerky” or monotonous — is perhaps the best proof of his unequalled poetical skill. The plainness and directness, both of thought and of expression, which characterize Homer were doubtless qualities of his age; but the author of the Iliad (like Voltaire, to whom Arnold happily compares him) must have possessed the national gift in a surpassing degree. The Odyssey is in this respect perceptibly below the level of the Iliad.
Rapidity or ease of movement, plainness of expression and plainness of thought, these are not the distinguishing qualities of the great epic poets — Virgil, Dante, Milton. On the contrary, they belong rather to the humbler epico-lyrical school for which Homer has been so often claimed. The proof that Homer does not belong to that school — that his poetry is not in any true sense “ballad-poetry” — is furnished by the higher artistic structure of his poems (already discussed), and as regards style by the fourth of the qualities distinguished by Arnold — the quality of nobleness. It is his noble and powerful style, sustained through every change of idea and subject, that finally separates Homer from all forms of “ballad-poetry” and “popular epic.”
But while we are on our guard against a once common error, we may recognize the historical connexion between the Iliad and Odyssey and the “ballad” literature which undoubtedly preceded them in Greece. It may even be admitted that the swift-flowing movement, and the simplicity of thought and style, which we admire in the Iliad are an inheritance from the earlier “lays” — the κλέα ἀνδρῶν such as Achilles and Patroclus sang to the lyre in their tent. Even the metre — the hexameter verse — may be assigned to them. But between these lays and Homer we must place the cultivation of epic poetry as an art. The pre-Homeric lays doubtless furnished the elements of such a poetry — the alphabet, so to speak, of the art; but they must have been refined and transmuted before they formed poems like the Iliad and Odyssey.
A single example will illustrate this. In the scene on the walls of Troy, in the third book of the Iliad, after Helen has pointed out Agamemnon, Ulysses and Ajax in answer to Priam’s questions, she goes on unasked to name Idomeneus. Lachmann, whose mind is full of the ballad manner, fastens upon this as an irregularity. “The unskilful transition from Ajax to Idomeneus, about whom no question had been asked,” he cannot attribute to the original poet of the lay (Betrachtungen, p. 15, ed. 1865). But, as was pointed out by A. Römer this is exactly the variation which a poet would introduce to relieve the primitive ballad-like sameness of question and answer; and moreover it forms the transition to the lines about the Dioscuri by which the scene is so touchingly brought to a close.
The development of epic poetry (properly so called) out of the oral songs or ballads of a country is a process which in the nature of things can seldom be observed. It seems clear, however, that the hypothesis of epics such as the Iliad and Odyssey having been formed by putting together or even by working up shorter poems finds no support from analogy.
Narrative poetry of great interest is found in several countries (such as Spain and Servia), in which it has never attained to the epic stage. In Scandinavia, in Lithuania, in Russia, according to Gaston Paris (Histoire poétique de Charlemagne, p. 9), the national songs have been arrested in a form which may be called intermediate between contemporary poetry and the epic. The true epics are those of India, Persia, Greece, Germany, Britain and France. Most of these, however, fail to afford any useful points of comparison, either from their utter unlikeness to Homer, or because there is no evidence of the existence of anterior popular songs. The most instructive, perhaps the only instructive, parallel is to be found in the French “chansons de geste,” of which the Chanson de Roland is the earliest and best example. These poems are traced back with much probability to the 10th century. They are epic in character, and were recited by professional jongleurs (who may be compared to the ἀοιδοί of Homer). But as early as the 7th century we come upon traces of short lays (the so-called cantilènes) which were in the mouths of all and were sung in chorus. It has been held that the chansons de geste were formed by joining together “bunches” of these earlier cantilènes, and this was the view taken by Léon Gautier in the first edition of Les Épopées françaises (1865). In the second edition, of which the first volume appeared in 1878, he abandoned this theory. He believes that the epics were generally composed under the influence of earlier songs. “Our first epic poets,” he says, “did not actually and materially patch together pre-existent cantilènes. They were only inspired by these popular songs; they only borrowed from them the traditional and legendary elements. In short, they took nothing from them but the ideas, the spirit, the life; they ‘found’ (ils ont trouvé) all the rest” (p. 80). But he admits that “some of the old poems may have been borrowed from tradition, without any intermediary” (ibid.); and when it is considered that the traces of the “cantilènes” are slight, and that the degree in which they inspired the later poetry must be a matter of impression rather than of proof, it does not surprise us to find other scholars (notably Paul Meyer) attaching less importance to them, or even doubting their existence.
When Léon Gautier shows how history passes into legend, and legend again into romance, we are reminded of the difference noticed above between the Iliad and the Odyssey, and between Homer and the early Cyclic poems. And the peculiar degradation of Homeric characters which appears in some poets (especially Euripides) finds a parallel in the later chansons de geste.
The comparison of Homer with the great literary epics calls for more discursive treatment than would be in place here. Some external differences have been already indicated. Like the French epics, Homeric poetry is indigenous, and is distinguished by this fact, and by the ease of movement and the simplicity which result from it, from poets such as Virgil, Dante and Milton. It is also distinguished from them by the comparative absence of underlying motives or sentiment. In Virgil’s poetry a sense of the greatness of Rome and Italy is the leading motive of a passionate rhetoric, partly veiled by the “chosen delicacy” of his language. Dante and Milton are still more faithful exponents of the religion and politics of their time. Even the French epics are pervaded by the sentiment of fear and hatred of the Saracens. But in Homer the interest is purely dramatic. There is no strong antipathy of race or religion; the war turns on no political event; the capture of Troy lies outside the range of the Iliad. Even the heroes are not the chief national heroes of Greece. The interest lies wholly (so far as we can see) in the picture of human action and feeling.
Bibliography.—A complete bibliography of Homer would fill volumes. The following list is intended to include those books only which are of first-rate importance.
The editio princeps of Homer, published at Florence in 1488, by Demetrius Chalcondylas, and the Aldine editions of 1504 and 1517, have still some value beyond that of curiosity. The chief modern critical editions are those of Wolf (Halle, 1794–1795; Leipzig, 1804–1807), Spitzner (Gotha, 1832–1836), Bekker (Berlin, 1843; Bonn, 1858), La Roche (Odyssey, 1867–1868; Iliad, 1873–1876, both at Leipzig); Ludwich (Odyssey, Leipzig, 1889–1891; Iliad, 2 vols., 1901 and 1907): W. Leaf (Iliad, London, 1886–1888; 2nd ed. 1900–1902); Merry and Riddell (Odyssey i.-xii., 2nd ed., Oxford, 1886); Monro (Odyssey xiii.-xxiv. with appendices, Oxford, 1901); Monro and Allen (Iliad), and Allen (Odyssey, 1908, Oxford). The commentaries of Barnes, Clarke and Ernesti are practically superseded; but Heyne’s Iliad (Leipzig, 1802) and Nitzsch’s commentary on the Odyssey (books i.-xii., Hanover, 1826–1840) are still useful. Nägelbach’s Anmerkungen zur Ilias (A, B 1-483, Γ) is of great value, especially the third edition (by Autenrieth, Nuremberg, 1864). The unique Scholia Veneta on the Iliad were first made known by Villoison (Homeri Ilias ad veteris codicis Veneti fidem recensita, Scholia in eam antiquissima ex eodem codice aliisque nunc primum edidit, cum Asteriscis, Obeliscis, aliisque signis criticis, Joh. Baptista Caspar d'Ansse de Villoison, Venice, 1788); reprinted, with many additions from other MSS., by Bekker (Scholia in Homeri Iliadem, Berlin, 1825–1826). A new edition has been published by the Oxford Press (Scholia Graeca in Homeri Iliadem, ed. Gul. Dindorfius); six volumes have appeared (1875–1888), the last two edited by Professor E. Maass. The vast commentary of Eustathius was first printed at Rome in 1542; the last edition is that of Stallbaum (Leipzig, 1827). The Scholia on the Odyssey were published by Buttmann (Berlin, 1821), and with greater approach to completeness by W. Dindorf (Oxford, 1855). Although Wolf at once perceived the value of the Venetian Scholia on the Iliad, the first scholar who thoroughly explored them was C. Lehrs (De Aristarchi studiis Homericis, Königsberg, 1833; 2nd ed., Leipzig, 1865). Of the studies in the same field which have appeared since, the most important are: Aug. Nauck, Aristophanis Byzantii fragmenta (Halle, 1848); L. Friedländer, Aristonici περὶ σημείων Ἰλιαδος reliquiae (Göttingen, 1853); M. Schmidt, Didymi Chalcenteri fragmenta (Leipzig, 1854); L. Friedländer, Nicanoris περὶ Ἰλιακῆς στιγμῆς reliquiae (Berlin, 1857); Aug. Lentz, Herodiani Technici reliquiae (Leipzig, 1867); J. La Roche, Die homerische Textkritik im Alterthum (Leipzig, 1866) and Homerische Untersuchungen (Leipzig, 1869); Ad. Römer, Die Werke der Aristarcheer im Cod. Venet. A. (Munich, 1875); A. Ludwich, Aristarch’s Homerische Textkritik (2 vols. Leipzig, 1884–1885); and Die Homervulgata als vor-Alexandrinisch erwiesen (Leipzig, 1898).
The literature of the “Homeric Question” begins practically with Wolf’s Prolegomena (Halle, 1795). Of the earlier books Wood’s Essay on the Original Genius and Writings of Homer is the most interesting. Wolf’s views were skilfully popularized in W. Müller’s Homerische Vorschule (2nd ed., Leipzig, 1836). G. Hermann’s dissertations De interpolationibus Homeri (1832) and De iteratis apud Homerum (1840) are reprinted in his Opuscula. Lachmann’s two papers (Betrachtungen über Homer’s Ilias) were edited together by M. Haupt (2nd ed., Berlin, 1865). Besides the somewhat voluminous writings of Nitzsch, and the discussions contained in the histories of Greek literature by K. O. Müller, Bernhardy, Ulrici and Th. Bergk, and in Grote’s History of Greece, see Welcker, Der epische Cyclus oder die homerischen Dichter (Bonn, 1835–1849); on Proclus and the Cycle reference may also be made to Wilamowitz-Möllendorf p. 328 seq.; E. Bethe, Rhein. Mus. (1891), xxvi. p. 593 seq.; O. Immisch, Festschrift Th. Gomperz dargebracht (1902), p. 237 sq.; Lauer, Geschichte der homerischen Poesie (Berlin, 1851); Sengebusch, two dissertations prefixed to the two volumes of W. Dindorf’s Homer in the Teubner series (1855–1856); Friedländer, Die homerische Kritik von Wolf bis Grote (Berlin, 1853); Nutzhorn, Die Entstehungsweise der homerischen Gedichte, mit Vorwort von J. N. Madvig (Leipzig, 1869); E. Kammer, Zur homerischen Frage (Königsberg, 1870); and Die Einheit der Odyssee (Leipzig, 1873); Ä. Kirchhoff, Die Composition der Odyssee (Berlin, 1869); Volkmann, Geschichte und Kritik der Wolf’schen Prolegomena (Leipzig, 1874); K. Sittl, Die Wiederholungen in der Odyssee (München, 1882); U. v. Wilamowitz-Möllendorf, Homerische Untersuchungen (Berlin, 1884); O. Seeck, Die Quellen der Odyssee (Berlin, 1887); F. Blass, Die Interpolationen in der Odyssee (Leipzig, 1905). The interest taken in the question by English students is sufficiently shown in the writings of W. E. Gladstone, F. A. Paley, Henry Hayman (in the Introduction to his Odyssey), P. Geddes, R. C. Jebb and A. Lang (see especially the latter’s Homer and his Age, 1907).
The Homeric dialect must be studied in the books (such as those of G. Curtius) that deal with Greek on the comparative method. The best special work is the brief Griechische Formenlehre of H. L. Ahrens (Göttingen, 1852). Other important works are those of Aug. Fick: Die homerische Odyssee in der ursprünglichen Sprachform wiederhergestelt (Göttingen, 1883); Die homerische Ilias (ibid., 1886); W. Schulze, Quaestiones epicae (Güterslohe, 1892). On Homeric syntax the chief book is B. Delbrück’s Syntactische Forschungen (Halle, 1871–1879), especially vols. i. and iv.; on metre, &c., Hartel’s Homerische Studien (i.-iii., Vienna); Knös, De digammo Homerico quaestiones (Upsala, 1872–1873–1878); Thumb, Zur Geschichte des griech. Digamma, Indogermanische Forschungen (1898), ix. 294 seq. The papers reprinted in Bekker’s Homerische Blätter (Bonn, 1863–1872) and Cobet’s Miscellanea Crilica (Leiden, 1876) are of the highest value. Hoffmann’s Quaestiones Homericae (Clausthal, 1842) is a useful collection of facts. Buttmann’s Lexilogus, as an example of method, is still worth study.
The antiquities of Homer—using the word in a wide sense—may be studied in the following books: Völcker, Über homerische Geographie und Weltkunde (Hanover, 1830); Nägelsbach’s Homerische Theologie (2nd ed., Nuremberg, 1861); H. Brunn, Die Kunst bei Homer (Munich, 1868); W. W. Lloyd, On the Homeric Design of the Shield of Achilles (London, 1854); Buchholz, Die homerischen Realien (Leipzig, 1871–1873); W. Helbig, Das homerische Epos aus den Denkmälern erläutert (Leipzig, 1884; 2nd ed., ibid., 1887); W. Reichel, Über homerische Waffen (Vienna, 1894); C. Robert, Studien zur Ilias (Berlin, 1901); W. Ridgeway, The Early Age of Greece (Cambridge, 1901); V. Bérard, Les Phéniciens et l’Odyssée (Paris, 1902–1903); C. Robert, “Topographische Probleme der Ilias,” in Hermes, xlii., 1907, pp. 78-112.
Among other aids should be mentioned the Index Homericus of Seber (Oxford, 1780); Prendergast’s Concordance to the Iliad (London, 1875); Dunbar’s id. to the Odyssey and Hymns (Oxford, 1880); Frohwein, Verbum Homericum, (Leipzig, 1881); Gehring, Index Homericus (Leipzig, 1891); the Lexicon Homericum, edited by H. Ebeling (Leipzig, 1880–1885) and the facsimile of the cod. Ven. A (Sijthoff; Leiden, 1901), with an introduction by D. Comparetti. (D. B. M.)
- This article was thoroughly revised by Dr D. B. Monro before his death in 1905; a few points have since been added by Mr. T. W. Allen.
- See a paper in the Diss. Philol. Halenses, ii. 97-219.
- Compare the Popular Rhymes of Scotland, published by Robert Chambers.
- Compare the branch of myrtle at an Athenian feast (Aristoph., Nub., 1364).
- The Iliad was also recited at the festival of the Brauronia, at Brauron in Attica (Hesych. s.v. βρανρωνίοις).
- Contemporary Review, vol. xxiii. p. 218 ff.
- The fact that the Phoenician Vau (ϝ) was retained in the Greek alphabets, and the vowel υ added, shows that when the alphabet was introduced the sound denoted by ϝ was still in full vigour. Otherwise ϝ would have been used for the vowel υ, just as the Phoenician consonant Yod became the vowel ι. But in the Ionic dialect the sound of ϝ died out soon after Homer’s time, if indeed it was still pronounced then. It seems probable therefore that the introduction of the alphabet is not later than the composition of the Homeric poems.
- See D. B. Monro’s Homer’s Odyssey, books xiii.-xxiv. (Oxford, 1901, p. 455 sqq.), and the abstract of his paper on the Homeric Dialect read to the Congress of Historical Sciences at Rome, 1903: Atti del Congresso internazionale di scienze storiche, ii. 152, 153, 1905, “II Dialetto omerico.”
- See the chapter in Cobet’s Miscellanea critica, pp. 225-239.
- The existence of two groups of the Venetian Scholia was first noticed by Jacob La Roche, and they were first distinguished in the edition of W. Dindorf (Oxford, 1875). There is also a group of Scholia, chiefly exegetical, a collection of which was published by Villoison from a MS. Ven. 453 (s. xi.) in his edition of 1788, and has been again edited by W. Dindorf (Oxford, 1877). The most important collection of this group is contained in the Codex Townleianus (Burney 86 s. xi.) of the British Museum, edited by E. Maass, (Oxford, 1887–1888). The vast commentary of Eustathius (of the 12th century) marks a third stage in the progress of ancient Homeric learning.
- Prolegomena ad Homerum, sive de operum Homericorum prisca et genuina forma variisque mutationibus et probabili ratione emendandi, scripsit Frid. Aug. Wolfius, volumen i. (1795).
- On this point see a paper by Professor Packard in the Trans. of the American Philological Association (1876).
- Die Composition der Odyssee (Berlin, 1869). A full discussion of this book is given by Dr E. Kammer, Die Einheit der Odyssee (Leipzig, 1873).
- “As a poet Homer must be acknowledged to excel Shakespeare in the truth, the harmony, the sustained grandeur, the satisfying completeness of his images” (Shelley, Essays, &c., i. 51, ed. 1852).
- “The old English balladist may stir Sir Philip Sidney’s heart like a trumpet, and this is much; but Homer, but the few artists in the grand style, can do more — they can refine the raw natural man, they can transmute him” (On Translating Homer, p. 61).
- Die exegetischen Scholien der Ilias, p. vii.
- “On comprend que des chants populaires nés d'un événement éclatant, victoire ou défaite, puissent contribuer à former la tradition, à en arrêter les traits; ils peuyent aussi devenir le centre de légendes qui se forment pour les expliquer; et de la sorte leur substance au moins arrive au poëte épique qui l'introduit dans sa composition. Voilà ce qui a pu se produire pour de chants très-courts, dont il est d'ailleurs aussi difficile d'affirmer que de nier l'existence. Mais on peut expliquer la formation des chansons de geste par une autre hypothese” (Meyer, Recherches sur l'epopée française, p. 65). “Ce qui a fait naître la théorie des chants ‘lyrico-épiques’ ou des cantilènes, c'est le système de Wolf sur les poëmes homériques, et de Lachmann sur les Nibelungen. Mais, au moins en ce qui concerne ce dernier poëme, le système est détruit. . . . On tire encore argument des romances espagnoles, qui, dit-on, sont des ‘cantilènes’ non encore arrivées a l'épopée. . . . Et c'est le malheur de cette théorie: faute de preuves directes, elle cherche des analogies au dehors; en Espagne, elle trouve des ‘cantilènes,’ mais pas d'épopée; en Allemagne, une épopée, mais pas de cantilènes!” (Ibid. p. 66).
- A. Lang, Contemporary Review, vol. xvii., N.S., p. 588.