The poems of Homer formed the basis of Greek literature. Every Greek who had received a liberal education was perfectly well acquainted with them from his childhood, and had learnt them by heart at school; but nobody could state any thing certain about their author.
In fact, the several biographies of Homer which are now extant afford very little or nothing of an authentic history.
The various dates assigned to Homer's age offer no less a diversity than 500 years (from B. C. 1184-684). Crates and Eratosthenes state, that he lived within the first century after the Trojan war; Aristotle and Aristarchus make him a contemporary of the Ionian migration, 140 years after the war; the chronologist, Apollodorus, gives the year 240, Porphyrius 275, the Parian Marble 277, Herodotus 400
after that event; and Theopompus even makes him a contemporary of Gyges, king of Lydia. (Nitzsch, Melet. de Histor. Hom.
fasc. ii. p. 2, de Hist. Hom.
The most important point to be determined is, whether we are to place Homer before
the lonian migration.
The latter is supported by the best authors, and by the general opinion of antiquity, according to which Homer was by birth an Ionian of Asia Minor.
There were indeed more than seven cities which claimed Homer as their countryman; for if we number all those that we find mentioned in different passages of ancient writers, we have seventeen or nineteen cities mentioned as the birth-places of Homer; but the claims of most of these are so suspicious and feeble, that they easily vanish before a closer examination. Athens, for instance, alleged that she was the metropolis of Smyrna, and could therefore number Homer amongst her citizens. (Bekker, Anecdot.
vol. ii. p. 768.) Many other poems were attributed to Homer besides the Iliad
. The real
authors of these poems were forgotten, but their fellow-citizens pretended that Homer, the supposed
author, had lived or been born among them.
The claims of Cyme and Colophon will not seem entitled to much consideration, because they are preferred by Ephorus and Nicander. who were citizens of those respective towns.
After sifting the authorities for all the different statements, the claims of Smyrna and Chios remain the most plausible, and between these two we have to decide. Smyrna is supported by Pindar, Scylax. and Stesimbrotus ; Chios by Simonides, Acusilaus, Hellanicus, Thucydides, the tradition of a family of Homerids at Chios, and the local worship of a hero, Homeros.
The preference is now generally given to Smyrna. (Welcker, Epische Cyclus,
p. 153 ; Müller, Hist. of Greck Lit.
p. 41, &c.) Smyrna was first founded by Ionians from Ephesus, who were followed, and afterwards expelled, by Aeolians from Cyme : the expelled Ionians fled to Colophon, and Smyrna thus became Aeolic. Subsequentlyy the Colophonians drove out the Aeolians from Smyrna, which from henceforth was a purely Ionic city. The Aeolians were originally in possession of the traditions of the Trojan war, which their
ancestors had waged, and in which no Ionians had taken part. (Müller, Aeginet.
p. 25, Orchom.
p. 367.) Homer therefore. himself an Ionian, who had come from Ephesus, received these traditions from the new Aeolian settlers, and when the lonians were driven out of Smyrna, either he himself fled to Chios, or his descendants or disciples settled there, and formed the famous family of Homerids. Thus we may unite the claims of Smyrna and Chios, and explain the peculiarities of the Homeric dialect, which is different from the pure Ionic, and has a large mixture of Aeolic elements.
According to this computation, Homer would have flourished shortly after the time of the Ionian migration, a time best attested, as we have seen, by the au thorities of Aristotle and Aristarchus.
But this result seems not to be reconcilable with the follow ing considerations : --1. Placing Homer more than a century and a half after the Trojan war, we have a long period which is apparently quite destitute of poetical exertions. Is it likely that the heroes should not have found a bard for their deeds till more than a hundred and fifty years after their death ? And how could the knowledge of these deeds be preserved without poetical traditions and epic songs, the only chronicles of an illiterate age ? 2.
In addition to this, there was a stirring active time between the Asiatic settlements of the Greeks and the war with Troy. Of the exploits of this time, certainly nowise inferior to the exploits of the heroic age itself, we should expect to find something mentioned or alluded to in the work of a poet who lived during or shortly after it.
But of this there is not a trace to be found in Homer. 3.
The mythology and the poems of Homer could not have originated in Asia.
It is the growth of a long period, during which the ancient Thracian bards, who lived partly in Thessaly, round Mount Olympus, and partly in Boeotia, near Helicon, consolidated all the different and various local mythologies into one great mythological system. If Homer had made
the mythology of the Greeks, as Herodotus (2.53
) affirms, he would not have represented the Thessalian Olympus as the seat of his gods, but some mountain of Asia Minor; his Muses would not have been those of Olympus, but they would have dwelt on Ida or Gargaros. Homer, if his works had first originated in Asia, would not have compared Nausicaa to Artemis walking on Taygetus
(Od. 6.102); and a great many other allusions to European countries, which show the poet's familiar acquaintance with them, could have found no place in the work of an Asiatic.
It is evident that Homer was far better acquainted with European Greece than he was with Asia Minor, and even the country round Troy. ( Comp. Spohn, de Agro Trojano,
p. 27.) Sir W. Cell, and other modern travellers, were astonished at the accuracy with which Homer has described places in Peloponnesus, and particularly the island of Itliaca.
It has been observed, that nobody could have given these descriptions, except one who had seen the country himself. How shall we, with all this, maintain our proposition, that Homer was an Ionian of Asia Minor ?
It is indispensable, in order to clear up this point, to enter more at large into the discussion concerning the origin of the Homerie poems.
Composition of the Homeric Epics
The whole of antiquity unanimously viewed the Iliad
and the Odyssey
as the productions of a certain individual, called Homer. No doubt of this fact ever entered the mind of any of the ancients; and even a large number of other poems were attributed to thesame author.
This opinion continued unshaken down to the year 1795, when F. A. Wolf wrote his famous Prolegomena, in which he endeavoured to show that the Iliad
were not two complete poems, but small, separate, independent epic songs, celebrating single exploits of the heroes, and that these lays were for the first time
written down and united, as the Iliad
, by Peisistratus, the tyrant of Athens.
This opinion, startling and paradoxical as it seemed, was not entirely new. Casaubon had already doubted the common opinion regarding Homer, and the great Bentley had said expressly " that Homer wrote a sequel of songs and rhapsodies.
These loose songs were not collected together in the form of an epic poem till about 500 years after." (Letter by Phileleutherus Lipsiensis,
§ 7.) Some French writers, Perrault and Hedelin, and the Italian Vico, had made similar conjectures, but all these were forgotten and overborne by the common and general opinion, and the more easily, as these bold conjectures had been thrown out almost at hazard, and without sound arguments to support them. When therefore Wolf's Prolegomena appeared, the whole literary world was startled by the boldness and novelty of his positions. His book, of course, excited great opposition, but no one has to this day been able to refute the principal arguments of that great critic, and to re-establish the old opinion, which he overthrew. His views, however, have been materially modified by protracted discussions, so that now we can almost venture to say that the question is settled. We will first state Wolf's principal arguments, and the chief objections of his opponents, and will then endeavour to discover the most probable result of all these inquiries.
In 1770, R. Wood published a book On the original Genius of Homer,
in which he mooted the question whether the Homeric poems had originally been written
This idea was caught up by Wolf, and proved the foundation of all his inquiries.
But the most important assistance which he obtained was from the discovery and publication of the famous Venetian scholia by Villoison (1788).
These valuable scholia, in giving us some insight into the studies of the Alexandrine critics, furnished materials and an historical basis for Wolf's inquiries.
The point from which Wolf started was, as we have said. the idea that the Homeric poems were originally not written. To prove this, he entered into a minute and accurate discussion concerning the age of the art of writing.
He set aside, as groundless fables, the traditions which ascribed the invention or introduction of this art to Cadmus, Cecrops, Orpheus, Linus, or Palamedes. Then, allowing that letters were known in Greece at a very early period, he justly insists upon the great difference which exists between the knowledge
of the letters and their general use
for works of literature. Writing is first applied to public monuments, inscriptions, and religious purposes, centuries before it is employed for the common purposes of social life.
This is still more certain to be the case when the common ordinary materials for writing are wanting, as they were among the ancient Greeks. Wood, lead, brass, stone, are not proper materials for writing down poems consisting of twenty-four books. Even hides, which were used by the Ionians, seem too clumsy for this purpose, and, besides, we do not know when
they were first in use. (Hdt. 5.58
It was not before the sixth century B. C. that papyrus became easily accessible to the Greeks, through the king Amasis, who first opened Egypt to Greek traders.
The laws of Lycurgus were not committed to writing; those of Zaleucus, in Locri Epizephyrii, in the 29th 01. (B. C. 664), are particularly recorded as the first
laws that were written down. (Scymn. Perieg.
313; Strab. vi. p.259
The laws of Solon, seventy years later, were written on wood and βουστροφηδόν
. Wolf allows that all these considerations do not prove that no use at all was made of the art of writing as early as the seventh and eighth centuries B. C., which would be particularly improbable in the case of the lyric poets, such as Archilochus, Aleman, Pisander, and Aion, but that before the time of the seven sages, that is, the time when prose writing first originated, the art was not so common that we can suppose it to have been employed for such extensive works as the poems of Homer. Wolf (Prol.
p. 77) alleges the testimony of Josephus (c. Apion.
1.2): ὀψὲ καὶ μόλις ἔγνωσαν οἱ Ἕλληνες φύσιν γραμμάτων
..Καί φασιν οὐδὲ τοῦτον
(i.e. Homerum) ἐν γράμμασι τὴν αὐτοῦ ποίησιν καταλπεῖν, ἀλλὰ διαμνημονευομένην ἐκ τῶν ᾀσμάτων ὕστερον συντεθῆναι
. (Besides Schol. apud Villois. Anecd. Gr.
ii. p. 182.) But Wolf draws still more convincing arguments from the poems themselves. In II.
7.175, the Grecian heroes decide by lot who is to fight with Hector.
The lots are marked by each respective hero, and all thrown into a hellnet, which is shaken till one lot is jerked out.
This is handed round by the herald till it reaches Ajax, who recognises the mark he had made on it as his own. If this mark had been any thing like writing, the herald would have read it at once, and not have handed it round. In Il. 6.168
, we have the story of Bellerophon, whom Proetus sends to Lycia,
πόρεν δ ὅγε σήματα λυγρά,
γράψας ἐν πίνακι πτυκτῷ Δυμοφθόρα πολλά
δεῖξαι δ᾽ ἠνώγει ᾧ πενθερῷ, ὄφρ᾽ ἀπόλοιτο.
Wolf shows that σήματα λυγρά
are a kind of conventional marks, and not letters, and that this story is far from proving the existence of writing. Throughout the whole of Homer every thing is calculated to be heard, nothing to be read. Not a single epitaph, nor any other inscription, is mentioned ; the tombs of the heroes are rude mounds of earth; coins are unknown. In Od. 8.163
, an overseer of a ship is mentioned, who, instead of having a list of the cargo, must remember it; he is φόρτου μνήμων
. All this seemed to prove, without the possibility of doubt, that the art of writing was entirely unknown at the time of the Trojan war, and could not have been common at the time when the poems were composed.
Among the opponents of Wolf, there is none superior to Greg. W. Nitzsch, in zeal, perseverance, learning, and acuteness.
He wrote a series of monographes (Quaestion. Homeric. Specim.
1.1824 ; Indagandae per Odyss. Interpolationis Praeparatio,
1828; De Hist. Homeri,
fascic. 1.1830; De Aristotele contra Wolfianos,
1831; Patria et Aetas Hom.
) to refute Wolf and his supporters. and he has done a great deal towards establishing a solid and well-founded view of this complicated question. Nitzsch opposed Wolf's conclusions concerning the later date of written documents.
He denies that the laws of Lycurgus were transmitted by oral tradition alone, and were for this purpose set to music by Terpander and Thaletas, as is generally believed, on the authority of Plutarch (de Mus.
3). The Spartan νόμοι
, which those two musicians are said to have composed, Nitzsch declares to have been hymns and not laws, although Strabo calls Thaletas a νομοθετικὸς ὀνήρ
(by a mistake, as Nitzsch ventures to say). Writing materials were, according to Nitzsch, not wanting at a very early period.
He maintains that wooden tablets, and the hides (διφθέραι
) of the Ionians were employed, and that even papyrus was known and used by the Greeks long before the time of Amasis, and brought into Greece by Phoenician merchants. Amasis, according to Nitzsch, only rendered the use of papyrus more general (6th century B. C.), whereas formerly its use had been confined to a few. Thus Nitzsch arrives at the conclusion that writing was common in Greece full one hundred years before the time which Wolf had supposed, namely, about the beginning of the Olympiads (8th century B. C.), and that this is the time in which the Homeric poems were committed to writing. If this is granted, it does not follow that the poems were also composed
at this time. Nitzsch cannot prove that the age of Homer was so late as the eighth century.
The best authorities, as we have seen, place Homer much earlier, so that we again come to the conclusion that the Homeric poems were composed and handed down for a long time without the assistance of writing.
In fact, this point seems indisputable.
The nature of the Homeric language is alone a sufficient argument, but into this consideration Nitzsch never entered. (Hermann, Opusc.
6.1, 75; Giese, d. Aeol. Dialect.
p. 154.) The Homeric dialect could never have attained that softness and flexibility, which render it so well adapted for versification--that variety of longer and shorter forms, which existed together-that freedom in contracting and resolving vowels, and of forming the contractions into two syllables-if the practice of writing had at that time exercised the power, which it necessarily possesses, of fixing the forms of a language. (Müiller, Hist. of Gr. Lit.
The strongest proof is the Aeolic Digamma, a sound which existed at the time of the composition of the poems, and had entirely vanished from the language when the first copies were made.
It is necessary therefore to admit Wolf's first position, that the Homeric poems were originally not committed to writing. We proceed to examine the conclusions which he draws from these premises.
However great the genius of Homer may have been, says Wolf, it is quite incredible that, without the assistance of writing, he could have conceived in his mind and executed such extensive works.
This assertion is very bold. " Who can determine," says Müller (Hist. of Greek Lit.
p. 62), " how many thousand verses a person thoroughly impregnated with his subject, and absorbed in the contemplation of it, might produce in a year, and confide to the faithful memory of disciples devoted to their master and his art ? " We have instances of modern poets, who have composed long poems without writing down a single syllable, and have preserved them faithfully in their memory, before committing them to writing. And how much more easily could this have been done in the time anterior to the use of writing, when all those faculties of the mind, which had to dispense with this artificial assistance, were powerfully developed, trained, and exercised. We must not look upon the old bards as amateurs, who amused themselves in leisure hours with poetical compositions, as is the fashion now-a-days. Composition was their profession.
All their thoughts were concentrated on this one point, in which and for which they lived. Their composition was, moreover, facilitated by their having no occasion to invent complicated plots and wonderful stories; the simple traditions, on which they founded their songs, were handed down to them in a form already adapted to poetical purposes. If now, in spite of all these advantages, the composition of the Iliad
and Odyssey was no easy task, we must attribute some superiority to the genius of Homer, which caused his name and his works to acquire eternal glory, and covered all his innumerable predecessors, contemporaries, and followers, with oblivion.
The second conclusion of Wolf is of more weight and importance. When people neither wrote nor read, the only way of publishing poems was by oral recitation.
The bards therefore of the heroic age, as we see from Homer himself, used to entertain their hearers at banquets, festivals, and similar occasions. On such occasions they certainly could not recite more than one or two rhapsodies. Now Wolf asks what could have induced any one to compose a poem of such a length, that it could not be heard at once ? All the charms of an artificial and poetical unity, varied by episodes, but strictly observed through many books, must certainly be lost, if only fragments of the poem could be heard at once. To refute this argument, the opponents of Wolf were obliged to seek for occasions which afforded at least a possibility of reciting the whole of the Iliad
. Banquets and small festivals were not sufficient; but there were musical contests (ἀγῶνες
), connected with great national festivals, at which thousands assembled, anxious to hear and patient to listen. " If," says Müller (Hist. of Greek Lit.
p. 62), " the Athenians could at one
festival hear in succession about nine tragedies,three satyric dramas, and as many comedies, without ever thinking that it might be better to distribute this enjoyment over the whole year, why should not the Greeks of earlier times have been able to listen to the Iliad
, and perhaps other poems, at the same festival ? Let us beware of measuring by our loose and desultory reading the intention of mind with which a people enthusiastically devoted to such enjoyments, hung with delight on the flowing strains of the minstrel.
In short, there was a time when the Greek people, not indeed at meals, but at festivals, and under the patronage of their hereditary princes, heard and enjoyed these and other less excellent poems, as they were intended to be heard and enjoyed, viz. as complete wholes."
This is credible enough, but it is not quite so easy to prove it. We know that, in the historical times, the Homeric poems were recited at Athens at the festival of the Panathenaea (Lycurg. c. Leoer.
p. 161); and that there were likewise contests of rhapsodists at Sicyon in the time of the tyrant Cleisthenes (Hdt. 5.67
), in Syracuse, Epidaurus, Orchomenus,Thespiae, Acraephia, Chios, Teos, Olympia. (See the authors cited by Müller, Ibid.
p. 32.) Hesiod mentions musical contests (Op.
652, and Frag.
456), at which he gained a tripod. Such contests seem to have been ever anterior to the time of Homer, and are alluded to in the Homeric description of the Thracian bard Thamyris (Il. 2.594
), who on his road from Eurytus, the powerful ruler of Oechalia, was struck blind at Dorium by the Muses, and deprived of his entire art, because he had boasted of his ability to contend even with the Muses. (Comp. D. L. 9.1
It is very likely that at the great festival of Panionium in Asia Minor such contests took place (Heyne, Exc. ad Il.
vol. viii. p. 796; Welcker, Ep. Cycl.
p. 371; Heinrich, Epimenides,
p. 142); but still, in order to form an idea of the possible manner in which such poems as the Iliad
were recited, we must have recourse to hypotheses, which have at best only internal probability, but no external authority. Such is the inference drawn from the later custom at Athens, that several rhapsodists followed one another in the recitation of the same poem (Welcker, Ep. Cycl.
p. 371), and the still bolder hypothesis of Nitzsch, that the recitation lasted more than one day. (Vorr. z. Anm. z. Od.
vol. ii. p. 21.)
But, although the obscurity of those times prevents us from obtaining a certain and positive result as to the way in which such long poems were recited, yet we cannot be induced by this circumstance to doubt that the Iliad
, and other poems of equal length, were recited as complete wholes, because they certainly existed at a time anterior to the use of writing.
That such was the case follows of necessity from what we know of the Cyclic poets. (See Proclus, Chrestomathia
in Gaisford's Hephaestion.
) The Iliad
contained only a small part of the copious traditions concerning the Trojan war.
A great number of poets undertook to fill up by separate poems the whole cycle of the events of this war, from which circumstance they are commonly styled the Cyclic poets.
The poem Cypria,
most probably by Stasinus, related all the events which preceded the beginning of the Iliad
fiom the birth of Helen to the ninth year of the war. The Aethiopis
of Arctinus continued the narrative after the death of Hector, and related the arrival of the Amazons, whose queen, Penthesileia, is slain by Achilles, the death and burial of Thersites, the arrival of Memnon with the Aethiopians, who kills Antilochus, and is killed in return by Achilles, the death of Achilles himself by Paris, and the quarrel between Ajax and Ulysses about his arms.
The poem of Arctinus then related the death of Ajax, and all that intervened between this and the taking of Troy, which formed the subject of his second poem, the Iliupersis.
These same events were likewise partly treated by Lesches, in his Little Ilias,
with some differences in tone and form.
In this was told the arrival of Philoctetes, who kills Paris, that of Neoptolemus, the building of the wooden horse, the capture of the palladium by Ulysses and Diomede, and, finally, the taking of Troy itself.
The interval between the war and the subject of the Odyssey
is filled up by the return of the different heroes.
This furnished the subject for the Nostoi
by Agias, a poem distinguished by great excellencies of composition.
The misfortunes of the two Atreidae formed the main part, and with this were artfully interwoven the adventures of all the other heroes, except Ulysses.
The last adventures of Ulysses after his return to Ithaca were treated in the Telegonia
of Eugammon. All these poems were grouped round those of Homer, as their common centre. " It is credible," says Müller (Ibid.
p. 64) " that their authors were Homeric rhapsodists by profession (so also Nitzsch, Hall. Encycl. s. v. Odyss.
pp. 400, 401), to whom the constant recitation of the ancient Homeric poems would naturally suggest the notion of continuing them by essays of their own in a similar tone. Hence too it would be more likely to occur that these poems, when they were sung by the same rhapsodists, would gradually acquire themselves the name of Homeric epics." Their object of completing
and spinning out the poems of Homer is obvious.
It is necessary therefore to suppose that the Iliad
existed entire, i.e. comprehending the same series of events which they now comprehend, at least in the time from the first to the tenth Olympiad, when Arctinus, Agias (Thiersch, Act. Monac.
2.583), and probably Stasinus, lived.
This was a time when nobody yet thought of reading such poems. Therefore there must have been an opportunity of reciting in some way or another, not only the Homeric poems, but those of the Cyclic poets also, which were of about equal length. (Nitzsch, Vorr.
vol. ii. p. 24.)
The same result is obtained from comparing the manner in which Homer and these Cyclic poets treat and view mythical objects.
A wide difference is observable on this point, which justifies the conclusion, that as early as the period of the composition of the first of the Cyclic poems, viz. before the tenth Olympiad, the Homeric poems had attained a fixed form, and were no longer, as Wolf supposes, in a state of growth and development, or else they would have been exposed to the influence of the different opinions which then prevailed respecting mythical subjects.
This is the only inference we can draw from an inquiry into the Cyclic poets. Wolf, however, who denied the existence of long epic poets previous to the use of writing, because he thought they could not be recited as wholes, and who consequently denied that the Iliad
possessed an artificial or poetical unity, thought to find a proof of this proposition in the Cyclic poems, in which he professed to see no other unity than that which is afforded by the natural sequence of events. Now we are almost unable to form an accurate opinion of the poetical merits of those poems, of which we possess only dry prosaic extracts; but, granting that they did not attain a high degree of poetical perfection, and particularly, that they were destitute of poetical unity, still we are not on this account at liberty to infer that the poems of Homer, their great example, are likewise destitute of this unity.
But this is the next proposition of Wolf, which therefore we must now proceed to discuss.
Wolf observes that Aristotle first derived the laws of epic poetry from the examples which he found laid down in the Iliad
It was for this reason, says Wolf, that people never thought of suspecting that those examples themselves were destitute of that poetical unity which Aristotle, from a contemplation of them, drew up as a principal requisite for this kind of poetry.
It was transmitted, says Wolf, by old traditions, how once Achilles withdrew from the battle; how, in consequence of the absence of the great hero, who alone awed the Trojans. the Greeks were worsted; how Achilles at last allowed his friend Patroclus to protect the Greeks; and how, finally, he revenged the death of Patroclus by killing Hector.
This simple course of the story Wolf thinks would have been treated by any other poet in very much the same manner as we now read it in the Iliad
; and he maintains that there is no unity in it except a chronological one, in so far as we have a narration of the events of several days in succession. Nay, he continues, if we examine closely the six last books, we shall find that they have nothing to do with what is stated in the introduction as the object of the poem,--namely, the wrath of Achilles.
This wrath subsides with the death of Patroclus, and what follows is a wrath of a different kind, which does not belong to the former.
The composition of the Odyssey
is not viewed with greater favour by Wolf.
The journey of Telemachus to Pylos and Sparta, the sojourn of Ulysses in the island of Calypso, the stories of his wanderings, were originally independent songs, which, as they happened
to fit into one another, were afterwards connected into one whole, at a time when literature, the arts, and a general cultivation of the mind began to flourish in Greece, supported by the important art of writing.
These bold propositions have met with almost universal disapprobation. Still this is a subject on which reasoning and demonstration are very precarious and almost impossible.
The feelings and tastes of every individual must determine the matter.
But to oppose to Wolf's sceptical views the judgment of a man whose authority on matters of taste is as great as on those of learning, we copy what Müller says on this subject :--" All the laws which reflection and experience can suggest for the epic form are observed (in Homer) with the most refined taste; all the means are employed by which the general effect can be heightened."--" The anger of Achilles is an event which did not long precede the final destruction of Troy, inasmuch as it produced the death of Hector, who was the defender of the city.
It was doubtless the ancient tradition, established long before Homer's time, that Hector had been slain by Achilles in revenge for the slaughter of his friend Patroclus, whose fall in battle, unprotected by the son of Thetis, was explained by the tradition to have arisen from the anger of Achilles against the other Greeks for an affront offered to him, and his consequent retirement from the contest. Now the poet seizes, as the most critical and momentous period of the action, the conversion of Achilles from the foe of the Greeks into that of the Trojans: for as on the one hand the sudden revolution in the fortunes of war, thus occasioned, places the prowess of Achilles in the strongest light, so, on the other hand, the change of his firm and resolute mind must have been the more touching to the feelings of the hearers. From this centre of interest there springs a long preparation and gradual developement, since not only the cause of the anger of Achilles, but also the defeats of the Greeks occasioned by that anger, were to be narrated; and the display of the insufficiency of all the other heroes at the same time offered the best opportunity for exhibiting their several excellencies.
It is in the arrangement of this preparatory part and its connection with the catastrophe, that the poet displays his perfect acquaintance with all the mysteries of poetical composition ; and in his continual postponement of the crisis of the action, and his scanty revelations with respect to the plan of the entire work, he shows a maturity of knowledge which is astonishing for so early an age. To all appearance, the poet, after certain obstacles have been first overcome, tends only to one point, viz. to increase perpetually the disasters of the Greeks, which they have drawn on themselves by the injury offered to Achilles; and Zeus himself, at the beginning, is made to pronounce, as coming from himself, the vengeance and consequent exaltation of the son of Thetis.
At the same time, however, the poet plainly shows his wish to excite, in the feelings of an attentive hearer, an anxious and perpetually increasing desire not only to see the Greeks saved from destruction, but also that the unbearable and more than human haughtiness and pride of Achilles should be broken. Both these ends are attained through the fulfilment of the secret counsel of Zeus,
which he did not communicate to Thetis, and through her to Achilles (who, if he had known it, would have given up all enmity against the Achaeans), but only to Hera, and to her not till the middle of the poem; and Achilles, through the loss of his dearest friend, whom he had sent to battle not to save the Greeks, but for his own glory,
suddenly changes his hostile attitude towards the Greeks, and is overpowered by entirely opposite feelings.
In this manner the exaltation of the son of Thetis is united to that almost imperceptible operation of destiny, which the Greeks were required to observe in all human affairs. To remove from this collection of various actions, conditions, and feelings any substantial part, as not necessarily belonging to it, would in fact be to dismember a living whole, the parts of which would necessarily lose their vitality.
As in an organic body life does not dwell in one single point, but requires a union of certain systems and members, so the internal connection of the Iliad
rests on the union of certain parts; and neither the interesting introduction describing the defeat of the Greeks up to the burning of the ship of Protesilaus, nor the turn of affairs brought about by the death of Patroclus, nor the final pacification of the anger of Achilles, could be spared from the Iliad
, when the fruitful seed of such a poem had once been sown in the soul of Homer, and had begun to develop its growth." (Hist. of Gr. Lit.
p. 48, &c.)
If we yield our assent to these convincing reflections, we shall hardly need to defend the unity of the Odyssey
, which has always been admired as one of the greatest masterpieces of Greek genius, against the aggressions of Wolf, who could more easily believe that chance and learned compilers had produced this poem, by connecting loose independent pieces, than that it should have sprung from the mind of a single man. Nitzsch (Hall. Encyclop. s. v. Odyssee, and Anmerk. z. Odyss.
vol. ii. pref.) has endeavoured to exhibit the unity of the plan of this poem.
He has divided the whole into four large sections, in each of which there are again subdivisions facilitating the distribution of the recital for several rhapsodists and several days.
The first part treats of the absent Ulysses (books i.--iv.). Here we are introduced to the state of affairs in Ithaca during the absence of Ulysses. Telemachus goes to Pylos and Sparta to ascertain the fate of his father.
- 2. The song of the returning Ulysses (books v.-13.92) is naturally divided into two parts; the first contains the departure of Ulysses from Calypso, and his arrival and reception in Scheria; the second the narration of his wanderings.
- 3. The song of Ulysses meditating revenge (book 13.92--xix). Here the two threads of the story are united; Ulysses is conveyed to I thaca, and is met in the cottage of Eumaeus by his son, who has just returned from Sparta.
- 4. The song of the revenging and reconciled Ulysses (xx.--xxiv.) brings all the manifold wrongs of the suitors and the sufferings of Ulysses to the desired and long-expected conclusion.
Although we maintain the unity of both the Homeric poems, we cannot deny that they have suffered greatly from interpolations, omissions, and alterations; and it is only by admitting some original poetical whole, that we are able to discover those parts which do not belong to this whole. Wolf, therefore, in pointing out some parts as spurious, has been led into an inconsistency in his demonstration, since lie is obliged to acknowledge something as the genuine centre of the two poems, which he must suppose to have been spun out more and more by subsequent rhapsodists.
This altered view, which is distinctly pronounced in the preface to his edition of Homer (2nd edit. of 1795, towards the end of the pref.), appears already in the Prolegomena (p. 123), and has been subsequently embraced by Hermann and other critics.
It is, as we have said, a necessary consequence from the discovery of interpolations.
These interpolations are particularly apparent in the first part of the Iliad
The catalogue of the ships has long been recognised as a later addition, and can be omitted without leaving the slightest gap.
The battles from the third to the seventh book seem almost entirely foreign to the plan of the Iliad
. Zeus appears to have quite forgotten his promise to Thetis, that he would honour her son by letting Agamemnon feel his absence. The Greeks are far from feeling this. Diomede fights successfully even against gods; the Trojans are driven back to the town.
In an assembly of the gods (iv. init.), the glory of Achilles is no motive to deliver Troy from her fate; it is not till the eighth book that Zeus all at once seems mindful of his promise to Thetis.
The preceding five books are not only loosely connected with the whole of the poem, but even with one another.
The single combat between Menelaus and Paris (hook iii.), in which the former was on the point of despatching the seducer of his wife, is interrupted by the treacherous shot of Pandarus.
In the next book all this is forgotten. The Greeks neither claim Helen as the prize of the victory of Menelaus, nor do they complain of a breach of the oath: no god revenges the perjury. Paris in the sixth book sits quietly at home, where Hector severely upbraids him for his cowardice and retirement from war; to which Paris makes no reply, and does not plead that he had only just encountered Menelaus in deadly fight.
The tenth book, containing the nocturnal expedition of Ulysses and Diomede, in which they kill the Thracian king Rhesus and take his horses, is avowedly of later origin. (Schol. Ven. ad II.
10.1.) No reference is subsequently made by any of the Greeks or Trojans to this gallant deed.
The two heroes were sent as spies, but they never narrate the result of their expedition; not to speak of many other improbabilities. To enumerate all those passages which are reasonably suspected as interpolated, would lead us too far. Muller (lbid.
p. 50) very judiciously assigns "two principal motives for this extension of the poem beyond its original plan, which might have exercised an influence on the mind of Homer himself but had still more powerful effects upon his successors, the later Homerids.
In the first place, it is clear that a design manifested itself at an early period to make this poem complete in itself, so that all the subjects, descriptions, and actions which could alone give an interest to a poem on the entire war,
might find a place within the limits of this composition. For this purpose, it is not improbable that many lays of earlier bards, who had sung single adventures of the Trojan war, were laid under contribution, and that the finest parts of them were adopted into the new poem, it being the natural course of popular poetry propagated by oral tradition, to treat the best thoughts of previous poets as common property, and to give them a new life by working them up in a different context." Thus it would be explained why it is not before the ninth year of the war that the Greeks build a wall round their camp, and think of deciding the war by single combat. For the same reason the catalogue of the ships could find a place in the Iliad
, as well as the view of Helen and Priam from the walls (Τειχοσκοπία
), by which we become acquainted with the chief heroes along the Greeks, who were certainly not unknown to Priam till so late a period of the war. " The other motive for the great extension of the preparatory part of the catastrophe may, it appears, be traced to a certain conflict between the plan
of the poet and his own patriotic feelings.
An attentive reader cannot fail to observe that, while Homer intends that the Greeks should be made to suffer severely from the anger of Achilles, he is yet, as it were, retarded in his progress towards that end by a natural endeavour to avenge the death of each Greek by that of a yet more illustrious Trojan, and thus to increase the glory of the numerous Achaean heroes, so that even on the days in which the Greeks are defeated, more Trojans than Greeks are described as being slain."
The Odyssey has experienced similar extensions, which, far from inducing us to believe in an atomistical origin of the poem, only show that the original plan has been here and there obscured.
The poem opens with an assembly of the gods, in which Athene complains of the long detention of Ulysses in Ogygia; Zeus is of her opinion.
She demands to send Hermes to Calypso with an order from Zeus to dismiss Ulysses, whilst she herself goes to Ithaca to incite young Telenmachus to determined steps.
But in the beginning of the fifth book we have almost the same proceedings, the same assembly of the gods, the same complaints of Athene, the same assent of Zeus, who now at last sends his messenger to the island of Calypso. Telemachus refuses to stay with Menelaus ; he is anxious to return home; and still, without our knowing how and why, he remains at Sparta for a time which seems disproportionably long; for on his return to Ithaca he meets Ulysses, who had in the meantime built his ship, passed twenty days on the sea, and three days with the Phaeacians.
Nitzsch (Anmerk. z. Odyssey,
vol. ii. pref. p. xlii.) has tried to remove these difficulties, but he does not deny extensive interpolations, particularly in the eighth book, where the song of Demodocos concerning Ares and Aphrodite is very suspicious ; in the nineteenth, the recognition of Ulysses by his old nurse, and, most of all, some parts towards the end. All that follows after 23.296 was declared spurious even by the Alexandrine critics Aristophanes and Aristarchus. Spohn (Comment. de extrem. Odysseae Parte,
1816) has proved the validity of this judgment almost beyond the possibility of doubt. Yet, as Müller and Nitzsch observe, it is very likely that the original Odyssey was concluded in a somewhat similar manner; in particular, we can hardly do without the recognition of Laertes, who is so often alluded to in the course of the poem, and without some reconciliation of Ulsses with the friends of the murdered suitors.
The second Necyia
(xxiv. init.) is evidently spurious, and, like many parts of the first Necyia
(xi.), most likely taken from a similar passage in the Nostoi,
in which was narrated the arrival of Agamemnon in Hades. (Paus. 10.23.4
Considering all these interpolations and the original unity, which has only been obscured and not destroyed by them, we must come to the concluston that the Homeric poems were originally composed as poetical wholes, but that a long oral tradition gave occasion to great alterations in their original form.
We have hitherto considered only the negative part of Wolf's arguments.
He denied, 1st, the existence of the art of writing at the time when the Homeric poems were composed; 2d. the possibility of composing and delivering them without that art; and, 3rdly, their poetical unity. From these premises he came to the conclusion, that the Homeric poems originated as small songs, unconnected with one another, which, after being preserved in this state for a long time, were at length put together.
The agents, to whom he attributed these two tasks of composing and preserving on the one hand, and of collecting and combining on the other, are the rhapsodists and Peisistratus.
The subject of the rhapsodists is one of the most complicated and difficult of all; because the fact is, that we know very little about them, and thus a large field is opened to conjecture and hypothesis. (Wolf, Proleg.
p. 96; Nitzsch, Prol. ad Plat. Ion.;
Heyne, 2. Excurs. ad Il.
24; Böckh, ad Pind. Nem.
3.55; Nitzsch, Indagandae, §c. Histor. crit.;
Kreuser, d. Hom. Rhapsod.
) Wolf derives the name of rhapsodist from ῥάπτειν, ᾠδήν
, which he interprets breviora carmina modo et ordine publicae recitationi apto connectere.
These breviora carmina
are the Rhapsodies
of which the Iliad
consist, not indeed containing originally one book each, as they do now, but sometimes more and sometimes less.
The nature and condition of these rhapsodists may be learned from Homer himself, where they appear as singing at the banquets, games, and festivals of the princes, and are held in high honour. (Od. 3.267
In fact, the first rhapsodists were the poets themselves, just as the first dramatic poets were the first actors. Therefore Homer and Hesiod are said to have rhapsodised. (Plat. Rep.
x. p. 600; Schol. ad Pind. Nem.
2.1.) We must imagine that these minstrels were spread over all Greece, and that they did not confine themselves to the recital of the Homeric
poems. One class of rhapsodists at Chios, the Homerids (Harpocrat. s. v. Ὁμηρίδαι
), who called themselves descendants of the poet, possessed these particular poems, and transmitted them to their disciples by oral teaching, and not by writing.
This kind of oral teaching was most carefully cultivated in Greece even when the use of writing was quite common.
The tragic and comic poets employed no other way of training the actors than this oral διδασκαλία
, with which the greatest accuracy was combined. Therefore, says Wolf, it is not likely that, although not committed to writing, the Homeric poems underwent very great changes by a long oral tradition; only it is impossible that they should have remained quite unaltered.
Many of the rhapsodists were not destitute of poetical genius, or they acquired it by the constant recitation of those beautiful lays. Why should they not have sometimes adapted their recitation to the immediate occasion, or even have endeavoured to make some passages better than they were?
We can admit almost all this, without drawing from it Wolf's conclusion. Does not such a condition of the rhapsodists agree as well with the task which we assign to them, of preserving and reciting a poem which already existed as a whole ? Even the etymology of the name of rhapsodist, which is surprisingly inconsistent with Wolf's general view, favours that of his adversaries. Wolf's fundamental opinion is, that the original songs were unconnected and singly recited. How then can the rhapsodists have obtained their name from connecting
poems ? On the other hand, if the Homeric poems originally existed as wholes, and the rhapsodists connected
the single parts of these wholes for public recitation, they might per haps be called " connecters of songs."
But this etymology has not appeared satisfactory to some, who have thought that this process would rather be a keeping
together than a putting
together. They have therefore supposed that the word was derived from ῥάβδος
, the staff or ensign of the bards (Hes. Th. 30
); an etymology which seemed countenanced by Pindar's (Isthm.
3.5) expression ῥάβδον θεσπεσίων ἐπέων
. But Pindar in another passage gives the other etymology (Nem.
2.1) ; and, besides, it does not appear how ῥαψῳδος
could be formed from ῥάβδος
, which would make ῥαβδῳδός
. Others, therefore, have thought of ῥάπις
(a stick), and formed ῥαπισῳδός, ῥαψῳδος
But even this will not do; for leaving out of view that ῥάτις
does not occur in the signification of ῥαβδος
the word would be ῥαπιδῳδός
. Nothing is left, therefore, but the etymology from ῥάπτειν ᾠδάς
, which is only to be interpreted in the proper way. Müller (Ibid.
p. 33) says that ῥαψῳδεῖν
"signifies nothing more than the peculiar method of epic recitation,"
consisting in some high-pitched sonorous declamations, with certain simple modulations of the voice, not in singing regularly accompanied by an instrument, which was the method of reciting lyrical poetry. " Every poem," says Müller, "can be rhapsodised which is composed in an epic tone, and in which the verses are of equal length, without being distributed into correspond ing parts of a larger whole, strophes, or similar systems. Rhapsodists were also not improperly called δτιχῳδοί
, because all the poems which they recited were composed in single lines independent of each other (στίχοι
He thinks, therefore, that ῥάπτειν ᾠδήν
denotes the coupling together of verses without any considerable divisions or pauses; in other words, the even, continuous, and unbroken flow of the epic poem. But ᾠδή
does not mean a verse ;
and besides a reference to the manner of epic recitation, as different from that of lyrical poetry, could only be imparted to the word ῥαψῳδός
at a time when lyrical composition and recitation originated, that is, not before Archilochus. Previous to that time the meaning of rhapsodist must have been different.
In fine, we do not see why ῥάπτειν ᾠδάς
should not have been used in the signification of planning and making lays, as ῥάπτειν κακά
is to plan or make mischief.
But whatever may be the right derivation of the word, and whatever may have been the nature and condition of the rhapsodists, so much is evident that no support can be derived from this point for Wolf's position. We pass on, therefore, to the last question,--the collection of the Homeric poems ascribed to Peisistratus.
Solon made the first step towards that which Peisistratus accomplished. Of him Diogenes Laertius (1.57) says, τὰ Ὁμήρονυ ἐχ ὑποβολῆς έ̀γραψε ῥαψῳδεῖδεῖσθαι
, i. e., according to Wolf's interpretation, Solon did not allow the rhapsodists to recite arbitrarily, as they had been wont to do, such songs successively as were not connected with one another, but he ordered that they should rehearse those parts which were according to the thread of the story suggested
to them. Peisistratus did not stop here.
The unanimous voice of antiquity ascribed to him the merit of having collected the disjointed and confused poems of Homer, and of having first committed them to writing. (Cic. de Or.
3.34; Paus. 7.26
; Joseph, c. Ap.
1.2 ; Aelian, Ael. VH 13.14
; Liban. Paneg. in Julian.
i. p. 170, Reisk. &c.) 1
In what light Wolf viewed this tradition has been already mentioned.
He held it to have been the first step that was taken in order to connect the loose and incoherent songs into continued and uninterrupted stories, and to preserve the union which he had thus imparted to these poems by first committing them to writing. Pausanias mentions associates (ἕταιροι
) of Peisistratus, who assisted him in his undertaking.
These associates Wolf thought to have been the διασκευασταί
mentioned sometimes in the Scholia; but in this he was evidently mistaken. Διασκευασταί
are, in the phraseology of the Scholia, interpolators,
and not arrangers. (Heinrich, de Diask. Homericis ;
Lehrs, Aristarchi stud. Hom.
p. 349.) Another weak point in Wolf's reasoning is, that he says that Peisistratus was the first
who committed the Homeric poems to writing; this is expressly stated by none of the ancient writers. On the contrary, it is not unlikely that before Peisistratus, persons began in various parts of Greece, and particularly in Asia Minor, which was far in advance of the mother-country, to write down parts of the Iliad
and Odyssey, although we are not disposed to extend this hypothesis so far as Nitzsch, who thinks that there existed in the days of Peisistratus numbers of copies, so that Peisistratus only compared and revised them, in order to obtain a correct copy for the use of the Athenian festivals. Whom Peisistratus employed in his undertaking Wolf could only conjecture.
The poet Onomacritus lived at that time at Athens, and was engaged in similar pursuits respecting the old poet Musaeus. Besides him, Wolf thought of a certain Orpheus of Croton ; but nothing certain was known on this point, till Professor Ritschl discovered, in a MS. of Plautus at Rome, an old Latin scholion translated from the Greek of Tzetzes (published in Cramer's Anecdota
This scholion gives the name of four poets who assisted Peisistratus, viz. Onomacritus, Zopyrus, Orpheus, and a fourth, whose name is corrupted, Concylus. (Ritschl, de Alex. Bibl. u. d. Sammlung d. Hom. Gedichte durch Peisistr.
1838 ; Id. Corollar. Disput. de Bibl. Alex. deque Peisistr. Curis Hom.
These persons may have interpolated some passages, as it suited the pride of the Athenians or the political purposes of their patron Peisistratus.
In fact, Onomacritus is particularly charged with having interpolated Od. 11.604
ed. Porson. ad loc.). The Athenians were generally believed to have had no part in the Trojan war; therefore Il. 2.547
, were marked by the Alexandrine critics as spurious, and for similar reasons Od. 7.80
, and Od. 3.308
But how unimportant are these alterations in comparison with the long interpolations which must be attributed to the rhapsodists previous to Peisistratus !
It must be confessed that these four men accomplished their task, on the whole, with great accuracy. However inclined we may be to attribute this accuracy less to their critical investigations and conscientiousness, than to the impossibility of making great changes on account of the general knowledge of what was genuine, through the number of existing copies; and although we may, on the whole, be induced, after Wolf's exaggerations, to think little of the merits of Peisistratus, still we must allow that the praise bestowed on Peisistratus by the ancient writers is too great and too general to allow us to admit of Nitzsch's opinion, that he only compared and examined various MSS. If, then, it does not follow, as Wolf thought, that the Homeric poems never formed a whole before Peisistratus, it is at the same time undeniable that to Peisistratus we owe the first written text of the whole of the poems, which, without his care, would most likely now exist only in a few disjointed fragments. Some traditions attributed to Hipparchus, the son and successor of Peisistratus, regulations for the recital of the Homeric poems of a kind similar to those which had been already made by Solon. (Plat. Hipp.
p. 228. 6.)
He is said to have obliged the rhapsodists ἐξ ὑπολήψεως ἑφεξῆς τὰ Ὁμήρου διϊέναι
The meaning of the words ἐξ ὑπολήψεως
, and their difference from ἑξ ὑποβολῆς
, which was the manner of recitation, ordained by Solon, has given rise to a long controversy between Böckh and Hermann (comp Nitzsch, Melet.
ii. p. 132); to enter into which would be foreign to the purpose of this article.
Having taken this general survey of the most important arguments for and against Wolf's hypothesis concerning the origin of the poems of Homer, the following may be regarded as the most probable conclusion.
There can be no doubt that the seed of the Homeric poems was scattered in the time of the heroic exploits which they celebrate, and in the land of the victorious Achaeans, that is, in European Greece.
An abundance of heroic lays preserved the records of the Trojan war.
It was a puerile idea, which is now completely exploded, that the events are fictitious on which the Iliad
are based, that a Trojan war never was waged, and so forth. Whoever would make such a conclusion from the intermixture of gods in the battles of men, would forget what the Muses say (Hes. Th. 27
ἴδμεν ψεύδεα πολλὰ λέγειν ἐτύμοισιν ὁμοῖα,
ἴδμεν δ᾽, εὖτ᾽ ἐθέλωμεν, ἀληθέα μυθήσασθαι.
and he would overlook the fact, that these songs were handed down a long time before they attained that texture of truth and fiction which forms one of their peculiar charms. Europe must necessarily have been the country where these songs originated, both because here the victorious heroes dwelt, and because so many traces in the poems still point to these regions. (See above, p. 500b.)
It was here that the old Thracian bards had effected that unity of mythology which, spreading all over Greece, had gradually absorbed and obliterated the discrepancies of the old local myths, and substituted one general mythology for the whole nation, with Zeus as the supreme ruler, dwelling on the snowy heights of Olympus. Impregnated with this European mythology, the heroic lays were brought to Asia Minor by the Greek colonies, which left the mother-country about three ages after the Trojan war. In European Greece a new race gained the ascendancy, the Dorians, foreign to those who gloried in having the old heroes among their ancestors.
The heroic songs, therefore, died away more and more in Europe; but in Asia the Aeolians fought, conquered, and settled nearly in the same regions in which their fathers had signalised themselves by immortal exploits, the glory or which was celebrated, and their memory still preserved by their national bards. Their dwelling in the same locality not only kept alive the remesmbrance of the deeds of their fathers, but gave a new impulse to their poetry, just as in the middle ages in Germany the foundation of the kingdom of the Hungarians in the East, and their destructive invasions, together with the origin of a new empire of the Burgundians in the West, awakened the old songs of the Niebelungen, after a slumber of centuries. (Gervinus, Poetical Lit. of Germ.
vol. i. p. 108.)
Now the Homeric poems advanced a step further. From unconnected songs, they were, for the first time, united by a great genius, who, whether he was really called Homer, or whether the name be of later origin and significant of his work of uniting
songs (Welcker, Ep. Cycl.
pp. 125, 128; Ilgen, Hymn. Hom.
praef. p. 3; Heyne, ad Il.
vol. viii. p. 795), was the one individual
who conceived in his mind the lofty idea of that poetical unity which we cannot help acknowledging and admiring. What were the peculiar excellencies which distinguished this one Homer among a great number of contemporary poets, and saved his works alone from oblivion, we do not venture to determine ; but the conjecture of Müiller (Greek Lit.
p. 47; see also Nitzsch, Anm.
vol. ii. p. 26), is not improbable, that Homer first undertook to combine into one great unity the scattered and fragmentary poems of earlier bards, and that it was a task which established his great renown. We can now judge of the probability that Homer was an Ionian, who in Smyrna, where Ionians and Aeolians were mixed, became acquainted with the subject of his poems, and moulded them into the form which was suited to the taste of his Ionian countrymen.
But as a faithful preservation of these long works was impossible in an age unacquainted with, or at least not versed in the art of writing, it was a natural consequence, that in the lapse of ages the poems should not only lose the purity with which they proceeded from the mind of the poet, but should also become more and more dismembered, and thus return into their original state of loose independent songs. Their public recitation became more and more fragmentary, and the time at festivals and musical contests formerly occupied by epic rhapsodists exclusively was encroached upon by the rising lyrical performances and players of the flute and lyre. Yet the knowledge of the unity of the different Homeric rhapsodies was not entirely lost. Solon, himself a poet, directed the attention of his countrymen towards it; and Peisistratus at last raised a lasting monument to his high merits, in fixing the genuine Homeric poems by the indelible marks of writing, as far as was possible in his time and with his means.
That previous to the famous edition of Peisistratus parts of Homer, or the entire poems, were committed to writing in other towns of Greece or Asia Minor is not improbable, but we do not possess sufficient testimonies to prove it. We can therefore safely affirm that from the time of Peisistratus, the Greeks had a written Homer, a regular text, the source and foundation of all subsequent editions.
Other Works attrib>Cyclic Epics
Having established the fact, that there was a Homer,
who must be considered as the author of the Homeric poems, there naturally arises another question, viz. which poems are Homeric ? We have seen already that a great number of cyclic poems were attributed to the great bard of the Anger of Achilles.
Stasinus, the author of the Cypria
, was said to have received this poem from Homer as a dowry for his daughter, whom he married. Creophylus is placed in a similar connection with Homer.
But these traditions are utterly groundless; they were occasioned by the authors of the cyclic poems being at the same time rhapsodists of the Homeric poems, which they recited along with their own.
Nor are the hymns, which still bear the name of Homer, more genuine productions of the poet of the Iliad
than the cyclic poems. They were called by the ancients προοίμια
, i. e. overtures
and were sung by the rhapsodists as introductions to epic poems at the festivals of the respective gods, to whom they are addressed. To these rhapsodists the hymns most probably owe their origin. " They exhibit such a diversity of language and poetical tone, that in all probability they contain fragments from every century from the time of Homer to the Persian war." (Müller, Ibid.
p. 74.) Still most of them were reckoned to be Homeric productions by those who lived in a time when Greek literature still flourished.
This is easily accounted for; being recited in, connection with Hmeric poems, they were gradually attributed to the same author, and continued to be so regarded more or less generally, till critics, and particularly those of Alexandria, discovered the differences between their style and that of Homer. At Alexandria they were never reckoned genuine, which accounts for the circumstance that none of the great critics of that school is known to have made a regular collection of them. (Wolf, Proleg.
p. 266.) Of the hymns now extant five deserve particular attention on account of their greater length and mythological contents; they are those addressed to the Delian and Pythian Apollo, to Hermes, Demeter, and Aphrodite.
The hymn to the Delian Apollo, formerly regarded as part of the one to the Pythian Apollo, is the work of a Homerid of Chios, and approaches so nearly to the true Homeric tone, that the author, who calls himself the blind poet, who lived in the rocky Chios, was held even by Thucydides to be Homer himself.
It narrates the birth of Apollo in Delos, but a great part of it is lost.
The hymn to the Pythian Apollo contained the foundation of the Pythian sanctuary by the god himself, who slays the dragon, and, in the form of a dolphin, leads Cretan men to Crissa, whom he established as priests of his temple.
The hymn to Hermes, which, on account of its mentioning the seven-stringed lyre, the invention of Terpander, cannot have been composed before the 30th olympiad, relates the tricks of the newborn Hermes, who, having left his cradle, drove away the cattle of Apollo from their pastures in Pieria to Pylos, there killed them, and then invented the lyre, made of a tortoise-shell, with which he pacified the anger of Apollo.
The hymn to Aphrodite celebrates the birth of Aeneas in a style not very different from that of Homer.
The hymn to Demeter, first discovered 1778, in Moscow, by Mathaei, and first published by Ruhnken, 1780, gives an account of Demeter's search after her daughter, Persephone, who had been carried away by Hades.
The goddess obtains from Zeus, that her daughter should pass only one third part of the year with Hades, and return to her for the rest of the year.
With this symbolical description of the corn, which, when sown, remains for some time under ground, and then springs up, the poet has connected the mythology of the Eleusinians, who hospitably received the goddess on her wanderings, afterwards built her a temple, and were rewarded by instruction in the mysterious rites of Demeter.
Beside the cyclic epics and the hymns, we find poems of quite a different nature erroneously ascribed to Homer. Such was the case with the Margites,
a poem, which Aristotle regarded as the source of comedy, just as he called the Iliad
and Odyssey the fountain of all tragic poetry. From this view of Aristotle, we may judge of the nature of the poem.
It ridiculed a man who was said "to know many things, and to know all badly."
The subject was nearly related to the scurrilous and satirical poetry of Archilochus and other contemporary iambographers, although in versification, epic tone, and language, it imitated the Iliad
The iambic verses which are quoted from it by grammarians were most likely interspersed by Pigres, brother of Artemisia, who is also called the author of this poem, and who interpolated the Iliad
with pentameters in a similar manner.
The same Pigres was perhaps the author of the Batrachomyomachia,
the Battle of the Frogs and Mice (Suid. s. v.
; Plut. de Malign. Herod.
43), a poem frequently ascribed by the ancients to Homer.
It is a harmless playful tale, without a marked tendency to sarcasm and satire, amusing as a parody, but without any great poetical merit which could justify its being ascribed to Homer.
Besides these poems, there are a great many more, most of which we know only by name, and which we find attributed to Homer with more or less confidence.
But we have good reasons for doubting all such statements concerning lost poems, whose claims we cannot examine, when we see that even Thucydides and Aristotle considered as genuine not only such poems as the Margites and some of the hymns, but also all those passages of the Iliad
which are evidently interpolated, and which at the present day nobody would dream of ascribing to their reputed author. (Nitzsch, Anm. z. Od.
vol. ii. p. 40.)
The time in which Greek literature flourished was not adapted for tracing out the poems which were spurious and interpolated. People enjoyed all that was beautiful, without caring who was the author.
The task of sifting and correcting the works of literature was left to the age in which the faculties of the Greek mind had ceased to produce original works, and had turned to scrutinise and preserve former productions. Then it was not only discovered that the cyclic poems and the hymns had no title to be styled " Homeric," but the question was mooted and warmly discussed, whether the Odyssey
was to be attributed to the author of the Iliad
. Of the existence of this interesting controversy we had only a slight indication in Seneca (de Brevit. Vitae,
13) before the publication of the Venetian Scholia. From these we know now that there was a regular party of critics, who assigned the Iliad
to two different authors, and were therefore called Chorizontes
), the Separaters.
(Granert, üb d. Hom. Choriz. Rhein. Mus.
vol. i.) Their arguments were probably not very convincing, and might fairly be considered to be entirely refuted by such reasonings as Longinus made use of, who affirmed (just as if he had heard it from Homer himself) that the Iliad
was composed by Homer in the vigour of life, and the Odyssey
in his old age.
With this decision all critics were satisfied for centuries, till, in modern times, the question has been opened again. Traces have been discovered in the Odyssey
which seemed to indicate a later time; and although this is a difficult and doubtful point, because we do not know in many cases whether the discrepancies in the two poems are to be considered as genuine parts or as interpolations, yet there is so much in the one poem which cannot be reconciled with the whole tenor of the other, that a later origin of the Odyssey
seems very probable. (Nitzsch in Hall. Encycl.
p. 405 a.) We cannot lay much stress on the observation, that the state of social life in the Odyssey
appears more advanced in refinement, comfort, and art, than in the Iliad
, because this may be regarded as the result of the different nature of the subjects.
The magnificent palaces of Menelaus and Alcinous, and the peaceful enjoyments of the Phaeacians, could find no place in the rough camp of the heroes before Troy.
But a great and essential difference, which pervades the whole of the two poems, is observable in the notions that are entertained respecting the gods.
In the Iliad
the men are better than the gods; in the Odyssey
it is the reverse.
In the latter poem no mortal dares to resist, much less to attack and wound a god; Olympus does not resound with everlasting quarrels; Athene consults humbly the will of Zeus, and forbears offending Poseidon, her uncle, for the sake of a mortal man. Whenever a god inflicts punishment or bestows protection in the Odyssey
. it is for some moral desert; not as in the Iliad
, through mere caprice, without any consideration of the good or bad qualities of the individual.
In the Iliad
Zeus sends a dream to deceive Agamemnon; Athene, after a general consultation of the gods, prompts Pandarus to his treachery; Paris, the violator of the sacred laws of hospitality, is never upbraided with his crime by the gods; whereas, in the Odyssey
, they appear as the awful avengers of those who do not respect the laws of the hospitable Zeus.
The gods of the Iliad
live on Mount Olympus; those of the Odyssey
are further removed from the earth; they inhabit the wide heaven.
There is nothing which obliges us to think of the Mount
In the Iliad
the gods are visible to every one except when they surround themselves with a cloud; in the Odyssey
they are usually invisible, unless they take the shape of men.
In short, as Benjamin Constant has well observed (de la Relig.
iii.), there is more mythology in the Iliad
, and more religion in the Odyssey
. If we add to all this the differences that exist between the two poems in language and tone, we shall be obliged to admit, that the Odyssey
is of considerably later date than the Iliad
. Every one who admires the bard of the Iliad
, with whom are connected all the associations of ideas which have been formed respecting Homer, feels naturally inclined to give him' credit for having composed the Odyssey
also, and is unwilling to fancy another person to be the author who would be quite an imaginary and uninteresting personage.
It is no doubt chiefly owing to these feelings that many scholars have tried in various ways to prove that the same Homer is the author of both the poems, although there seem sufficient reasons to establish the contrary. Thus Müller (Ibid.
p. 62) says: "If the completion of the Iliad
seems too vast a work for the lifetime of one
man, we may perhaps have recourse to the supposition, that Homer, after having sung the Iliad
in the vigour of his youthful years, in his old age communicated to some devoted disciple the plan of the Odyssey
, which had long been working in his mind, and left it to him for completion." Nitzsch (Anmerk. z. Od.
vol. ii. p. 26) has found out another expedient.
He thinks, that in the Iliad
Homer has followed more closely the old traditions, which represented the former and ruder state of society; whilst, in the Odyssey
, he was more original, and imprinted upon his own inventions his own ideas concerning the gods.
Early History of the Homeric poems
The history of the Homeric poems may be divided conveniently into two great periods: one in which the text was transmitted by oral tradition, and the other of the written
text after Peisistratus. Of the former we have already spoken: it therefore only remains to treat of the latter.
The epoch from Peisistratus down to the establishment of the first critical school at Alexandria, i. e. to Zenodotus, presents very few facts concerning the Homeric poems. Oral tradition still prevailed over writing for a long time; though in the days of Alcibiades it was expected that every schoolmaster would have a copy of Homer with which to teach his boys. (Plut. Alcib.
p. 194d.) Homer became a sort of ground-work for a liberal education, and as his influence over the minds of the people thus became still stronger, the philosophers of that age were naturally led either to explain and recommend or to oppose and refute the moral principles and religious doctrines contained in the heroic tales. (Gräfenhan, Gesch. der Philologie,
vol. i. p. 202.)
It was with this practical view that Pythagoras, Xenophanes, and Heracleitus, condemned Homer as one who uttered falsehoods and degraded the majesty of the gods; whilst Theagenes, Metrodorus, Anaxagoras, and Stesimbrotus, expounded the deep wisdom of Homer, which was disguised from the eyes of the common observer under the veil of an apparently insignificant tale. So old is the allegorical
explanation, a folly at which the sober Socrates smiled, which Plato refuted, and Aristarchus opposed with all his might, but which, nevertheless, outlived the sound critical study of Homer among the Greeks, and has thriven luxuriantly even down to the present day.
A more scientific study was bestowed on Homer by the sophists of Pericles' age, Prodicus, Protagoras, Hippias, and others.
There are even traces which seem to indicate that the ἀπορίαι
, such favourite themes with the Alexandrian critics, originated with these sophists. Thus the study of Homer increased, and the copies of his works must naturally have been more and more multiplied. We may suppose that not a few of the literary men of that age carefully compared the best MSS. within their reach, and choosing what they thought best made new editions (διορθώσεις
The task of these first editors was not an easy one.
It may be concluded from the nature of the case, and it is known by various testimonies, that the text of those days offered enormous discrepancies, not paralleled in the text of any other classical writer.
There were passages left out, transposed, added, or so altered, as not easily to be recognised; nothing, in short, like a smooth vulgate existed before the time of the Alexandrine critics.
This state of the text must have presented immense difficulties to the first editors in the infancy of criticism. Yet these early editions were valuable to the Alexandrians, as being derived from good and ancient sources. Two only are known to us through the scholia, one of the poet Antimachus, and the famous one of Aristotle (ἡ ἐκ τοῦ νάρθηκος
), which Alexander the Great used to carry about with him in a splendid case (νάρθηξ
) on all his expeditions. Besides these editions, called in the scholia αἱ κατ᾽ ἄνδρα
, there were several other old διορθώσεις
at Alexandria, under the name of αἱ κατὰ πόλεις
, or αἱ ἐκ πόλεων
, or αἱ πολιτικαί
. We know six of them, those of Massilia, Chios, Argos, Sinope, Cyprus, and Crete.
It is hardly likely that they were made by public authority in the different states, whose names they bear; on the contrary, as the persons who had made them were unknown, they were called, just as manuscripts are now, from the places where they had been found. We are acquainted with two more editions, the αἰολική
, brought most likely from some Aeolian town, and the κυκλική
, which seems to have been the copy of Homer which formed part of the series of cyclic poems in the Alexandrian library.
All these editions, however, were only preparatory to the establishment of a regular and systematic criticism and interpretation of Homer, which began with Zenodotus at Alexandria. For such a task the times after Alexander were quite fit. Life had fled from the literature of the Greeks; it was become a dead body, and was very properly carried into Egypt, there to be embalmed and safely preserved for many ensuing centuries.
It was the task of men, who, like Aristarchus, could judge of poetry without being able to write any themselves, to preserve carefully that which was extant, to clear it from all stains and corruptions, and to explain what was no longer rooted in and connected with the institutions of a free political life, and therefore was become unintelligible to all but the learned. Three men, who stand in the relation of masters and pupils, were at the head of a numerous host of scholars, who directed their attention either occasionally or exclusively to the study and criticism of the Homeric poems. Zenodotus [ZENODOTUS
] laid the foundation of systematic criticism, by establishing two rules for purifying the corrupted text.
He threw out, 1st, whatever was contradictory to, or not necessarily connected with, the whole of the work; 2d, what seemed unworthy of the genius of the author. To these two rules his followers, Aristophanes and Aristarchus, added two more; they rejected, 3d, what was contrary or foreign to the customs of the Homeric age, and 4th, what did not agree with the epic language and versification.
It is not to be wondered at that Zenodotus, in his first attempt, did not reach the summit of perfection.
The manner in which he cut out long passages, arbitrarily altered others, transposed and, in short, corrected Homer's text as he would have done his own, seemed shocking to all sober critics of later times, and would have proved very injurious to the text had not Aristophanes, and still more Aristarchus, acted on sounder principles, and thus put a stop to the arbitrary system of Zenodotus. Aristophanes of Byzantium [ARISTOPHANES
], a man of vast learning, seems to have been more occupied with the other parts of the Greek literature, particularly the comic poets, than with Homer.
He inserted in his edition many of the verses which had been thrown out by Zenodotus, and in many respects laid the foundations for what his pupil Aristarchus executed.
The reputation of the latter as the prince of grammarians was so great throughout the whole of antiquity, that before the publication of the Venetian scholia by Villoison, we hardly knew how to account for it.
But these excellent scholia, which have chiefly enabled us to understand the origin of the Homeric poems, teach us also to appreciate their great and unrivalled interpreter, and have now generally led to the conclusion, that the highest aim of the ambition of modern critics with respect to Homer is to restore the edition of Aristarchus, an under-taking which is believed to be possible by one of the most competent judges, chiefly through the assistance afforded by these scholia. (Lehrs, de Aristarchi Studiis Homericis,
1883.) Lehrs has discovered the sources from which these scholia are derived. 1. Aristonicus, Περὶ σημείων τῶν τῆς Ἱλιάδος καὶ Ὀδυσσείας
. These σημεῖα
are the critical marks of Aristarchus, so that from Aristonicus we learn a great many of the readings of Aristarchus. 2. Didymus, Περὶ τῆς Ἀριστάρχου διορθώσεως
. 3. Herodian, nrpoowyla Περὶ τῆς Ἀριστάρχου
: the word prosody contained, according to the use of those grammarians, not merely what is called prosody now, but the rules of accentuation, contraction, spiritus, and the like. 4. Nicanor, Περὶ στιγμῆς
, on the stoppings. On Aristarchus we need not say much here [ARISTARCHUS]: we will only add, that the obelos, one of the critical marks used by Aristarchus, and invented, like the accents, by his master, Aristophanes, was used for the ἀθέτησις
i. e. to mark those verses which seemed improper and detrimental to the beauty of the poem, but which Aristarchus dared not throw out of the text, as it was impossible to determine whether they were to be ascribed to an accidental carelessness of the author, or to interpolations of rhapsodists.
Those verses which Aristarchus was convinced to be spurious he left out of his edition altogether. Aristarchus was in constant opposition to Crates of Mallus, the founder of the Pergamene school of grammar. This Crates had the merit of transplanting the study of literature to Rome.
With regard to Homer, he zealously defended the allegorical explication against his rival Aristarchus. [CRATES.
] In the time of Augustus the great compiler, Didymus, wrote most comprehensive commentaries on Homer, copying mostly the works of preceding Alexandrian grammarians, which had swollen to an enormous extent. Under Tiberius, Apollonius Sophista lived, whose lexicon Homericum is very valuable (ed. Bekker, 1833). Apion, a pupil of Didymus, was of much less importance than is generally believed, chiefly on the authority of Wolf: he was a great quack, and an impudent boaster. (Lehrs, Quaest. Epicae,
1837; see APION.) Longinus and his pupil, Porphyrius, of whom we possess some tolerably good scholia, were of more value. The Homeric scholia are dispersed in various MSS. Complete collections do not exist, nor are they desirable, as many of them are utterly useless.
The most valuable scholia on the Iliad
are those which have been referred to above, which were published by Villoison from a MS. of the tenth century in the library of St. Mark at Venice, together with the scholia to the Iliad
previously published, Ven. 1788, fol.
These scholia were reprinted with additions, edited by I. Bekker, Berlin, 1825, 2 vols. 4to., with an appendix, 1826, which collection contains all that is worth reading.
A few additions are to be found in Bachmann's Scholia ad Homeri Iliadem,
The most valuable scholia to the Odyssey
are those published by Buttmann, Berl. 1821, mostly taken from the scholia originally published by A. Mai from a MS. at Milan in 1819.
The extensive commentary of Eustathius is a compilation destitute of judgment and of taste, but which contains much valuable information from sources which are now lost. [EUSTATHIUS, No. 7.] The old editions of Homer, as well as the MSS., are of very little importance for the restoration of the text, for which we must apply to the scholia.
The Editio Princeps by Demetrius Chalcondylas, Flor. 1488, fol., was the first large work printed in Greek (one psalm only and the Batrachomyomachia having preceded).
This edition was frequently reprinted. Wolf reckons scarcely seven critical editions from the Editio Princeps to his time. That of H. Stephanus, in Poet. Graec. Princ. her. Carm., Paris, 1566, fol., was one of the best. In England the editions of Barnes, Cantab., 1711, 2 vols. 4to.
, and of Clarke, who published the Iliad in 1729
, and the Odyssey in 1740, were generally used for a long time, and often reprinted
. The latter was published with additions by Ernesti, Lips. 1759-1764, 5 vols. 8vo. This edition was reprinted at Glasgow, with Wolf's Prolegomena, in 1814, and again at Leipzig in 1824.
A new period began with Wolf's second edition (Homeri et Homeridarum Op. et Rel. Halis, 1794)
, the first edition (1784 and 1785) being merely a copy of the vulgate. Along with the second edition were published the Prolegomena. A third edition was published from 1804-1807.
It is very much to be regretted that the editions of Wolf are without commentaries or critical notes, so that it is impossible to know in many cases on what grounds he adopted his readings, which differ from the vulgate. Heyne began in 1802 to publish the Iliad, which was finished in eight volumes
, and was most severely and unsparingly reviewed by Wolf, Voss, and Eichstädt, in the Jenaer Literatur Zeitung,
1803. A ninth volume, containing the Indices, was published by Gräfenhan in 1822. A curious and most ridiculous attempt was made by Payne Knight, who published (London, 1820) the Homeric text cleared of all interpolations, so far at least as his judgment reached, and well crammed (by way of compensation) with digammas, it being the intention of the editor to restore the genuine spelling.
This edition is a palpable confirmation of the fact, that to restore the edition of Aristarchus is all which modern critics can attempt to achieve. The best recension of the text is that by I. Bekker, Berlin, 1843.
A very good edition of the Iliad, with critical notes, was published by Spitzner, Gotha, 1832-1836, but the author did not live to publish his explanatory commentary
. There is an excellent commentary to the two first books of the Iliad by Freytag, Petersburgh, 1837
; but the best of all commentaries which have yet appeared on the Homeric poems are those of Nitzsch on the Odyssey, Hannov. 1825
, &c., of which the three volumes now published extend only as far as the twelfth book.
Hymns and Lexica
The most valuable of the separate editions of the Hymns are those by Ilgen, Hal., 1791, and Hermann, Lips. 1806. The Lexicon Novum Homericum (et Pindaricum) of Damm, originally published at Berlin in 1765, and reprinted, London, 1827
, is still of some value, though the author was destitute of all sound principles of criticism; but a far more important work for the student is Buttmann's Lexilogus, Berlin, 1825 and 1837
, translated by Fishlake, Lond. 1840, 2nd edition.
Homer has been translated into almost all the modern European languages. Of these translations the German one by Voss is the best reproduction of the great original
: the English translations by Chapman
, and Cowper
must be regarded as failures.
The most important works on the Homeric poems and the controversy respecting their original have been mentioned in the course of this article.
A complete account of the literature of the Homeric poems will be found in the Bibliotheca Homerica,
Halis, 1837, and in the notes to the first volume of Bode's Geschichte der Hellenischen Dichtkunst.
An account of the present state of the controversy is given in an appendix to the first volume of the new edition of Thirlwall's Hist. of Greece,