Thus it is that our poet, though he sometimes employs fiction for the purposes of instruction, always gives the preference to truth; he makes use of what is false, merely tolerating it in order the more easily to lead and govern the multitude. As a man
so Homer, heightening by fiction actual occurrences, adorns and embellishes his subject; but his end is always the same as that of the historian, who relates nothing but facts. In this manner he undertook the narration of the Trojan war, gilding it with the beauties of fancy and the wanderings of Ulysses; but we shall never find Homer inventing an empty fable apart from the inculcation of truth. It is ever the case that a person lies most successfully, when he intermingles [into the falsehood] a sprinkling of truth. Such is the remark of Polybius in treating of the wanderings of Ulysses; such is also the meaning of the verse,
“ Binds with a golden verge”
Bright silver:1Odyssey vi. 232.
not all, but many falsehoods, otherwise it would not have looked like the truth. Homer's narrative is founded on history. He tells us that king Æolus governed the Lipari Islands, that around Mount Ætna and Leontini dwelt the Cyclopæ, and certain Læstrygonians inhospitable to strangers. That at that time the districts surrounding the strait were unapproachable; and Scylla and Charybdis were infested by banditti. In like manner in the writings of Homer we are informed of other freebooters, who dwelt in divers regions. Being aware that the Cimmerians dwelt on the Cimmerian Bosphorus, a dark northern country, he felicitously locates them in a gloomy region close by Hades, a fit theatre for the scene in the wanderings of Ulysses. That he was acquainted with these people we may satisfy ourselves from the chroniclers, who report an incursion made by the Cimmerians either during his life-time or just before.
“ He fabricated many falsehoods, relating them like truths:2”Odyssey xix. 203.