« AnteriorContinuar »
The law respecting sufficiency of evidence ought to be the same for ancient times as for modern ; and the reader will find in this history an application to the former of certain criteria analogous to those which have long been recognized in the latter. Approaching, though with a certain measure of indulgence, to this standard, I begin the real history of Greece with the first recorded Olympiad, 776 B.C. To such as are accustomed to the habits once universal, and still not uncommon, in investigating the ancient world, I may appear to be striking off one thousand years from the scroll of history ; but to those whose canon of evidence is derived from Mr. Hallam, M. Sismondi, or any other eminent historian of modern events, I am well assured that I shall appear lax and credulous rather than exigent or sceptical. For the truth is, that historical records, properly so called, do not begin until long after this date; nor will any man, who candidly considers the extreme paucity of attested facts for two centuries after 776 B.C., be astonished to learn that the State of Greece in 900, 1000, 1100, 1200, 1300, 1400 B.C., etc.—or any earlier century which it may please chronologists to include in their computed genealogies--cannot be described to him upon anything like decent evidence. I shall hope, when I come to the lives of Socrates and Plato, to illustrate one of the most valuable of their principles—that conscious and confessed ignorance is a better state of mind than the fancy, without the reality, of knowledge. Meanwhile, I begin by making that confession, in reference to the real world of Greece anterior to the Olympiads : meaning the disclaimer to apply to anything like a general history-not to exclude rigorously every individual event.
The times which I thus set apart from the region of history are discernible only through a different atmosphere--that of epic poetry and legend. To confound together these disparate matters is, in my judgment, essentially unphilosophical. I describe the earlier times by themselves, as conceived by the faith and feeling of the first Greeks, and known only through their legends -without presuming to measure how much or how little of historical matter these legends may contain. If
the reader blame me for not assisting him to determine this—if he ask me why I do not withdraw the curtain and disclose the picture-I reply, in the words of the painter Xeuxis, when the same question was addressed to him on exhibiting his masterpiece of imitative art : “ The curtain is the picture.” What we now read as poetry and legend was once accredited history, and the only genuine history which the first Greeks could conceive or relish of their past time. The curtain conceals nothing behind, and cannot by any ingenuity be withdrawn. I undertake only to show it as it stands—not to efface, still less to repaint it.-History of Greece, Preface to Part I.
HOMER AND THE HOMERIC POEMS.
Who or what was Homer? What date is to be assigned to him ? What were his compositions ?
A person putting these questions to Greeks of different towns and ages would have obtained answers widely discrepant and contradictory. Since the invaluable la bors of Aristarchus and the other Alexandrine critics on the text of the Iliad and Odyssey it has indeed been customary to regard these two (putting aside the Hymns and a few other minor poems) as being the only genuine Homeric compositions; and the literary men called Chorizontes, or the “Separators," at the head of whom were Xenon and Hellanikos-endeavored still further to reduce the number by disconnecting the Iliad and the Odyssey, and pointing out that both could not be the work of the same author. Throughout the whole course of Grecian antiquity the Iliad and the Odyssey and the Hymns have been received as Homeric. But if we go back to the time of Herodotus, or still earlier, we find that several other epics also were ascribed to Homer, and there were not wanting critics earlier than the Alexandrine age who regarded the whole epic cycle, together with the satirical poem called Margites, the Batrachomachia, and other smaller pieces, as Homeric works. The cyclic Thebais and the Epigoni (whether they be two separate poems or the latter a second part of the former) were in early days currently ascribed to Homer. The same was the case with the Cyprian Verses.
Some even ascribed to him several other poems—the Capture of (Echalia, the Lesser Iliad, the Phokais, and the Amazonia. The title of the poem called Thebais to be styled Homeric depends upon evidence more ancient than any which can be produced to authenticate the Iliad and the Odyssey, for Kallius, the ancient elegiac poet (B.C. 640), mentioned Homer as the author of it; and his opinion was shared by many competent judges. From the remarkable description given by Herodotus of the expulsion of the Rhapsodes from Sikyon, by the despot Kleisthenes, in the time of Solon (about B.C. 580), we may form a probable judgment that the Thebais and the Epigoni were then rhapsodized at Sikyon as Homeric productions. And it is clear from the language of Herodotus that in his time the general opinion ascribed to Homer both the Cyprian Verses and the Epigoni, though he himself dissents. In spite of such dissent, however, that historian must have conceived the names of Homer and Hesiod to be nearly coextensive with the whole of the ancient epic, otherwise he would hardly have delivered his memorable judgment that they two were the framers of Grecian theogony.
That many different cities laid claim to the birth of Homer (seven is rather below the truth, and Smyrna and Chios are the most prominent among them) is well known; and most of them had legends to tell respecting his romantic parentage, his alleged blindness, and his life of an itinerant bard, acquainted with poverty and sorrow. The discrepancies of statement respecting the date of his reputed existence are no less worthy of remark; for out of the eight different epochs assigned to him, the oldest differs from the most recent by a period of 460 years.
Thus conflicting would have been the answers returned in different portions of the Grecian world to any questions respecting the person of Homer. But there was a poetical gens (fraternity or guild) in the Ionic isle of Chios, who, if the question had been put to them, would have answered in another manner. To them Homer was not a mere antecedent man, of kindred nature with themselves, but a divine or semi-divine eponymus and progenitor, whom they worshipped in their gentle sacrifices, and in whose ascendant name and glory the individuality of every member of the gens was merged. The composition of each separate Homerid, or the combined efforts of many of them in conjunction, were the works of Homer. The name of the individual bard perishes, and his authorship is forgotten ; but the common gentile father lives and grows in renown, from generation to generation, by the genius of his self-renewing sons.
Such was the conception entertained of Homer by the poetical gens called Homeridæ or Homerids; and in the general obscurity of the whole case I lean toward it as the most plausible conception. Homer is not only the reputed author of the various compositions emanating from the gentile members, but also the recipient of the many different legends and of the divine genealogy which it pleases their imagination to confer upon him. Such manufacture of fictitious personality, and such perfect incorporation of the entities of religion and fancy with the real world, is a process familiar and even habitual in the retrospective vision of the Greeks.
It is to be remarked that the poetical gens here brought to view-the Homerids-are of indisputable authenticity. Their existence and their consideration were maintained down to the historical times in the island of Chios. If the Homerids were still conspicuous even in the days of Akusilaus, Pindar, Hellanikos, and Plato, when their positive production had ceased, and when they had become only guardians and distributers, in common with others, of the treasures bequeathed by their predecessors—far more exalted must their position have been three centuries before, while they were still inspired creators of epic novelty, and when the absence of writing assured to them the undisputed monopoly of their own compositions.
Homer, then, is no individual man, but the divine or heroic father (the idea of worship coalescing, as they constantly did in the Grecian mind) of the gentile Homerids; and he is the author of the Thebais, the Epigoni, the Cyprian Verses, the Proæms or Hymns, and other poems, in the same sense in which he is the author of the Iliad and Odyssey—assuming that these various compositions emanated, as perhaps they may, from different individuals numbered among the Homerids. But this disallowance of the historical personality of Homer is quite distinct from the question, with which it has been often confounded, whether the Iliad and the Odyssey are originally entire poems, and whether by one author or otherwise. To us the name of Homer means these two poems, and little else. We desire to know as much as can be learned respecting their date, their original composition, their preservation, and their mode of communication to the public. All these questions are more or less complicated one with the other.
Concerning the date of the poems, we have no other information except the various affirmations respecting the age of Homer, which differ among themselves (as I have before observed) by an interval of 460 years, and which for the most part determine the date of Homer by reference to some other event, itself fabulous and unauthenticated—such as the Trojan war, the return of the Herakleids, or the Ionic migration.
But the oldest dictum preserved to us respecting the date of Homer-meaning thereby the date of the Iliad and Odyssey—appears to me at the same time the most credible, and the most consistent with the general history of the ancient epic. Herodotus places Homer 400 years before himself ; taking his departure not from any fabulous event, but from a point of real and authentic time. Four centuries anterior to Herodotus would be a period commencing with 800 B.C. ; so that the composition of the Homeric poems would thus fall in a space between 850 and 800 B.C. We may gather from the language of Herodotus that this was his own judgment opposed to a current opinion which assigned the poet to an earlier epoch.
To place the Iliad and Odyssey at some period between 850 B.C. and 777 B.C. appears to me more probable than any other date anterior or posterior : more probable than the latter, because we are justified in believing these two poems to be older than Arktinus, who comes shortly after the first Olympiad ; more probable than the former, because the farther we push the poems back, the more do we enhance the wonder of their