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NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE.
LECTURES ON POETRY, BY T. CAMPBELL.
Greek Poetry. It is impossible to trace the majestic stream of Greek poetry to its earliest fountains. That Greece had strains anterior to the Iliad and Odyssey, is evident from the nature of poetical composition, as well as from the works of Homer.
Greek poetry could not have dispensed with the usual progressiveness of human art, or have sprung up at once to the full effulgence of epic excellence, like a tropical sunrise unpreceded by a dawn. Accordingly we find Homer, as we might expect, alluding to the heroic songsters of a former period,
and describing their condition with that air of probability which distinguishes all his pictures of human manners. He speaks apparently with the full breast of a poet whose ambition had been fired and fostered by having seen prescriptive honours attached to the poetical art. Deliberate and circumstantial, he seems assured of commanding deep attention and implicit belief: and though he is too simple, and too proudly embarked in his subject, to advert either to himself or his hearers, yet whenever he names the poets of heroic ages, he throws a glory over their memory, an air of magic over their influence, and attaches a sacred importance to their vocation. The value which he attributes to poetical inspiration is intrinsic, and independent of all other gifts and accomplishments. The characters of bard and prophet, so often identified among a rude people, are completely separated by him. He neither attributes the power of song to any of his seers, nor that of prescience to any of his poets; nor do the latter ever affect to be orators, highly as the gift of eloquence is described to have been held in the Homeric times; but, holding a dignified reserve among the loquacious Greeks, they are the only personages who never trouble us with orations. It is true that in pretensions to
Nec dubitari debet quin fuerint ante Homerum poetæ.-Cicero, Brut. I. cap. 18. + Only one of his poets (Phemius) speaks, in the whole course of the Odyssey, but once, and that once in order to save his life.-Odyss. xxii. 345. VOL. II. NO. VII.
heavenly inspiration his poets are not even behind his priests; and we have a proof of vanity being a very old poetical infirmity, in finding that Thamyris, the oldest of the tribe, was struck blind for self-conceit. In all this, however, Homer paints the bardic character as ancient and honourable, and his verisimilitude has been seldom called in question. Simple too as the art of Poetry must have still been, he makes Phemius boast of it as a power “of manifold argument;"* and we may suppose Homer to have found it possessing at least some variety of character, from the diversity of occasions to which he describes it as already applied. Song was alike the soul of the joyous feast and of the solemn sacrifice. It accompanied the nuptial dance, and was heard in lamentations over the warrior's bier.† The strains of Demodochus, in the Odyssey, exhibit a wide opposition of gaiety and pathos. At one time they describe the merriment of the Gods at the detection of Mars's gallantry with Venus; at another time, they melt the heart of Ulysses with the “ tale of Troy,” till the hero wept, says Homer, $ in one of his most beautiful and prolonged similes, as a woman weeps over the husband of her love, who has fallen in battle, on whom she gazes as he pants and dies, till the enemy, smiting her shoulders with a spear, commands her far away into captivity and bondage.”||
The hospitality of a Greek palace is never described by Homer without the presence of a bard, to heighten its festivity. I know not if the Odyssey can be said to shew the bard to have ever been a permanent inmate of the Prince's house; though when we are told of Clytemnestra f being left by her husband, at his departure for Troy, under the guardianship of a poet **, whom Ægisthus was obliged to get removed to a desert island before he could accomplish his purposes on the Queen, we can scarcely help supposing that the lady would be placed under the same roof with her moral preceptor. On another occasion, we find the bard, in the Odyssey, not domesticated in the royal mansion; but apparently a frequent guest, and brought to it from no great distance in the neighbourhood.++ Phemius complains, in the Odyssey, of having been compelled by force to attend the suitors to the house of Penelope. Demodochus is invited to the feast of Alcinous among the chieftains of the land. The herald takes a
Odyss, xxii. 347. + Two singers are placed as mourners over the dead body of Hector. * Odyss. viii. 266. § Odyss. viii. 521. ll I have abridged this exquisite passage.
| Odyss. iii. 267. ** When we speak of a poet in Homeric times, we must always understand a singer; as the song, the lyre, and sometimes even the dance, accom nied poetic strains. Vide Odyss. iv. 15. The accompanying dance there alluded to, was probably pantomimic.
tt Odyss. viii. 43.