George Grote.

A history of Greece from the earliest period to the close of the ..., Volume 1 online

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poem above mentioned, called JEgimius, is also sometimes connected
with his name, sometimes with that of Kerkops. The Naupaktian
verses (so called probably from- the birthplace of their author), and
the genealo^es of Kinsethon and Asius, were compositions of the
same rambling character, as far as we can judge from the scanty
fragments remaining. The .Orchomenian epic poet Chersias, of
whom two lines only are presterved to us by Pausauias, may reason-
ably be referred to the same Jfctegory.

The oldest of the epic poeis, to whom any date, cariying with it
the semblance of authority, is assigned, is Arktinus of Miletus, who
is placed by Eusebius in the first Olympiad, and by Suidas in the
ninth. Eugammon, the author of, the Telegonia, and the latest
of the catalogue, is placed in the fifty-third Olympiad, b.c. 566.
Between these two we find Asius and Lesches, about the thirtieth
Olympiad, — a time when the vein of the ancient epic was drying up,
and when other forms of poetry — elegiac, iambic, lyric, and choric
— had either already arisen, or were on the point of arising, to com-
pete with it.

It has already been stated in a former chapter that, in the early
commencements of prose- writing^ Hekatseus, Pherekydes, and other
logographers, made it their business to extract from the ancient
fables something like a continuous narrative chronologically ar-
. riiuged. It was upon a principal somewhat analogous that the
Alexandrine literati, about the second century before the Christian
era, arranged the multitude of old epic poets into a series founded
on the supposed order of time in the events narrated — beginning
with the intermarriage of Uranus and Gsea, and the theogony — and
concluding with the death of Odysseus by the hands of his son Teleg-
onus. This collection passed by the name of the epic cycle, and
the poets, whose compositions were embodied in it, were termed

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352 GRECIAN EPIC— HOMERIC POEMS.

cyclic poets. Doubtless, the epical treasures of the Alexandrine library
were larger than had ever before been brought together and submit-
ted to men both of learning and leisure; so that n^ultiplication of such
compositions in the same museum rendered it advisable to establish
some tixed order of perusal, and to copy them in one corrected and
uniform edition. It pleased the critics to detelTnine precedence
neither by antiquity nor by excellence of the compositions them .
selves, but by the supposed sequence of narrative, so that the whole
taken together constituted a readable aggregate of epical antiquity.

Much obscurity exists, and many different opinions have been
expressed, respecting this epic cycle. I view it, not as an exclusive ',
canon, but simply as an all-comprehensive classification, with a new
edition founded thereupon. It would include all the epic poems in
the lil)rary older than the Telegunia, and apt for contitiuous narrative •
it would exclude only two classes— first, the recent epic poets, such
as Panyasis and Anlimachus; next, the genealogical and desultory
poems, such !vs the Catalogue of Women, the Eoiai, and otliei*s,
which could not be made to fit into any ciirbnological sequence of
events. Both the^ Iliad and the Odyssey were comprised in the
cycle, so that the denomination of cyclic poefdid not onginally or
designedly carry with it any association of contempt. But as the
great and* capital poems were chiefly spoken of by themselves, or by
the title of their own separate authors, so the general name of poets
of the cycle came gradually to be applied only to the worst, and thus
to imply vulgarity or commonplace; the more so as many of the
inferior compositions included in the^llection seem to have been
anonymous, and their authors in consequence describable only under
some such common designation as that of the cyclic poets. It is in
this manner that we are to explain the disparaging sentiment con-
nect-ed by Horace and others with the idea of a cyclic writer, though
no such sentiment was implied in the original meaning of the epic
cycle.

The poems of the cycle were thus mentioned in contrast and
antithesis with Homer, though originally the Iliad and Odyssey had
both been included among them : and this alteration of the meaning
of the word has given birth to a mistake as to the primary purpose
of the classification, as if it had been designed especially to part oft the
inferior epic productions from Homer. But, while some critics are dis-
posed to distinguish the cyclic poets too pointedly from Homer, I con-
ceive that Welckergoes too much into the other extreme, and identifies
the cycle too closely with that poet. He construes it as a classifi
cation deliberately framed to comprise all the various productions of
the Homeric epic, with its unity of action and comparative paucity
both of persons and adventures — as opposed to the Hesiodic epic,
crowded with separate persons and pedigreeis, and destitute Of cen-
tral action as well as of closing catastrophe. This opinion dn^,
indeed, coincide to a great degree with the fact, inasmuch us few of



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POEMS INCLUDED IN THE CYCLE. 353

the Hesiodic epics appear to have been included in the cycle. To
say that none were included would be too much, for we cannot ven-
ture to set aside either the Theogony or the ^gimius; but we may
account for their absence perfectly well without supposing any
design to exclude them, for it is obvious that tlieir rambling character
^like that of the Metamorphoses of Ovid) forbade the possibility of
interweaving them in anv continuous series. Continuity in the series
of narrated events, coupled with a certain degree of antiquity in the
poems, being the principle on which the arrangement called the
epic cycle was based, the Hesiodic poems generally were excluded,
not from any preconceived intention, but because they could not
be brought into harmony with sufth orderly reading.

What were the particular poems which it comprised we cannot now
determine with exactness. Welcker arran^s them as follows:
Titanomachia, Danais, Amazonia (or A tthis), ffidipodia, Thebais(or
expedition of Amphiaraus), Epigoni (or Alkmseonis), Minyas (or
Phokais). Capture of (Echalia, Cyprian verses, Iliad, ^thiopis, Lesser
Iliad, Iliupersis or the taking of Troy, Returns of the Heroes,
Odyssey, and Telegonia. Wuellner, Lange, and Mr. Fynes Clinton
enlarge the list of cyclic poemi. still further. But all such reconstruc-
tions of the cycle are conjectural and destitute of authority. The
only poems which we can affirm on positive grounds to have been
comprehended in it, are, first, the scries respecting the heroes of
Troy, from the Cypria to the Telegonia, of which Proclus lias pre-
served the arguments, and which includes the Iliad and Odyssey —
next, the old Thebais, "which is expressly termed cyclic in order to
distinguish it from the poem of the same name composed by Antim-
achus. In regard to other particular compositions, we have no evi-
dence to guide us, either for admission or exclusion, except our gen-
eral views as to the scheme upon which the cycle was framed. If
my idea of that scheme be correct, the Alexandrine critics arranged
therein aU their old epical treasures down to the Telegonia^the
good as well as the bad ; gold, silver, and iron — provided only they
could be pieced in with the narrative series. But I cannot venture
to include, as Mr. Clinton does, the Europia, the Phoronis, and other
poems of which we know only the names, because it is uncertain
whether their contents were such as to fulfill that primary condition.
Nor can I concur with him in thinking that, where there were two
or more poems of the same title and subject, one of them must
necessarily ha ve been adopted into the cycle to the exclusion of the
others. There may have been two Theogonies, or two Herakleias,
both comprehended in the cycle; the purpose being (as I before
remarked), not to sift the better from the worse, but to determine
some fixed order, convenient for reading and reference, amid a
multiplicity of scattered compositions, as the basis of a new, entire,
and corrected edition.
H. G. L— 12

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354 GRECIAN EPIC— HOMERIC POEMS.

Whatever may have been the principle on which the cyclic poems
were originally strung together, they are all now lost, except those
two unrivaleddiamonds, whose brightnessj dimming all the rest, has
alone sufficed to confer imperishable glory even upon the earliest
phase of Grecian life. It has been the natural privilege of the Iliad
and Odyssey, from the rise of Grecian philology down'to the present
day, to provoke an intense curiosity, which, even in the historical
and literary days of Greece, there were no assured facts to satisfy.
These compositions are the monuments of an age essentially religious
and poetical, but essentially also unphilosophical, unreflecting, and
unrecording. The nature of the case^'orbids our having any authentic
transmitted knowledge respecting such a period; and the lesson must
be learned, hard and" painful though it be, that no imaginable reacU
of critical acumen will, of itself, enable us to discriminate fancy
from reality, in the absence of a tolerable stock of evidence.
After the numberless comments and acrimonious controversies to
which the Homeric poems have given rise, it can hardly be said that
any of the points originally doubtful have obtained a solution such
as to command universal acquiescence. To glance at all these con-
troversies, however briefly, would far transcend the limits of the
present work. But the most abridged Grecian history would be
incomplete without some inquiry respecting the poet (so the Greek
critics in their veneration denominated Homer), and the productions
which pass now, or have heretofore passed, under his name.

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 contra-
dictory. Since the invaluable labors of Aristarchus and the other
Alexandrine critics on the text of the Iliad and Odvssey, it has
indeed been customary to regard those two (putting aside the hymns
and a few other minor poems)" as being the onl^ genuine Homeric
compositions; and the literary men called Chorizontes, or the sepa-
rators, at the head of whom were Xenon and Hellanikus, endeavored
still farther to reduce the number by disconnecting the Iliad and
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 w^e 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 satuical
poem called Margites, the Batrachomyomachia, and other smaller
pieces, as Homeric works. The cychc 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
game was the case with the Cyprian verses. Some even attributed to

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POimCAL GENS OF THE HOMERIDS. 355

him several other poems — the Capture of (Echalia, the Lesser Iliad,
the Phokals, 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 Kallinus, the ancient elegiac poet(B.c. 640), mentioned
Homer its the author of it; and his opinion was shared by many other
competent judges. From the remarkable description given by Herod-
otus 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 rhap-
sodized 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 him-
self dissents. In spite of such dissent, however, tha,t historian must
have conceived the names of Homer and H6siod to be nearly co-ex-
tensive with the whole of the ancient epic, otherwise he would hardly
have delivered his memorable judgment that they two w^ere the
f ramers of Grecian theo^ony.

That many different cities laid claim to the birth of Homer (seveu
is rather below the truth, and Smyrna and Chios are the most prom-
inent among them) is well known, and most of them had legends to
tell respecting his romantic parentage, his alleged blindness, and hia
life of an itinerant bard acquainted with poverty and sorrow. The
discrepancies of statement respecting the date oi his reputed exist-
ence 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 were a poetical gens (fraternity or guild) in
the Ionic island 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 wor-
shiped in their' ^ntile sacrifices, and in whose ascendent name and
glory the individuality of every member of the gens was merged.
The condpositions of eadli separate Homerid, or the combined efforts
of many of them in conjunction, w^ere 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 gen-
eration to generation, bv the genius of his self -renewing sons.

Such was the conception entertained of Homer by the poetical
gens called Homeridse 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

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356 GRECIAN EPIC— HOMERIC POEMS.

their imaginatirtn t6 confer iipon 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 habit-
ual in the retrospective vision of the Greeks. •

It is to be remarked that the poetical gens here brought to view,
the Homerids, are of indisputabfe authenticity. Their existence and
their considerations 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, Hellanikus, and Plato, when their
productive invention had ceased, and when they had become only
guardiiins and distributors, in common with others, of the treasures
bequeathed by their predecessors — far more exalted must their j>osi-
tion 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.

Hbmer, then, is no individual man, but the divine or heroic fathejr
(the ideas of worship and ancestry 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 Procenis or Hymns,
and other poems in the sanie sense in which he is the author of the
Iliad and Odyssey — assuming that these various compositions eman-
ate, as perhaps they may, from diiBferent individuals numbered
* among the Homerids. But this disallowance of the historical person-
ality of Homer is quite distinct from the question, with which it has
been often confounded, whether the Iliad and Odj^ssey 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 learnt respecting their date, their original
composition, their preservation, and their mode of cdmmimication
to the public. All these questions are more or less complicated one
with th§ 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 unauthenti-
cated — such as the Trojan war, the return of the Herakleids, or the
Ionic migration. Krates placed Homer earlier than the return of
/the Herakleids and less than eighty years after the Trojan war:
■ Eratostheness put him 100 years after the Trojan war: Aristotle, Aris-
tarchus, and Castor made his birth contemporaiy with the lonio
migration, while Apollodorus brings him down to 100 years after
that event, or 240 years after the taking of Troy. Thucydides
assigns to him a date much subsequent to the Trojan war. On the
other hand, Theopompus and Euphorion refer his age to the far
more recent period of the Lydian kingG jrges(OI. 18-23, B.C. 708-688),
and put him 600 years after the Trojan epoch. What were the



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•^'7^'v:



SINGERS AND RHAPSODES. 357

grounds of these various conjectures, we do not know, though, in
the statements of Krates and Ei-atosthenes, we maj pretty well
divine. 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 yeai*s 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 betweeu 850 and 800 B.C. We may gather from the
•language of Herodotus that this was his own 3udgment,"opposed to a
cuiTeut opinion which assigned the poet to an earlier epoch.

To place the Iliad and Odyssey at some periods between 850 b.c.
and 776 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 preservation, already sufficiently
•great, down from such an age and society to the historical times.

The mode in which these poems, and indeed all poems, epic as
well a^ lyric, down to the age (probably) of Pei si stratus, were circu-
lated and brought to bear upon the public, deserves particular atten-
tion. They were not read by individuals alone and apart, but sung
or recited at festivals or to assembled companies. This seems to be
one of the few undisputed facts with regard to the great poet: for
even those who maintain that the Iliad and Odyssey were preserved
by, means of writing, seldom contend that they were read.

In appreciating the effect of the poems, we must always take
account of this great difference between early -Greece and our own
times — ^between the congi-egation mustered at a solemn festival, stimu-
lated by community of sympathy, listening to a measured and musi-
cal recital from the lips of trained bards or rhapsodes, whose matter
"was supposed to have been inspired by the Muse — and the solitary
reader with a manuscript before liim ; such manuscript being, down to
a very late period in Greek literature, indifferently written, without
division into parts and without marks of punctuation. As in the
case of dramatic performances in all ages, so in that of the early
Grecian epic — a very large proportion of its impressive effect was
derived from the talent of the reciter and the force of the general
accompaniments, and would have disappeared altogether in solitary
reading. Originally the bard sung his own epical narrative com-
mencing with a procemium or hymn to one of the gods: his profession
•was separate and special, like that of the carpenter, the leech, or the
prophet: his manner and enunciation must have required particular
training no less than his imaginative faculty. His character presents



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358 GRECIAN EPIC— HOMERIC POEMS.

itself in the Odyssey as one liighhr esteemed; and in the Iliad, even
Achilles does not disdain to toucu the lyre with his own hands, and
to sing heroic deeds. Not only did the Iliad and Odyssey, and the
poems embodied in the epic, cycle, produce all their impression and
gain all their renown by this process of oral delivery, but even the
lyric and choric poets who succeeded them were known and felt in
the same way by the general public, even after the full establishment
of habits of reading among lettered men. While in the case of the
epic, the recitation or singing had been extremely simple and the
measure comparatively little diversified, with no other accompani-
ment than that of the four-stringed harp— all the variations superin-

' duced upon the original hexameter, beginning with the pentameter
and iambus, and proceeding step by step to the complicated strophes
of Pindar and the tragic writers, still ieft the general effect of the
poetry greatl^r dependent upon voice and accompaniments and
pointedly distinguished from mere solitary reading of the words.
And in the dramatic poetry, the last in order of time, the declamation
and gesture of the speaking actor alternated with the song and dance
of the chorus, and with the instruments of musicians, the whole
being set off- by imposing visible decorations. Now both dramatic
effect and song are familiar in modern times, so that every man
knows the difference between reading the words and hearing them
under the appropriate circumstances: but poetry, as such, is, and
has now long been, so exclusively enjoyed by reading, that it re-
quires an especial memento to bring us back to the time when the
Iliad and Odyssey were addressed only to the ear and feelings of a
promiscuous and sympathizing multitude. Readers there were none,
at least until the century preceding Solon and PeisistratUs: from that
time forward, they gradually increased both in number and influence;
though doubtless small, even in the most literary period of Greece,
as compared with modern European society. So far as the produc-
tion of beautiful epic poetry was concerned, however, the select
body of instructed readers furnished a less potent stimulus than the
unlettered and listening crowd of the earlier periods. The poems of
Choerilus and Antimachus, toward the close of the Peloponnesian
war, though admired by erudite men, never acquired popularity;
and the Emperor Hadrian failed in his attempt to bring the latter
poet into fashion at the expense of Homer.

It will be seen by what has been here stated, that that class of men, ,
who formed the medium of communication between the verse and '
the ear, were of the highest importance in the ancient world

' and especially in the earlier periods of its career — the bards anc
rhapsodes for the epic, the singers for the lyric, the actors and singers
jointly with the dancers for the chorus and drama. The lyric and
dramatic poets taught with their own lips the delivery of their com-
positions, and so prominently did this business of teaching present
Itself to the view of the public, that the name Didaskalia, by which

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VARIATIONS IN RECITATION. 359

the dramatic exhibition was commonly designated, derived from
thence its origin.

Among the number of rhapsodes who frequented the festivals at a
time wiien Grecian cities were multiplied and easy of access, for the
recitation of the ancient epic, there must have been of course great dif-
ferences of excellence; but that the more considerable individuals of
llie class were elaborately trained and higlily accomplished in the exer-
cise of their profession, we mav assume as certain. But it happens that
. Sokrates with his two pupils Plato and Xenophon speak contemptu-



Online LibraryGeorge GroteA history of Greece from the earliest period to the close of the ..., Volume 1 → online text (page 43 of 98)