William Cranston Lawton.

The successors of Homer online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryWilliam Cranston LawtonThe successors of Homer → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook




Accession No.^^ycZ "6 . CLns No. '^j*L^^\








7^ 7^sr





Prologce ... ... ... ... ... 1

I. The Epic Cycle ... ... ... 6

II. The Wokks and Days ... ... ... 41

III. The Hesiodio Theogony, Shield of Hekacles,

ETC. ... ... ... ... ... 7(5

IV. The Homeric Hymns ... ... ... 107

V. The Homeric Hymn to Apollo ... ... 125

VI. The Homeric Hymn to Demeter ... 154

VII. Hexameter in the Hands of the Philoso-

pheks ^^ ..' ..\ . , ... ... ^ 180

Epilogue ... ... ... ... ... 198




In the great panorama of literature, as of history,
the chief landmarks, the brilliant epochs, stand
cut prominently in our memory, while the really
unbroken tablelands or chains of hills between
them are often unduly overlooked. Even the
most general student of literature will hardly
forget that, about the ninth or tenth century B.C.,
Homer — or the school of Homeric poets — immor-
talized in splendid epic verse that age of Achaian
princes, which was even then passing away. Nor,
again, will the trio of supreme tragic poets, who,
in the fifth century B.C., so glorified their
Athenian mother-city, ever become dim figures
to the student of letters. But it is important
also to realize that those were not merely


2 The Successors of Homer.

isolated elevations. Between Homer and Aes-
chylos there was probably not a single decade,
perhaps not a year, when the muse of Hellas
was silent. Two notable series of poems, in
particular, may still be traced through the
centuries that intervene, viz. the later Epic and
the early Lyric.

The drama itself, indeed, developed out of a
special form of lyric poetry (the Bacchic dithy-
ramb), and lyric — which was of course really as
old, in some form, as the Greek race itself — as
old as love and strife among men — can actually
be traced, in an unbroken succession of singers,
whose works are at least partly preserved, from
Callinos, at the beginning of the seventh century
B.C., down to its culmination in Pindar, the
contemporary of Aeschylos. We may be sure,
too, that for every name still recorded a hundred
minstrels are themselves "unhonoured and un-
sung." For centuries, before and after Callinos,
they must have been as countless as the ini-
provisatori of the Tuscan valleys. No divine
festival, no harvest-home or vintage-time, no
marriage, funeral, or other hour of social joy

Prologue. 3

and grief, no victory in war or in athletic strife,
lacked its crown of song.

Our present task is, however, to point out, that
the staider and more formal epic impulse also
lasted, and the long roll of the heroic hexameter
continued in wide use, for many generations
after Homer. Indeed, this verse never became
unfamiliar to the classic Greek ear, epitaphs in
particular recurring frequently to this oldest
extant form of Hellenic rhythm. The poems we
shall have occasion to discuss may be grouped
under general heads thus : —

A. The Cyclic Epics, written largely to com-
plete the Trojan myth by tales introducing,
connecting, and completing the two Homeric
masterpieces. Of these only meagre fragments
and prose summaries have been preserved.

B. The Hesiodic Poems, representing in their
present form rather a school of didactic and
theological poetry, than a single great singer.
We, however, probably have before us, though
both mutilated and interpolated, the two poems
most generally accepted as authentic, and most
influential, among the later ancients.

4 The Successors of Homer.

C. The Homeric Hymns, ill-fitted by adjec-
tive or noun, since none dates from the age of
the Iliad: some are rather Hesiodic in tone,
while nearly all are preludes, in each of which
the rhapsode, about to recite from the great
epics, first pays his devoirs to the god at whose
temple or festival he is to chant the "glories
of the heroes." And —

D. The Philosophic Treatises in hexameter
verse, which have their earliest suggestion, indeed,
in Hesiod's Theogony. Here the three chief
names, all of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C.,
are Xenophanes, Parmenides, and Empedocles.
Each is extant only in fragments ; but Lucretius'
splendid De Eerum Natura — masterpiece of
Latin literature and of didactic verse generally —
affords us a lofty consolation for their loss ; and
also, by the way, a noble imitation in Latin of
the Greek hexameter.

Empedocles died as late as 440 B.C., and some of
the Homeric hymns are doubtless later still: so
the regnant period of dactylic hexameter is one
of five or more centuries; not to mention the
scholarly revival of the Alexandrians, which

Prologue. 5

we may call mock-archaic epic. The present
volume attempts to open for the English reader
this somewhat neglected page in the history of
Greek literature. The space required for trans-
lations will of itself prevent much freedom of
digression into the tempting fields of mythology,
archaeology, and comparative religion.

The Successors of Homer.


The Iliad was no doubt the culminating success
in a long literary development ; but it outlasted
and extinguished all its predecessors. We know
practically nothing of poets earlier than the
author of the Iliad. In this chapter we take
for granted on the reader's part a thorough
familiarity with the plot of Iliad and Odyssey :
such a familiarity as the Cyclic poets them-
selves reveal. A complete list of the lost epics
may be convenient for reference in the course
of the essay.

A. (1) Theogonia.
(2) Titanomacliia,

B. (1) Oidipodeia.

(2) Thebais.

(3) Epigonoi.

The Epic Cycle. 7

C. (1) Kypria.

(2) (Iliad).

(3) Aethlopis.

(4) Little Iliad (Mikra Ilias).

(5) Iliou Persis.

(6) Nostpi.

(7) (Odyssey).

(8) Telegonia.

The lost epics arrange themselves into three
groups, according as they deal with kosmic or
world-myths, with Theban legend, and with the
great tale of Troy. We pass rapidly over the
first two groups of these Cyclic poems, which
have less connection in plot with the Homeric

A. The Cyclic Theogony and Titanomachia,
beginnmg with the wedlock of Uranos and
Ge (Heaven and Earth), told the story of
Creation, and of strife among immortals. Homer,
by the way, makes Okeanos, not Uranos, the
source of all (II. xiv. 245, 246). Indeed we
shall have occasion elsewhere to notice that
Homer usually ignores, if he had heard them,
the cruder tales of deadly strife, cannibalism,
and mutilation amons; the crods. He also alludes

8 The Successors of Homer.

to the Titans below, under Tartaros (II. xiv.
274, 275), but does not tell their story (cf. infra,
pp. 79 ff.). Authors, age, length, of these two
Cyclic poems are unknown or disputed, though
doubtless all agree they were post-Homeric.
The scanty fragments deal out such trifling
information as that the sun-god's steeds are two
horses and two mares, or that it was the Centaur
Chiron who —

" Unto Justice guided the races of mortals, and taught
Offerings unto the gods, and oaths, and the shapes of

(Perhaps this Greek notion of the Centaurs as
wiser than early men is a dim tradition of a
horse-riding race. It will be recalled that the
Homeric Greeks only drive their horses in
chariots, but never mount them. The reader
will remember also what amazement the Spanish
riders of horses excited among the Aztecs).

This much, at any rate, we learn, even from
the meagre fragments, viz. that the metre and
dialect used in these Theban epics were essen-
tially Homeric. Another single line —

The Epic Cycle. 9

" In their midst was dancing the father of men and

indicates that the same familiar tags and half-
lines recurred as in Homer —

" The father of men and immortals "

being a phrase which is repeated often in Iliad
and Odyssey. For the loss of these poems we are
adequately consoled by Hesiod's Theogony, which
had a much greater influence on the popular
Greek mythology of the following centuries,

B. The next three poems mentioned in the
great Cycle are concerned with the tragic story
of Thebes : the Oidipodeia, Thebais, Epigonoi.
These also deal with matters touched on by
Homer, though only incidentally. Odysseus,
e.g., saw in Hades (Odys. xi.) the ill-fated
mother, and wife as well, of Oedipus, Epicaste
(called afterwards, by the tragedians, locaste).
These three Theban poems together contained
twenty thousand verses, nearly twice as much
as the Odyssey. Herodotos, citing the Epigonoi,
expresses merely a passing doubt if Homer wrote
it (Herod. Lx. 32). From the Oidipodeia we have

10 The Successors of Homer.

almost nothing. The first line of the Thebais
was —

" Sing, goddess, of waterless Argos, whence the com-
manders . . ."

From another source we have a more valuable
fragment. Athenaeus, amid his usual trivial
gossip (bk. xi. p. 465 E), has preserved a striking
passage, as to a sort of family "Luck of Eden-
hall," which Oedipus curses his sons for setting
before him.

" Yet the divinely descended hero, the fair Polyneikes,
First at Oedipus' side made ready the beautiful table,
Silvern, of Cadraos wise as the gods, and straightway

upon it
Poured for him sweet wine in a golden beautiful goblet.
Yet when he perceived at his side that cup of his father —
Precious, in reverence held — great woe came over his spirit.
Instantly then upon both of his sons he uttered his curses
Never to be escaped, — and the wrath of the gods was

awakened —
Wishing that they might never in amity share their

possessions :
Ever between them twain might strife and battle continue."

No other classical author, I believe, alludes to
this legend of the goblet: but this one passage

The Epic Cycle. 11

will suffice to show that we have lost here a
large mass of valuable and independent poetic
and mythologic material, in age and interest a
respectable rival of the Iliad.

The story of both the Thebais and the
Epigonoi is alluded to in a famous passage of
the Iliad, where Agamemnon reproaches Dio-
medes and Sthenelos as slothful and cowardly
compared with their sires, and recalls especi-
ally Tydeus, Diomedes' father, who had visited
Mykenae with the banished Theban prince,
Polyneikes (II. iv. 372-410). Sthenelos (not, as
is so often said, his mightier friend) answers
haughtily —

" Verily we make claim to be mightier far than our fathers,
We who captured the hold of Thebes with the sevenfold

Leading a lesser array beneath those bulwarks of Ares,
Putting our trust in the aid of Zeus and the Heaven-sent

portents :
Whereas, they, our sires, by their own impiety perished."

The passage sounds as if Homer's audience were
already familiar with the tale of Thebes, perhaps
through earlier epic masters ; for this Theban

12 The Successors of Homer.

legend, it is thought probable, may have been
treated by poets before Homer. This is not
unlikely. In this very passage, even, the poet
may be speaking a bold word for his own
heroes, as against the favourites of an earlier lay.
Probably no one supposes any of the fragments
now extant, or even any of the poems as read by
the later ancients, were pre-Homeric. Tlie exact
truth as to these things, however, can no longer
be descried in the " dark backward and abysm of

All the three great Attic tragedians have left
us notable plays that draw their material from
the Theban myths, and doubtless from these
very epics, viz. The Seven against Thebes, of
Aeschylos (sole survivor of a Theban tetralogy) ;
the trio of noble Sophoclean plays, in all of which
Antigone and Creon appear ; and, lastly, Euripides'
more melodramatic and over-ingenious Phoe-
nissae. Indeed, the whole Epic Cycle was a
favourite source of materials for the Attic
dramatists. But we must hasten on to the Trojan
epics proper.

These latter poems were, as we have said.

The Epic Cycle. 13

written for the most part, apparently, in avowed
supplementary relation to the Iliad and Odys-
sey. They may have drawn somewhat upon a
popular and traditional mass of myth which
Homer had not exhausted ; but most students
get the impression that they are chiefly more
or less ingenious developments from incidents
or allusions in the older epics themselves. The
younger poems are known to us principally
through the prose summaries of an otherwise
untraceable Proclos — but only so far as he is
quoted in the Literary Miscellany of the
Byzantine Photios, — partly through unnamed
scholiasts upon Homer and other poets. (So
fragmentary, and at third or fourth hand, is our
knowledge of this whole Cycle, and of many
another literary epoch or artistic school !) Per-
haps the chief importance of these lost epics,
now, is as evidence that the Iliad and Odyssey
had in the eighth century B.C. reached essentially
their present form and contents. Thus the in-
sults to Hector's body by Achilles in II. xxiv.,
the meeting of Achilles and Priam, the wander-
ings of Telemachos in Odys. i.-iv. — that is, the

14 The Successors of Homer.

latest additions, according to modern critics,
attached to Iliad and Odyssey by younger hands,
— are apparently imitated in these early supple-
ments. The manner in which the latter attach
themselves to the older epics points in the same
direction. This relation to Homer should be
kept constantly in mind while the Cyclic poems
are discussed.

The Kypria described the events preceding
the story of the Iliad. It was, indeed, planned
expressly to present a more adequate account
of the causes and incidents leading up to
the famous strife. The favourite legend made
this poem also Homer's own composition, but
stated that it was bestowed as a gift upon his
son-m-law, the Cypriote Stasinos, who was ap-
parently to recite it as his own. This explana-
tion may have been an attempt to compromise
between conflicting claims as to the authorship.
That the poem was really of Cyprian origin is, of
course, a natural conjecture, at least.

Herodotos (ii. 117) asserts confidently that the
poem is " not Homer's, but some one's else ; for
in the Kypria it is stated that, on the third day

The Epic Cycle. 15

out from Sparta, Alexander reached Ilios with
Helen, having had a fair wind and smooth sea ;
whereas the poet of the Iliad says that he
wandered about with her." Herodotos had just
quoted the allusion (II. vi. 290-292) to the—

" Work of Sidonian women, whom Alexander the god-like
Brought from Sidon along, as the widewayed waters he

Homeward sailing to Troy with Helena, daughter of


Herodotos shows here his usual good judgment
in literary criticism; nevertheless, in our prose
summary of the Kypria (Kinkel, Fragmenta
Epicorum, p. 18) we read : " Hera sends a storm
upon them, and Alexander, being driven to Sidon,
takes the city." This may weU be a late inter-
polation in the Kypria itself — or merely in the
summary — suggested by the famous and trenchant
criticism of Herodotos. Doubtless, in many such
details the less illustrious, poems may have been
forced into agreement with the accepted master-
pieces, when the Cycle was reduced to order.
Indeed, our chief informant and summarist,
Proclos, remarks that the Cyclic epics were

16 The Successors of Homer.

preserved and studied " more for their consecutive
treatment of incidents than for their intrinsic

The tale of eleven books credited to the Kypria
indicates about 5000-7000 hexameter verses : for
these Alexandrian divisions into books were
largely for mechanical convenience in rolling
the scrolls. The eccentric number, eleven, may
have arisen when one was later trimmed away,
apparently the last, which probably coincided
too closely with the opening of the Iliad.

This poet probably invented, or at least first
recorded, the story of the strife for the apple
and the choice of Paris as umpire. From the
Kypria, or at any rate under its influence, was
probably interpolated into the Iliad the only
allusion to those incidents, viz. the awkward and
ill-placed verses, II. xxiv. 29-30.

The opening lines of the Kypria are preserved
in a somewhat corrupt form.

" Once on a time was Earth by the races of men made wearj',
Who were wandering numberless over the breadth of her

Zeus with pity beheld it, and took in his wise heart

The Epic Cycle. 17

How to relieve of her burden the Earth, life-giver to all

Fanning to flame that terrible struggle, the war upon

So should the burden by death be removed : and they in

the Troad
Perished — the heroes ; the counsel of Zeus was brought to


Here our informant — it is the scholiast on the
opening verses of the Iliad — suddenly breaks off.
He has given us just enough, however, to show
how skilfully the new portico was adjusted to
the old Homeric temple. The fifth line of the
Iliad also closes —

" The counsel of Zeus was brought to fulfilment,"

and he who read the Kypria first would now
understand the Iliad's opening passage to refer
back to this earlier and larger " plan of Zeus."
The scene at Aulis where the serpent devours
the sparrow and her young, alluded to in II. i.,
was given in full in the Kypria. Such incidents,
and traits like Nestor's garrulity, seem like
elaborated cross-references, as it were, devised
between the epics.


18 The Successors of Homer.

Still, new incidents occur which hardly agree
with Homer, In particular, Helen is stated, in
an extant fragment, to have been the daughter
of Zeus and Nemesis, so not mortal on either
side. Polydeukes, her brother, is also immortal,
whereas in Homer both he and Castor are already
" covered by earth, in Lacedaemon."

Especially interesting is Achilles' desire to
behold Helen, whereupon Aphrodite and Thetis
bring these two glorious creatures into each
other's presence. On the one hand this seems
to point back toward Homer's equally bold — and
dramatically better justified — conjunction of
Achilles and Priam in his closing scenes. On
the other side it is the first hint of the later
feeling that made Achilles and Helen alike
deathless, and united the two supreme types of
youthful beauty in eternal wedlock.

The name and doom of Iphigenia, the tale of
Philoctetes and the snake, with many another
favourite tragic subject, first appear, so far as
we know, in the Kypria. Just how the poem
ended, and how closely it was attached to the
Iliad, is not stated. Among the last incidents

The Epic Cycle. 19

noticed in the summary are the captures of
Briseis and Chryseis, as also a special " counsel
of Zeus " to withdraw Achilles from the Greek
alliance and relieve the Trojans. This repetition
of the fateful words has, even in the dry prosaic
outline, somewhat the effect of a solemn refrain.
Last of all is noted " a catalogue of the Trojans'
allies." This, of course, now stands in our Iliad
(ii. 816-877), where its authenticity has been often
attacked. It may be a late loan from the Kypria,
and its transfer may have accompanied, or caused,
the suppression of a twelfth book in the Kypria

Thus far we have depended chiefly upon
Proclos' outlines. The fragments which have
been transmitted to us give little further aid
in reconstructing the poem. One verse from the
Kypria became a very famous maxim in later
days, grimly Machiavelian though it is, reap-
pearing in Aristotle, Polybios, and others, —

'• Foolish is he who, slaying the father, spareth his

Homer's praises of wine are echoed by this later

20 The Successors of Homer.

singer, who had evidently wedded his master's
muse, if not his daughter —

" Wine in truth, Menelaos, the gods for men who are mortal
Best amid all their blessings accorded, to scatter their

The largest single passage surviving describes
the transformations of Nemesis when flying from
the love of Zeus. She flees —

" Sometimes under the wave of the sea with its thunderous


Sometimes unto the bounds of earth and the river of Ocean,

Sometimes over the land with its fertile meadows ; and ever

Shapes of all earthly beasts she assumed, in the hope to

escape him."

We certainly get the impression that this union,
and the consequent divine origin of Helen,
held a prominent j)lace in the story. It was,
perhaps, the boldest addition to the Homeric

Even in this scant handful of fragments, how-
ever, the pre-eminent activity of Aphrodite,
suzerain of Cyprus, fully appears. Athenaeus,
naming the flowers suitable for garlands, quotes

The Epic Cycle. 21

the verses of "Hegesias or Stasinos or whoever
the poet was " —

" Garments upon her body she put, that the Hours and the

Fashioned, and dipt for her in flowers that grow in the

Such as the season brings: in the crocus and hyacinth

Clustering violets too, and the beautiful flowers of the

roses —
Sweet, iinto nectar like, — and the cups of the lily ambrosial.
With the narcissus ... so Aphrodite
Garments wore that with odours of every flower were


Still more clearly does the queen of love
glimmer upon us in the verses, —

" Aphrodite, delighting in laughter, amid her attendants
Out of the odorous flowers of the earth was plaiting her

It is but a tantalizing parting glimpse that is
accorded us, however, as she passes we know not
whither, by Nymphs and Graces attended —
" Sweetly singing adown Mount Ida abounding in fountains."

If this gleaning seems meagre, the English
reader may at least rest assured that we have

22 The Successors of Homer.

now set before him almost every scrap which
has drifted to us in metrical form. The frequent
allusions to the Kypria, throughout the centuries
of later Hellenism, give us no material to restore
the lost verses.

Even so bare an outline of the Kypria, and
of the other Cyclic epics, will throw an important
light on such statements as that of Aeschylos,
that his dramas were " crumbs from the great
banquet of Homer." Yet it is certain that the
plots of the Iliad and Odyssey themselves
were rarely dramatized in Athens. They would
not "crumble" effectively, as Aristotle asserts.
Aeschylos, if the incident be authentic at all,
doubtless used the term "Homer" in the wider
sense. (Nearly every prehistoric Greek poem
was once popularly ascribed to the one supreme
bard.) Athenaeus (277 E) expressly says of
Sophocles, that he delighted to draw his subjects
from the Epic Cycle. The general truth of this
remark can still be demonstrated ; but, of course,
the exact extent of the dramatist's debt to this
and other sources can rarely be indicated in
detail. The true artist has but one rule, to

The Epic Cycle. 23

borrow wherever he finds what he needs, and
to recast no less freely, until the material seems
originally intended for the place where he sets
it. Not merely, however, as the favourite quarry
of tragic poets and other artists, but for its own
creative power and beauty, we would gladly have
restored to us this lost epic of unknown, — or at
least disputed, — authorship. Of this there is little
hope, though the Egyptian discoveries of recent
years make all things seem possible.

The Kypria, then, as we have seen, was added,
not unfittingly, as a stately portico of song,
introductory to the older epic. It was much
more evident, however, that the Iliad needed a
sequel, rather than an introduction. Readers of
the Iliad in every age must feel that the doom
of Achilles and the fall of the guilty city are
most effective subjects, yet awaiting their
minstrel. In a later age, Virgil's second book
of the Aeneid has nobly supplied the latter
scene, and the Latin poet has not failed to link
his incidents unmistakably to the earlier narra-
tive. Such a continuation was first composed,
however, by Arctinos of Miletos, in the early

24 The Successors of Homer.

Olympiads, i.e. in the eighth century B.C. The
ancients were quite well agreed as to this poet's
name and age. That he, like the author of the
Kypria, found our Iliad in its present form is
pretty clearly indicated by the fact that he — or
else whoever finally arranged the Cycle — even
altered Homer's closing line. The Iliad ends —

"So they made ready the grave for Hector, the tamer of

The Greek scholiast on this final verse remarks :

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryWilliam Cranston LawtonThe successors of Homer → online text (page 1 of 9)