A fantastic look at the life and times of the ancient Greek epic poet Homer by famed anthropologist Andrew Lang.
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Homer and His Age
THE HOMERIC AGE
The aim of this book is to prove that the Homeric Epics, as wholes, and apart from passages gravely suspected in antiquity, present a perfectly harmonious picture of the entire life and civilisation of one single age. The faint variations in the design are not greater than such as mark every moment of culture, for in all there is some movement; in all, cases are modified by circumstances. If our contention be true, it will follow that the poems themselves, as wholes, are the product of a single age, not a mosaic of the work of several changeful centuries.
This must be the case--if the life drawn is harmonious, the picture must be the work of a single epoch--for it is not in the nature of early uncritical times that later poets should adhere, or even try to adhere, to the minute details of law, custom, opinion, dress, weapons, houses, and so on, as presented in earlier lays or sagas on the same set of subjects. Even less are poets in uncritical times inclined to "archaise," either by attempting to draw fancy pictures of the manners of the past, or by making researches in graves, or among old votive offerings in temples, for the purpose of "preserving local colour." The idea of such archaising is peculiar to modern times. To take an instance much to the point, Virgil was a learned poet, famous for his antiquarian erudition, and professedly imitating and borrowing from Homer. Now, had Virgil worked as a man of to-day would work on a poem of Trojan times, he would have represented his heroes as using weapons of bronze. [Footnote: Looking back at my own poem, Helen of Troy (1883), I find that when the metal of a weapon is mentioned the metal is bronze.] No such idea of archaising occurred to the learned Virgil. It is "the iron" that pierces the head of Remulus (Aeneid, IX. 633); it is "the iron" that waxes warm in the breast of Antiphates (IX. 701). Virgil's men, again, do not wear the great Homeric shield, suspended by a baldric: AEneas holds up his buckler (clipeus), borne "on his left arm" (X. 26 i). Homer, familiar with no buckler worn on the left arm, has no such description. When the hostile ranks are to be broken, in the Aeneid it is "with the iron" (X. 372), and so throughout.
The most erudite ancient poet, in a critical age of iron, does not archaise in our modern fashion. He does not follow his model, Homer, in his descriptions of shields, swords, and spears. But, according to most Homeric critics, the later continuators of the Greek Epics, about 800-540 B.C., are men living in an age of iron weapons, and of round bucklers worn on the left arm. Yet, unlike Virgil, they always give their heroes arms of bronze, and, unlike Virgil (as we shall see), they do not introduce the buckler worn on the left arm. They adhere conscientiously to the use of the vast Mycenaean shield, in their time obsolete. Yet, by the theory, in many other respects they innovate at will, introducing corslets and greaves, said to be unknown to the beginners of the Greek Epics, just as Virgil innovates in bucklers and iron weapons. All this theory seems inconsistent, and no ancient poet, not even Virgil, is an archaiser of the modern sort.
All attempts to prove that the Homeric poems are the work of several centuries appear to rest on a double hypothesis: first, that the later contributors to the ILIAD kept a steady eye on the traditions of the remote Achaean age of bronze; next, that they innovated as much as they pleased.
Poets of an uncritical age do not archaise. This rule is overlooked by the critics who represent the Homeric poems as a complex of the work of many singers in many ages. For example, Professor Percy Gardner, in his very interesting _New chapters in Greek History_ (1892), carries neglect of the rule so far as to suppose that the late Homeric poets, being aware that the ancient heroes could not ride, or write, or eat boiled meat, consciously and purposefully represented them as doing none of these things. This they did "on the same principle on which a writer of pastoral idylls in our own day would avoid the mention of the telegraph or telephone." [Footnote: Op. cit., p. 142.] "A writer of our own day,"--there is the pervading fallacy! It is only writers of the last century who practise this archaeological refinement. The authors of Beowulf and the Nibelungenlied, of the Chansons de Geste and of the Arthurian romances, always describe their antique heroes and the details of their life in conformity with the customs, costume, and armour of their own much later ages.
But Mr. Leaf, to take another instance, remarks as to the lack of the metal lead in the Epics, that it is mentioned in similes only, as though the poet were aware the metal was unknown in the heroic age. [Footnote: Iliad, Note on, xi. 237.] Here the poet is assumed to be a careful but ill-informed archaeologist, who wishes to give an accurate representation of the past. Lead, in fact, was perfectly familiar to the Mycenaean prime. [Footnote: Tsountas and Manatt, p. 73.] The critical usage of supposing that the ancients were like the most recent moderns--in their archaeological preoccupations--is a survival of the uncritical habit which invariably beset old poets and artists. Ancient poets, of the uncritical ages, never worked "on the same principle as a writer in our day," as regards archaeological precision; at least we are acquainted with no example of such accuracy.
Let us take another instance of the critical fallacy. The age of the Achaean warriors, who dwelt in the glorious halls of Mycenae, was followed, at an interval, by the age represented in the relics found in the older tombs outside the Dipylon gate of Athens, an age beginning, probably, about 900-850 B.C. The culture of this "Dipylon age," a time of geometrical ornaments on vases, and of human figures drawn in geometrical forms, lines, and triangles, was quite unlike that of the Achaean age in many ways, for example, in mode of burial and in the use of iron for weapons. Mr. H. R. Hall, in his learned book, _The Oldest Civilisation of Greece_ (1901), supposes the culture described in the Homeric poems to be contemporary in Asia with that of this Dipylon period in Greece. [Footnote: Op. cit., pp. 49, 222.] He says, "The Homeric culture is evidently the culture of the poet's own days; there is no attempt to archaise here...." They do not archaise as to the details of life, but "the Homeric poets consciously and consistently archaised, in regard to the political conditions of continental Greece," in the Achaean times. They give "in all probability a pretty accurate description" of the loose feudalism of Mycenaean Greece. [Footnote: Op. cit., pp. 223, 225.]
We shall later show that this Homeric picture of a past political and social condition of Greece is of vivid and delicate accuracy, that it is drawn from the life, not constructed out of historical materials. Mr. Hall explains the fact by "the conscious and consistent" archaeological precision of the Asiatic poets of the ninth century. Now to any one who knows early national poetry, early uncritical art of any kind, this theory seems not easily tenable. The difficulty of the theory is increased, if we suppose that the Achaeans were the recent conquerors of the Mycenaeans. Whether we regard the Achaeans as "Celts," with Mr. Ridgeway, victors over an Aryan people, the Pelasgic Mycenaeans; or whether, with Mr. Hall, we think that the Achaeans were the Aryan conquerors of a non-Aryan people, the makers of the Mycenaean civilisation; in the stress of a conquest, followed at no long interval by an expulsion at the hands of Dorian invaders, there would be little thought of archaising among Achaean poets. [Footnote: Mr. Hall informs me that he no longer holds the opinion that the poets archaised.]
A distinction has been made, it is true, between the poet and other artists in this respect. Monsieur Perrot says, "The vase- painter reproduces what he sees; while the epic poets endeavoured to represent a distant past. If Homer gives swords of bronze to his heroes of times gone by, it is because he knows that such were the weapons of these heroes of long ago. In arming them with bronze he makes use, in his way, of what we call "local colour...." Thus the Homeric poet is a more conscientious historian than Virgil!" [Footnote: La Grète de l'Epopée, Perrot et Chipiez, p. 230.]
Now we contend that old uncritical poets no more sought for antique "local colour" than any other artists did. M. Perrot himself says with truth, "the CHANSON DE ROLAND, and all the Gestes of the same cycle explain for us the Iliad and the Odyssey." [Footnote: op. cit., p. 5.] But the poet of the CHANSON DE ROLAND accoutres his heroes of old time in the costume and armour of his own age, and the later poets of the same cycle introduce the innovations of their time; they do not hunt for "local colour" in the CHANSON DE ROLAND. The very words "local colour" are a modern phrase for an idea that never occurred to the artists of ancient uncritical ages. The Homeric poets, like the painters of the Dipylon period, describe the details of life as they see them with their own eyes. Such poets and artists never have the fear of "anachronisms" before them. This, indeed, is plain to the critics themselves, for they, detect anachronisms as to land tenure, burial, the construction of houses, marriage customs, weapons, and armour in the Iliad and Odyssey. These supposed anachronisms we examine later: if they really exist they show that the poets were indifferent to local colour and archaeological precision, or were incapable of attaining to archaeological accuracy. In fact, such artistic revival of the past in its habit as it lived is a purely modern ideal.
We are to show, then, that the Epics, being, as wholes, free from such inevitable modifications in the picture of changing details of life as uncritical authors always introduce, are the work of the one age which they represent. This is the reverse of what has long been, and still is, the current theory of Homeric criticism, according to which the Homeric poems are, and bear manifest marks of being, a mosaic of the poetry of several ages of change.
Till Wolf published his Prolegomena to [blank space] (1795) there was little opposition to the old belief that the ILIAD and Odyssey were, allowing for interpolations, the work of one, or at most of two, poets. After the appearance of Wolfs celebrated book, Homeric critics have maintained, generally speaking, that the ILIAD is either a collection of short lays disposed in sequence in a late age, or that it contains an ancient original "kernel" round which "expansions," made throughout some centuries of changeful life, have accrued, and have been at last arranged by a literary redactor or editor.
The latter theory is now dominant. It is maintained that the Iliad is a work of at least four centuries. Some of the objections to this theory were obvious to Wolf himself--more obvious to him than to his followers. He was aware, and some of them are not, of the distinction between reading the ILIAD as all poetic literature is naturally read, and by all authors is meant to be read, for human pleasure, and studying it in the spirit of "the analytical reader." As often as he read for pleasure, he says, disregarding the purely fanciful "historical conditions" which he invented for Homer; as often as he yielded himself to that running stream of action and narration; as often as he considered the harmony of colour and of characters in the Epic, no man could be more angry with his own destructive criticism than himself. Wolf ceased to be a Wolfian whenever he placed himself at the point of view of the reader or the listener, to whom alone every poet makes his appeal.
But he deemed it his duty to place himself at another point of view, that of the scientific literary historian, the historian of a period concerning whose history he could know nothing. "How could the thing be possible?" he asked himself. "How could a long poem like the Iliad come into existence in the historical circumstances?" [Footnote, exact place in paragraph unknown: Preface to Homer, p, xxii., 1794.]. Wolf was unaware that he did not know what the historical circumstances were. We know how little we know, but we do know more than Wolf. He invented the historical circumstances of the supposed poet. They were, he said, like those of a man who should build a large ship in an inland place, with no sea to launch it upon. The Iliad was the large ship; the sea was the public. Homer could have no readers, Wolf said, in an age that, like the old hermit of Prague, "never saw pen and ink," had no knowledge of letters; or, if letters were dimly known, had never applied them to literature. In such circumstances no man could have a motive for composing a long poem. [Footnote: Prolegomena to the Iliad, p. xxvi.]
Yet if the original poet, "Homer," could make "the greater part of the songs," as Wolf admitted, what physical impossibility stood in the way of his making the whole? Meanwhile, the historical circumstances, as conceived of by Wolf, were imaginary. He did not take the circumstances of the poet as described in the Odyssey. Here a king or prince has a minstrel, honoured as were the minstrels described in the ancient Irish books of law. His duty is to entertain the prince and his family and guests by singing epic chants after supper, and there is no reason why his poetic narratives should be brief, but rather he has an opportunity that never occurred again till the literary age of Greece for producing a long poem, continued from night to night. In the later age, in the Asiatic colonies and in Greece, the rhapsodists, competing for prizes at feasts, or reciting to a civic crowd, were limited in time and gave but snatches of poetry. It is in this later civic age that a poet without readers would have little motive for building Wolfs great ship of song, and scant chance of launching it to any profitable purpose. To this point we return; but when once critics, following Wolf, had convinced themselves that a long early poem was impossible, they soon found abundant evidence that it had never existed.
They have discovered discrepancies of which, they say, no one sane poet could have been guilty. They have also discovered that the poems had not, as Wolf declared, "one 'harmony of colour" (_unus color_). Each age, they say, during which the poems were continued, lent its own colour. The poets, by their theory, now preserved the genuine tradition of things old; cremation, cairn and urn burial; the use of the chariot in war; the use of bronze for weapons; a peculiar stage of customary law; a peculiar form of semi-feudal society; a peculiar kind of house. But again, by a change in the theory, the poets introduced later novelties; later forms of defensive armour; later modes of burial; later religious and speculative beliefs; a later style of house; an advanced stage of law; modernisms in grammar and language.
The usual position of critics in this matter is stated by Helbig; and we are to contend that the theory is contradicted by all experience of ancient literatures, and is in itself the reverse of consistent. "The artists of antiquity," says Helbig, with perfect truth, "had no idea of archaeological studies.... They represented legendary scenes in conformity with the spirit of their own age, and reproduced the arms and implements and costume that they saw around them." [Footnote: L'Épopée Homerique, p. 5; Homerische Epos, p. 4.]
Now a poet is an artist, like another, and he, too--no less than the vase painter or engraver of gems--in dealing with legends of times past, represents (in an uncritical age) the arms, utensils, costume, and the religious, geographical, legal, social, and political ideas of his own period. We shall later prove that this is true by examples from the early mediaeval epic poetry of Europe.
It follows that if the Iliad is absolutely consistent and harmonious in its picture of life, and of all the accessories of life, the Iliad is the work of a single age, of a single stage of culture, the poet describing his own environment. But Helbig, on the other hand, citing Wilamowitz Moellendorff, declares that the Iliad--the work of four centuries, he says--maintains its unity of colour by virtue of an uninterrupted poetical tradition. [Footnote: Homerische Untersuchungen, p. 292; Homerische Epos, p. I.] If so, the poets must have archaeologised, must have kept asking themselves, "Is this or that detail true to the past?" which artists in uncritical ages never do, as we have been told by Helbig. They must have carefully pondered the surviving old Achaean lays, which "were born when the heroes could not read, or boil flesh, or back a steed." By carefully observing the earliest lays the late poets, in times of changed manners, "could avoid anachronisms by the aid of tradition, which gave them a very exact idea of the epic heroes." Such is the opinion of Wilamowitz Moellendorff. He appears to regard the tradition as keeping the later poets in the old way automatically, not consciously, but this, we also learn from Helbig, did not occur. The poets often wandered from the way. [Footnote: Helbig, Homerische Epos,pp. 2, 3.] Thus old Mycenaean lays, if any existed, would describe the old Mycenaean mode of burial. The Homeric poet describes something radically different. We vainly ask for proof that in any early national literature known to us poets have been true to the colour and manners of the remote times in which their heroes moved, and of which old minstrels sang. The thing is without example: of this proofs shall be offered in abundance.
Meanwhile, the whole theory which regards the Iliad as the work of four or five centuries rests on the postulate that poets throughout these centuries did what such poets never do, kept true to the details of a life remote from their own, and also did not.
For Helbig does not, after all, cleave to his opinion. On the other hand, he says that the later poets of the Iliad did not cling to tradition. "They allowed themselves to be influenced by their own environment: _this influence betrays ITSELF IN THE descriptions of DETAILS_.... The rhapsodists," (reciters, supposed to have altered the poems at will), "did not fail to interpolate relatively recent elements into the oldest parts of the Epic." [Footnote: Homerische Epos, p. 2.]
At this point comes in a complex inconsistency. The Tenth Book of the Iliad, thinks Helbig--in common with almost all critics--"is one of the most recent lays of the Iliad." But in this recent lay (say of the eighth or seventh century) the poet describes the Thracians as on a level of civilisation with the Achaeans, and, indeed, as even more luxurious, wealthy, and refined in the matter of good horses, glorious armour, and splendid chariots. But, by the time of the Persian wars, says Helbig, the Thracians were regarded by the Greeks as rude barbarians, and their military equipment was totally un-Greek. They did not wear helmets, but caps of fox-skin. They had no body armour; their shields were small round bucklers; their weapons were bows and daggers. These customs could not, at the time of the Persian wars, be recent innovations in Thrace. [Footnote: Herodotus, vii. 75.]
Had the poet of ILIAD, Book X., known the Thracians in this condition, says Helbig, as he was fond of details of costume and arms, he would have certainly described their fox-skin caps, bows, bucklers, and so forth. He would not here have followed the Epic tradition, which represented the Thracians as makers of great swords and as splendidly armed charioteers. His audience had met the Thracians in peace and war, and would contradict the poet's description of them as heavily armed charioteers. It follows, therefore, that the latest poets, such as the author of Book X., did not introduce recent details, those of their own time, but we have just previously been told that to do so was their custom in the description of details.
Now Studniczka [Footnote: Homerische Epos, pp. 7-11, cf. Note I; Zeitschrift fur die Oestern Gymnasien, 1886, p. 195.] explains the picture of the Thracians in Iliad, Book X., on Helbig's other principle, namely, that the very late author of the Tenth Book merely conforms to the conventional tradition of the Epic, adheres to the model set in ancient Achaean, or rather ancient Ionian times, and scrupulously preserved by the latest poets--that is, when the latest poets do not bring in the new details of their own age. But Helbig will not accept his own theory in this case, whence does it follow that the author of the Tenth Book must, in his opinion, have lived in Achaean times, and described the Thracians as they then were, charioteers, heavily armed, not light-clad archers? If this is so, we ask how Helbig can aver that the Tenth Book is one of the latest parts of the Iliad?
In studying the critics who hold that the Iliad is the growth of four centuries--say from the eleventh to the seventh century B.C.--no consistency is to be discovered; the earth is never solid beneath our feet. We find now that the poets are true to tradition in the details of ancient life--now that the poets introduce whatever modern details they please. The late poets have now a very exact knowledge of the past; now, the late poets know nothing about the past, or, again, some of the poets are fond of actual and very minute archaeological research! The theory shifts its position as may suit the point to be made at the moment by the critic. All is arbitrary, and it is certain that logic demands a very different method of inquiry. If Helbig and other critics of his way of thinking mean that in the Iliad (1) there are parts of genuine antiquity; other parts (2) by poets who, with stern accuracy, copied the old modes; other parts (3) by poets who tried to copy but failed; with passages (4) by poets who deliberately innovated; and passages (5) by poets who drew fanciful pictures of the past "from their inner consciousness," while, finally (6), some poets made minute antiquarian researches; and if the argument be that the critics can detect these six elements, then we are asked to repose unlimited confidence in critical powers of discrimination. The critical standard becomes arbitrary and subjective.
It is our effort, then, in the following pages to show that the unus color of Wolf does pervade the Epics, that recent details are not often, if ever, interpolated, that the poems harmoniously represent one age, and that a brief age, of culture; that this effect cannot, in a thoroughly uncritical period, have been deliberately aimed at and produced by archaeological learning, or by sedulous copying of poetic tradition, or by the scientific labours of an editor of the sixth century B.C. We shall endeavour to prove, what we have already indicated, that the hypotheses of expansion are not self-consistent, or in accordance with what is known of the evolution of early national poetry. The strongest part, perhaps, of our argument is to rest on our interpretation of archaeological evidence, though we shall not neglect the more disputable or less convincing contentions of literary criticism.
HYPOTHESES AS TO THE GROWTH OF THE EPICS
A theorist who believes that the Homeric poems are the growth of four changeful centuries, must present a definite working hypothesis as to how they escaped from certain influences of the late age in which much of them is said to have been composed. We must first ask to what manner of audiences did the poets sing, in the alleged four centuries of the evolution of the Epics. Mr. Leaf, as a champion of the theory of ages of "expansion," answers that "the Iliad and Odyssey are essentially, and above all, Court poems. They were composed to be sung in the palaces of a ruling aristocracy ... the poems are aristocratic and courtly, not popular." [Footnote: Companion to the Iliad, pp. 2,8. 1892.] They are not Volkspoesie; they are not ballads. "It is now generally recognised that this conception is radically false."
These opinions, in which we heartily agree--there never was such a thing as a "popular" Epic--were published fourteen years ago. Mr. Leaf, however, would not express them with regard to "our" Iliad and Odyssey, because, in his view, a considerable part of the Iliad, as it stands, was made, not by Court bards in the Achaean courts of Europe, not for an audience of noble warriors and dames, but by wandering minstrels in the later Ionian colonies of Asia. They did not chant for a military aristocracy, but for the enjoyment of town and country folk at popular festivals. [Footnote: Iliad, vol. i. p. xvi. 1900.] The poems were begun, indeed, he thinks, for "a wealthy aristocracy living on the product of their lands," in European Greece; were begun by contemporary court minstrels, but were continued, vastly expanded, and altered to taste by wandering singers and reciting rhapsodists, who amused the holidays of a commercial, expansive, and bustling Ionian democracy. [Footnote: Companion to the Iliad, p. II.]
We must suppose that, on this theory, the later poets pleased a commercial democracy by keeping up the tone that had delighted an old land-owning military aristocracy. It is not difficult, however, to admit this as possible, for the poems continued to be admired in all ages of Greece and under every form of society. The real question is, would the modern poets be the men to keep up a tone some four or five centuries old, and to be true, if they were true, to the details of the heroic age? "It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that some part of the most primitive Iliad may have been actually sung by the court minstrel in the palace whose ruins can still be seen in Mycenae." [Footnote: Leaf, Iliad, vol. i. p. xv.] But, by the expansionist theory, even the oldest parts of our Iliad are now full of what we may call quite recent Ionian additions, full of late retouches, and full, so to speak, of omissions of old parts.
Through four or five centuries, by the hypothesis, every singer who could find an audience was treating as much as he knew of a vast body of ancient lays exactly as he pleased, adding here, lopping there, altering everywhere. Moreover, these were centuries full of change. The ancient Achaean palaces were becoming the ruins which we still behold. The old art had faded, and then fallen under the disaster of the Dorian conquest. A new art, or a recrudescence of earlier art, very crude and barbaric, had succeeded, and was beginning to acquire form and vitality. The very scene of life was altered: the new singers and listeners dwelt on the Eastern side of the Aegean. Knights no longer, as in Europe, fought from chariots: war was conducted by infantry, for the most part, with mounted auxiliaries. With the disappearance of the war chariot the huge Mycenaean shields had vanished or were very rarely used. The early vase painters do not, to my knowledge, represent heroes as fighting from war chariots. They had lost touch with that method. Fighting men now carried relatively small round bucklers, and iron was the metal chiefly employed for swords, spears, and arrow points. Would the new poets, in deference to tradition, abstain from mentioning cavalry, or small bucklers, or iron swords and spears? or would they avoid puzzling their hearers by speaking of obsolete and unfamiliar forms of tactics and of military equipment? Would they therefore sing of things familiar--of iron weapons, small round shields, hoplites, and cavalry? We shall see that confused and self-contradictory answers are given by criticism to all these questions by scholars who hold that the Epics are not the product of one, but of many ages.
There were other changes between the ages of the original minstrel and of the late successors who are said to have busied themselves in adding to, mutilating, and altering his old poem. Kings and courts had passed away; old Ionian myths and religious usages, unknown to the Homeric poets, had come out into the light; commerce and pleasure and early philosophies were the chief concerns of life. Yet the poems continued to be aristocratic in manners; and, in religion and ritual, to be pure from recrudescences of savage poetry and superstition, though the Ionians "did not drop the more primitive phases of belief which had clung to them; these rose to the surface with the rest of the marvellous Ionic genius, and many an ancient survival was enshrined in the literature or mythology of Athens which had long passed out of all remembrance at Mycenas." [Footnote: _Companion to the Iliad_, p. 7.]
Amazing to say, none of these "more primitive phases of belief," none of the recrudescent savage magic, was intruded by the late Ionian poets into the Iliad which they continued, by the theory. Such phases of belief were, indeed, by their time popular, and frequently appeared in the Cyclic poems on the Trojan war; continuations of the ILIAD, which were composed by Ionian authors at the same time as much of the ILIAD itself (by the theory) was composed. The authors of these Cyclic poems-- authors contemporary with the makers of much of the ILIAD-- were eminently "un-Homeric" in many respects. [Footnote: Cf. Monro, The Cyclic Poets; Odyssey, vol. ii, pp. 342-384.] They had ideas very different from those of the authors of the Iliad and ODYSSEY, as these ideas have reached us.
Helbig states this curious fact, that the Homeric poems are free from many recent or recrudescent ideas common in other Epics composed during the later centuries of the supposed four hundred years of Epic growth. [Footnote: Homerische Epos, p. 3.] Thus a signet ring was mentioned in the Ilias Puma, and there are no rings in Iliad or Odyssey. But Helbig does not perceive the insuperable difficulty which here encounters his hypothesis. He remarks: "In certain poems which were grouping themselves around the Iliad and Odyssey, we meet data absolutely opposed to the conventional style of the Epic." He gives three or four examples of perfectly un-Homeric ideas occurring in Epics of the eighth to seventh centuries, B.C., and a large supply of such cases can be adduced. But Helbig does not ask how it happened that, if poets of these centuries had lost touch with the Epic tradition, and had wandered into a new region of thought, as they had, examples of their notions do not occur in the Iliad and Odyssey. By his theory these poems were being added to and altered, even in their oldest portions, at the very period when strange fresh, or old and newly revived fancies were flourishing. If so, how were the Iliad and Odyssey, unlike the Cyclic poems, kept uncontaminated, as they confessedly were, by the new romantic ideas?
Here is the real difficulty. Cyclic poets of the eighth and seventh centuries had certainly lost touch with the Epic tradition; their poems make that an admitted fact. Yet poets of the eighth to seventh centuries were, by the theory, busily adding to and altering the ancient lays of the Iliad. How did they abstain from the new or revived ideas, and from the new genre of romance? Are we to believe that one set of late Ionian poets--they who added to and altered the Iliad--were true to tradition, while another contemporary set of Ionian poets, the Cyclics--authors of new Epics on Homeric themes--are known to have quite lost touch with the Homeric taste, religion, and ritual? The reply will perhaps be a Cyclic poet said, "Here I am going to compose quite a new poem about the old heroes. I shall make them do and think and believe as I please, without reference to the evidence of the old poems." But, it will have to be added, the rhapsodists of 800-540 B.C., and the general editor of the latter date, thought, we are continuing an old set of lays, and we must be very careful in adhering to manners, customs, and beliefs as described by our predecessors. For instance, the old heroes had only bronze, no iron,--and then the rhapsodists forgot, and made iron a common commodity in the Iliad. Again, the rhapsodists knew that the ancient heroes had no corslets--the old lays, we learn, never spoke of corslets--but they made them wear corslets of much splendour. [Footnote: The reader must remember that the view of the late poets as careful adherents of tradition in usages and ideas only obtains sometimes; at others the critics declare that archaeological precision is not preserved, and that the Ionic continuators introduced, for example, the military gear of their own period into a poem which represents much older weapons and equipments.] This theory does not help us. In an uncritical age poets could not discern that their genre of romance and religion was alien from that of Homer.
To return to the puzzle about the careful and precise continuators of the Iliad, as contrasted with their heedless contemporaries, the authors of the Cyclic poems. How "non-Homeric" the authors of these Cyclic poems were, before and after 660 B.C., we illustrate from examples of their left hand backslidings and right hand fallings off. They introduced (1) The Apotheosis of the Dioscuri, who in Homer (Iliad, III. 243) are merely dead men (Cypria). (2) Story of Iphigenia Cypria. (3) Story of Palamedes, who is killed when angling by Odysseus and Diomede (Cypria).
Homer's heroes never fish, except in stress of dire necessity, in the Odyssey, and Homer's own Diomede and Odysseus would never stoop to assassinate a companion when engaged in the contemplative man's recreation. We here see the heroes in late degraded form as on the Attic stage. (4) The Cyclics introduce Helen as daughter of Nemesis, and describe the flight of Nemesis from Zeus in various animal forms, a Märchen of a sort not popular with Homer; an Ionic Märchen, Mr. Leaf would say. There is nothing like this in the Iliad and Odyssey. (5) They call the son of Achilles, not Neoptolemus, as Homer does, but Pyrrhus. (6) They represent the Achaean army as obtaining supplies through three magically gifted maidens, who produce corn, wine, and oil at will, as in fairy tales. Another Ionic non-Achaean Märchen! They bring in ghosts of heroes dead and buried. Such ghosts, in Homer's opinion, were impossible if the dead had been cremated. All these non-Homeric absurdities, save the last, are from the Cypria, dated by Sir Richard Jebb about 776 B.C., long before the Odyssey was put into shape, namely, after 660 B. C. in his opinion. Yet the alleged late compiler of the Odyssey, in the seventh century, never wanders thus from the Homeric standard in taste. What a skilled archaeologist he must have been! The author of the Cypria knew the Iliad, [Footnote: Monro, Odyssey, vol. ii. p. 354.] but his knowledge could not keep him true to tradition. (7) In the AEthiopis (about 776 B.C.) men are made immortal after death, and are worshipped as heroes, an idea foreign to Iliad and Odyssey. (8) There is a savage ritual of purification from blood shed by a homicide (compare Eumenides, line 273). This is unheard of in Iliad and Odyssey, though familiar to Aeschylus. (9) Achilles, after death, is carried to the isle of Leuke. (10) The fate of Ilium, in the Cyclic Little Iliad, hangs on the Palladium, of which nothing is known in Iliad or Odyssey. The Little Iliad is dated about 700 B.C. (11) The Nostoi mentions Molossians, not named by Homer (which is a trifle); it also mentions the Asiatic city of Colophon, an Ionian colony, which is not a trivial self-betrayal on the part of the poet. He is dated about 750 B.C.
Thus, more than a century before the Odyssey received its final form, after 660 B.C., from the hands of one man (according to the theory), the other Ionian poets who attempted Epic were betraying themselves as non-Homeric on every hand. [Footnote: Monro, Odyssey, vol. ii. pp. 347-383.]
Our examples are but a few derived from the brief notices of the Cyclic poets' works, as mentioned in ancient literature; these poets probably, in fact, betrayed themselves constantly. But their contemporaries, the makers of late additions to the Odyssey, and the later mosaic worker who put it together, never betrayed themselves to anything like the fatal extent of anachronism exhibited by the Cyclic poets. How, if the true ancient tone, taste, manners, and religion were lost, as the Cyclic poets show that they were, did the contemporary Ionian poets or rhapsodists know and preserve the old manner?
The best face we can put on the matter is to say that all the Cyclic poets were recklessly independent of tradition, while all men who botched at the Iliad were very learned, and very careful to maintain harmony in their pictures of life and manners, except when they introduced changes in burial, bride-price, houses, iron, greaves, and corslets, all of them things, by the theory, modern, and when they sang in modern grammar.
Yet despite this conscientiousness of theirs, most of the many authors of our Iliad and Odyssey were, by the theory, strolling irresponsible rhapsodists, like the later jongleurs of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in mediaeval France. How could these strollers keep their modern Ionian ideas, or their primitive, recrudescent phases of belief, out of their lays, as far as they did keep them out, while the contemporary authors of the Cypria, The Sack of Ilios, and other Cyclic poets were full of new ideas, legends, and beliefs, or primitive notions revived, and, save when revived, quite obviously late and quite un-Homeric in any case?
The difficulty is the greater if the Cyclic poems were long poems, with one author to each Epic. Such authors were obviously men of ambition; they produced serious works de longue haleine. It is from them that we should naturally expect conservative and studious adhesion to the traditional models. From casual strollers like the rhapsodists and chanters at festivals, we look for nothing of the sort. They might be expected to introduce great feats done by sergeants and privates, so to speak--men of the nameless [Greek: laos], the host, the foot men--who in Homer are occasionally said to perish of disease or to fall under the rain of arrows, but are never distinguished by name. The strollers, it might be thought, would also be the very men to introduce fairy tales, freaks of primitive Ionian myth, discreditable anecdotes of the princely heroes, and references to the Ionian colonies.
But it is not so; the serious, laborious authors of the long Cyclic poems do such un-Homeric things as these; the gay, irresponsible strolling singers of a lay here and a lay there-- lays now incorporated in the Iliad and Odyssey-- scrupulously avoid such faults. They never even introduce a signet ring. These are difficulties in the theory of the Iliad as a patchwork by many hands, in many ages, which nobody explains; which, indeed, nobody seems to find difficult. Yet the difficulty is insuperable. Even if we take refuge with Wilamowitz in the idea that the Cyclic and Homeric poems were at first mere protoplasm of lays of many ages, and that they were all compiled, say in the sixth century, into so many narratives, we come no nearer to explaining why the tone, taste, and ideas of two such narratives-- Illiad and Odyssey--are confessedly distinct from the tone, taste, and ideas of all the others. The Cyclic poems are certainly the production of a late and changed age? [Footnote: For what manner of audience, if not for readers, the Cyclic poems were composed is a mysterious question.] The Iliad is not in any degree-- save perhaps in a few interpolated passages--touched by the influences of that late age. It is not a complex of the work of four incompatible centuries, as far as this point is concerned-- the point of legend, religion, ritual, and conception of heroic character.
HYPOTHESES OF EPIC COMPOSITION
Whosoever holds that the Homeric poems were evolved out of the lays of many men, in many places, during many periods of culture, must present a consistent and logical hypothesis as to how they attained their present plots and forms. These could not come by accident, even if the plots are not good--as all the world held that they were, till after Wolf's day--but very bad, as some critics now assert. Still plot and form, beyond the power of chance to produce, the poems do possess. Nobody goes so far as to deny that; and critics make hypotheses explanatory of the fact that a single ancient "kernel" of some 2500 lines, a "kernel" altered at will by any one who pleased during four centuries, became a constructive whole. If the hypotheses fail to account for the fact, we have the more reason to believe that the poems are the work of one age, and, mainly, of one man.
In criticising Homeric criticism as it is to-day, we cannot do better than begin by examining the theories of Mr. Leaf which are offered by him merely as "a working hypothesis." His most erudite work is based on a wide knowledge of German Homeric speculation, of the exact science of Grammar, of archaeological discoveries, and of manuscripts. [Footnote: The Iliad. Macmillan & Co. 1900, 1902.] His volumes are, I doubt not, as they certainly deserve to be, on the shelves of every Homeric student, old or young, and doubtless their contents reach the higher forms in schools, though there is reason to suppose that, about the unity of Homer, schoolboys remain conservative.
In this book of more than 1200 pages Mr. Leaf's space is mainly devoted to textual criticism, philology, and pure scholarship, but his Introductions, Notes, and Appendices also set forth his mature ideas about the Homeric problem in general. He has altered some of his opinions since the publication of his _Companion to the Iliad_(1892), but the main lines of his old system are, except on one crucial point, unchanged. His theory we shall try to state and criticise; in general outline it is the current theory of separatist critics, and it may fairly be treated as a good example of such theories.
The system is to the following effect: Greek tradition, in the classical period, regarded the Iliad and Odyssey as the work of one man, Homer, a native of one or other of the Ionian colonies of Asia Minor. But the poems show few obvious signs of origin in Asia. They deal with dwellers, before the Dorian invasion (which the poet never alludes to), on the continent of Europe and in Crete. [Footnote: If the poet sang after the tempest of war that came down with the Dorians from the north, he would probably have sought a topic in the Achaean exploits and sorrows of that period. The Dorians, not the Trojans, would have been the foes. The epics of France of the eleventh and twelfth centuries dwell, not on the real victories of the remote Charlemagne so much as on the disasters of Aliscans and Roncesvaux--defeats at Saracen hands, Saracens being the enemies of the twelfth-century poets. No Saracens, in fact, fought at Roncesvaux.] The lays are concerned with "good old times"; presumably between 1500 and 1100 B.C. Their pictures of the details of life harmonise more with what we know of the society of that period from the evidence of buildings and recent excavations, than with what we know of the life and the much more rude and barbaric art of the so-called "Dipylon" period of "geometrical" ornament considerably later. In the Dipylon age though the use of iron, even for swords (made on the lines of the old bronze sword), was familiar, art was on a most barbaric level, not much above the Bed Indian type, as far, at least, as painted vases bear witness. The human figure is designed as in Tommy Traddles's skeletons; there is, however, some crude but promising idea of composition.
The picture of life in the Homeric poems, then, is more like that of, say, 1500-1100 B.C. than of, say, 1000-850 B.C. in Mr. Leaf's opinion. Certainly Homer describes a wealthy aristocracy, subject to an Over-Lord, who rules, by right divine, from "golden Mycenae." We hear of no such potentate in Ionia. Homer's accounts of contemporary art seem to be inspired by the rich art generally dated about 1500-1200. Yet there are "many traces of apparent anachronism," of divergence from the more antique picture of life. In these divergences are we to recognise the picture of a later development of the ancient existence of 1500-1200 B.C.? Or have elements of the life of a much later age of Greece (say, 800-550 B.C.) been consciously or unconsciously introduced by the late poets? Here Mr. Leaf recognises a point on which we have insisted, and must keep insisting, for it is of the first importance. "It is a priori the most probable" supposition that, "in an uncritical age," poets do not "reproduce the circumstances of the old time," but "only clothe the old tale in the garb of their own days." Poets in an uncritical age always, in our experience, "clothe old tales with the garb of their own time," but Mr. Leaf thinks that, in the case of the Homeric poems, this idea "is not wholly borne out by the facts."
In fact, Mr. Leaf's hypothesis, like Helbig's, exhibits a come- and-go between the theory that his late poets clung close to tradition and so kept true to ancient details of life, and the theory that they did quite the reverse in many cases. Of this frequent examples will occur. He writes, "The Homeric period is certainly later than the shaft tombs" (discovered at Mycenae by Dr. Schliemann), "but it does not necessarily follow that it is post-Mycenaean. It is quite possible that certain notable differences between the poems and the monuments" (of Mycenae) "in burial, for instance, and in women's dress may be due to changes which arose within the Mycenaean age itself, in that later part of it of which our knowledge is defective--almost as defective as it is of the subsequent 'Dipylon' period. On the whole, the resemblance to the typical Mycenaean culture is more striking than the difference." [Footnote: Leaf, Iliad, vol. i. pp. xiii.-xv. 1900.]
So far Mr. Leaf states precisely the opinion for which we argue. The Homeric poems describe an age later than that of the famous tombs--so rich in relics--of the Mycenaean acropolis, and earlier than the tombs of the Dipylon of Athens. The poems thus spring out of an age of which, except from the poems themselves, we know little or nothing, because, as is shown later, no cairn burials answering to the frequent Homeric descriptions have ever been discovered--so relics corroborating Homeric descriptions are to seek. But the age attaches itself in many ways to the age of the Mycenaean tombs, while, in our opinion, it stands quite apart from the post-Dorian culture.
Where we differ from Mr. Leaf is in believing that the poems, as wholes, were composed in that late Mycenaean period of which, from material remains, we know very little; that "much new" was not added, as he thinks, in "the Ionian development" which lasted perhaps "from the ninth century B.C. to the seventh." We cannot agree with Mr. Leaf, when he, like Helbig, thinks that much of the detail of the ancient life in the poems had early become so "stereotyped" that no continuator, however late, dared "intentionally to sap" the type, "though he slipped from time to time into involuntary anachronism." Some poets are also asserted to indulge in voluntaryanachronism when, as Mr. Leaf supposes, they equip the ancient warriors with corslets and greaves and other body armour of bronze such as, in his opinion, the old heroes never knew, such as never were mentioned in the oldest parts or "kernel" of the poems. Thus the traditional details of Mycenaean life sometimes are regarded as "stereotyped" in poetic tradition; sometimes as subject to modern alterations of a sweeping and revolutionary kind.
As to deliberate adherence to tradition by the poets, we have proved that the Cyclic epic poets of 800-660 B.C. wandered widely from the ancient models. If, then, every minstrel or rhapsodist who, anywhere, added at will to the old "kernel" of the Achilles was, so far as he was able, as conscientiously precise in his stereotyped archaeological details as Mr. Leaf sometimes supposes, the fact is contrary to general custom in such cases. When later poets in an uncritical age take up and rehandle the poetic themes of their predecessors, they always give to the stories "a new costume," as M. Gaston Paris remarks in reference to thirteenth century dealings with French epics of the eleventh century. But, in the critics' opinion, the late rehandlers of old Achaean lays preserved the archaic modes of life, war, costume, weapons, and so forth, with conscientious care, except in certain matters to be considered later, when they deliberately did the very reverse. Sometimes the late poets devoutly follow tradition. Sometimes they deliberately innovate. Sometimes they pedantically "archaise," bringing in genuine, but by their time forgotten, Mycenaean things, and criticism can detect their doings in each case.
Though the late continuators of the Iliad were able, despite certain inadvertencies, to keep up for some four centuries in Asia the harmonious picture of ancient Achaean life and society in Europe, critics can distinguish four separate strata, the work of many different ages, in the Iliad. Of the first stratum composed in Europe, say about 1300-1150 B.C. (I give a conjectural date under all reserves), the topic was _THE Wrath of ACHILLES_. Of this poem, in Mr. Leaf's opinion, (a) the First Book and fifty lines of the Second Book remain intact or, perhaps, are a blend of two versions. (b) The Valour of Agamemnon and Defeat of THE Achaeans. Of this there are portions in Book XI., but they were meddled with, altered, and generally doctored, "down to the latest period," namely, the age of Pisistratus in Athens, the middle of the sixth century B.C. (c) The fight in which, after their defeat, the Achaeans try to save the ships from the torch of Hector, and the _Valour of Patroclus_ (but some critics do not accept this), with his death (XV., XVI. in parts). (d) Some eighty lines on the _ARMING OF ACHILLES_ (XIX.). (e) Perhaps an incident or two in Books XX., XXI. (f) The Slaying OFby Achilles, in Books XXI., XXII. (but some of the learned will not admit this, and we shall, unhappily, have to prove that, if Mr. Leaf's principles be correct, we really know nothing about the SLAYING OF HECTOR in its original form).
Of these six elements only did the original poem consist, Mr. Leaf thinks; a rigid critic will reject as original even the _Valour of Patroclus and the DEATH OF HECTOR_, but Mr. Leaf refuses to go so far as that. The original poem, as detected by him, is really "the work of a single poet, perhaps the greatest in all the world's history." If the original poet did no more than is here allotted to him, especially if he left out the purpose of Zeus and the person of Thetis in Book I., we do not quite understand his unapproachable greatness. He must certainly have drawn a rather commonplace Achilles, as we shall see, and we confess to preferring the Iliad as it stands.
The brief narrative cut out of the mass by Mr. Leaf, then, was the genuine old original poem or "kernel." What we commonly call the ILIAD, on the other hand, is, by his theory, a thing of shreds and patches, combined in a manner to be later described. The blend, we learn, has none of the masterly unity of the old original poem. Meanwhile, as criticism of literary composition is a purely literary question, critics who differ from Mr. Leaf have a right to hold that the Iliad as it stands contains, and always did contain, a plot of masterly perfection. We need not attend here so closely to Mr. Leaf's theory in the matter of the First Expansions, (2) and the Second Expansions, (3) but the latest Expansions (4) give the account of The EMBASSY to Achilles with his refusal of _Agamemnon's APOLOGY_(Book IX.), the [blank space] (Book XXIV.), the _RECONCILIATION OF ACHILLES AND Agamemnon, AND the FUNERAL Games of Patroclus_ (XXIII.). In all these parts of the poem there are, we learn, countless alterations, additions, and expansions, with, last of all, many transitional passages, "the work of the editor inspired by the statesman," that is, of an hypothetical editor who really by the theory made our ILIAD, being employed to that end by Pistratus about 540 B.C. [Footnote: Leaf, Iliad, vol. ii. pp. x., xiv. 1900.].
Mr. Leaf and critics who take his general view are enabled to detect the patches and tatters of many ages by various tests, for example, by discovering discrepancies in the narrative, such as in their opinion no one sane poet could make. Other proofs of multiplex authorship are discovered by the critic's private sense of what the poem ought to be, by his instinctive knowledge of style, by detection of the poet's supposed errors in geography, by modernisms and false archaisms in words and grammar, and by the presence of many objects, especially weapons and armour, which the critic believes to have been unknown to the original minstrel.
Thus criticism can pick out the things old, fairly old, late, and quite recent, from the mass, evolved through many centuries, which is called the Iliad.
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