The World of Homer - Andrew Lang - E-Book

The World of Homer E-Book

Andrew Lang

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The World of Homer is a book by Andrew Lang. Contents: Homer's World. The Four Ages Homeric Lands And Peoples Homeric Polity. The Over Lord Homer's World In Peace Men And Women The Homeric World In War Homeric Tactics and more.

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Andrew Lang

The World of Homer

EAN 8596547012443
DigiCat, 2022 Contact: [email protected]

Table of Contents



In 1895 I published Homer and the Epic (pp. 424), containing a criticism of Wolf's theory, if theory it can be called, which is the mother of modern Homeric criticism. I analysed, book by book, the Iliad and the Odyssey, observing on the modern ideas of interpolation and the modern objections to many scores of passages which, as a rule, I defended from charges of "lateness" and inconsistency.

I added chapters on the Lost Epics of Greece, on Archeology, and on the early Epic poetry of other ages and peoples which offers analogies, more or less imperfect, with Homer.

On the whole my conclusions were identical with those of Signor Comparetti, in his preface to his learned book on the Finnish Kalewala. He says:

"The anatomical and conjectural analysis which has been applied so often and so long … to the Homeric poems and other national epics, proceeds from an universal abstract principle, which is correct, and from a concrete application of that principle, which is imaginary and groundless."

The true principle, recognised since the end of the eighteenth century, separates the "personal" and learned Art Epics, like the Æneid and the Gerusalemme Liberata, from those which belong to the period of spontaneous epic production, "when Folk-singers fashioned many epic lays of small or moderate compass." (Perhaps Folk-singers is hardly the right term. Such songs of exploits as the Borderers "made themselves," as Bishop Lesley said in 1578, were not "epic lays," but ballads like "Jock o' the Side," and "Archie o' Cafield," and "Johnie Cock," despite its name the most romantic of all.)

"These epic lays were called 'national' or 'popular,' not only by virtue of their contents, sentiment, and audience, but mainly because the poetry which takes this form is natural, collective, popular, and hence 'national' in its origin and development." (By "collective" I understand the author to mean, not that a whole country-side automatically and collectively bellows out a new ballad, but that the original author uses traditional formulae in verse wherever he can, and that his ballad is altered in the course of recitation by others, so that any version which has been obtained from recitation is, in fact, one of many variants which have arisen in course of time and recitation.)

"The baseless application of this principle is to regard the national poems not as creations of a single poet, but as put together out of shorter pre-existing lays (either by a single person at one time, or by several in succession), until the final fashioning of the poem. And this process is conceived of as a mere stringing together, without any sort of fusion, so that a critical philologist, thanks to his special sharpness and by aid of certain criteria, would be in a position to recognise the joinings, and to recover the lays out of which the poem has been made up.

"With this preconceived idea people have gone on anatomising the Epics; from Lachmann to the present day they have not desisted, although so far no positive satisfactory and harmonious results have been won. This restless business of analysis, which has lasted so long, impatient of its own fruitlessness, yet unconvinced of it, builds up and pulls down, and builds again, while its shifting foundations, its insufficient and falsely applied criteria, condemn it to remain fruitless, tedious, and repulsive. The observer marks with amazement the degree of intellectual shortsightedness produced by excessive and exclusive analysis. The investigator becomes a sort of man-microscope, who can see atoms but not bodies; motes, and these magnified, but not beams."

Comparetti proceeds: "No doubt before the epic there existed the shorter lays; but what is the relation of the lays to the epic? Is the epic a mere material synthesis of lays, or does it stand to them as a thing higher in the scale of poetic organisms—does it move on a loftier plane, attaining higher, broader conceptions, and a new style appropriate to these?" Notoriously the epic infinitely transcends in scale, breadth of conception, and grandeur of style any brief popular lays of which we have knowledge. It never was made by stringing them together.

So much for the little lay theory. "But there remains the nucleus theory" (the theory of "the kernel"), "for example of an original Achilleis" (the Menis) expanded by self-denying poets into an Iliad. Comparetti does not believe that a poet would fashion lays "to be inserted in a greater work already constructed by others, nor that he would have done this with so much regard for other men's work, and with such strict limitation of his own, that the modern erudite can recognise the joinings, and distinguish the original kernel and each of the later additions."

Here Wolf anticipated Comparetti, he did not believe that the additions could be detected.

But Comparetti does not reckon with his host. The astute critics tell us that the later poets did not compose "with so much respect for other men's work"; far from that, the poet of Iliad ix. calmly turned the work of the poet of Iliad xvi. into nonsense, we are told (see infra, "The Great Discrepancies"). Again, the critics will say that a later poet did not "fashion lays to be inserted in another man's work." He merely fashioned lays. Much later other men, the Pisistratean, or Solonian, or Hipparchian Committee of Recension, took his lays and foisted them into the middle of another man's work, making every kind of blunder and discrepancy in the process of making everything smooth and neat.

Comparetti goes on: "The difficulty is increased when we have to do with epics which seem in all their parts to be composed on a definite plan, which exists in the final poem, not in the supposed kernel. The organic unity, the harmony, the relation of all the portions, which are arranged so as to lead up to the final catastrophe, are such as to imply the agreement and homogeneity of the poetic creation in a common idea, and, moreover, resting on that idea—a limitation of the creative processes."

Comparetti, I fear, forgets that his "man-microscopes" see none of these things; "they see the mote, not the beam." Finally, granting the pre-existence of a mass of poetic material, "He who could extract from this mass the epics which we possess, and not a kind of Greek Mahabharata, would have produced, at all events, such a work of genius that in fairness he must be called not merely the redactor, but the author and poet."

How true is all that Comparetti says of "this restless business of analysis, which has lasted so long, impatient of its own fruitlessness, yet unconvinced of it! It builds up, and pulls down, and builds again, while its insufficient and falsely applied criteria condemn it to remain fruitless, tedious, and repulsive."

"Our little systems have their day." "They have their day, and cease to be." The little system which explained the Iliad as a mass, or rather a concatenation of short lays, "has had its day." The system of a primal "kernel" (Books i., xi., xvi., and so forth)—a kernel more archaic in language than Books ix., x., xxiii., xxiv.—is also perishing, "stricken through with doubt." The linguistic analysis of Miss Stawell (Homer and the Iliad, 1909) and, in America, of Professor Scott, has fatally damaged the linguistic tests of books for earliness and lateness.

The most advanced German critics find that Book i. of the Iliad is no longer that genuine kernel which, with certain other passages, represents the primal Menis, or "wrath of Achilles," as opposed to the later accretions of three or four centuries. Das ist ausgespielt! The "kernel" hypothesis is doomed. Its cornerstone—Book i. of the Iliad, is, by the builders of new theories, rejected; it is now one of the latest additions to the Iliad.[1] Only to one point is criticism steadfast. The Iliad must be a thing of rags and tatters; and it is torn up by the process of misstating its statements and finding "discrepancies" in the statements misstated.

Again, as even Comparetti's "man-microscopes" could not well help seeing that the epics, though not good enough as compositions for them, still are compositions; have, in a way, organic unity, harmony, adjusted relations of all the portions, some critics tried to account for the facts as the result of the labours of the Pisistratean, or Solonian, or Hipparchian Committee of Recension at Athens, in the sixth century B.C. But so many critics of all shades of opinion have rejected this hypothesis, even with scorn, as "a worthless fable," "an absurd legend," part of Homeric mythology (Blass, Meyer, Mr. T. W. Alien, D. B. Monro, Nutzhorn, Grote, and many others), that it can scarcely be restored even by the learned ingenuity of Mr. Verrall.[2]

In defect of the late Recension, which is wholly destitute of historic evidence, a poet, a Dichter, has to be sought somewhere, and at some period of the supposed "evolution" of the Iliad. He may lawfully be sought, it seems, at any period of the history of the poem, except at the point where, in fact, the poet is always found, namely at the beginning. The search for the poet will never find him anywhere else. He cannot be made to fit into the eighth or seventh or sixth century; it is useless to look for him at the Court of Croesus! A poem purely Achaean had an Achaean author.

None of the many critical keys fits the lock. The linguistic key breaks itself, it cannot break the wards.

Archaeology is used as a test of passages very early and very late; and the archaeology is also wrong, demonstrably fallacious. The archaeologists themselves, Mr. Arthur Evans and Mr. Ridgeway, will have none of Reichel's key. Whatever archaeology may prove, it does not prove what Reichel and his followers believed it to demonstrate. If I succeed in convincing any separatist critics that the costume and armour in the Iliad are much less like the costume and armour of Ionia in the seventh century B.C. than like those of Athens at the end of the sixth and beginning of the fifth centuries, these critics will probably be grateful. Here, they may perhaps say, is proof of our late Athenian recension, by which the actual Athenian dress and armour of 540–480 were written into the ancient poems.

I would agree with them if the members of the Committee of Recension had excised the huge Homeric shields, introduced cavalry in place of chariotry, iron instead of bronze weapons; excised the bride-price in marriage law, introduced the rite of purification of homicides by pigs' blood, and generally, in a score of other ways, for example by introducing hero-worship, had brought the Iliad "up to date." But as I cannot easily conceive that only armour and costume were brought up to date, I suppose that the whirligig of time and fashion had reverted in Athens to hauberks of scales in place of the uniform use of back-plate and breast-plate, and had also deserted the Ionian and early Hellenic cypassis, the Aegean loin-cloth or bathing-drawers for the longer and loose Homeric chiton.

If each critic would publish his own polychrome Iliad, with "primitive" passages printed in gold, "secondary" in red, "tertiary" in blue, "very late" in green, with orange for "the Pisistratean editor," purple for the "diaskeuast," and mauve for "fragments of older epics" stuck in the context, and so on, the differences that prevail among the professors of the Higher Criticism would be amazingly apparent.

One writer of a book on Homer has accused me of neglecting "science" in favour of mere literary appreciation, and of "trying to set back the hands on the clock of criticism." Really I want to clean and regulate that timepiece, which reminds one of

"The crazy old church-clock And the bewildered chimes,"

in Wordsworth's poem.

Never were chimes more bewildered, verdicts more various, and contradictions in terms more innocently combined than in the higher criticism of Homer. It is necessary and right that men's opinions should alter, in consequence of reflection, and of the increase of our knowledge of prehistoric Greece, through the revelations of excavators on the ancient sites of a rediscovered world. It is natural that Homeric critics should sometimes contradict themselves and each other. But they contradict each other so constantly and confidently that, clearly, their conclusions are not to be called conclusions of science.

That in one book a critic should reject, let us say, the hypothesis of the "Pisistratean recension" of the epics, and, in his next book, accept it, is nothing. Reflection has caused him to change his opinion. But when, in one book, in one chapter, perhaps in one page, a critic, without perceiving it, bases his argument on contradictions in terms, then his house is founded on the sand, and needs no tempest to overthrow its pinnacles and towers.

Through indulgence in fantastic theory-making, and through disregard of logical consistency, Homeric criticism has become, as Blass vigorously put the case in his latest work, "a swamp haunted by wandering fires, will-o'-the-wisps."

In 1906, in Homer and his Age, I again studied the Homeric Question, with particular reference to fresh archaeological discoveries, and to the contradictory methods, as I reckon them, which critics have employed in the effort to prove that the Homeric epics are mosaics, composed in, and confusing the manners and usages of, four or five prehistoric and proto-historic ages.

I do not now reprint either of my earlier books on Homer. Further study appears to have made many points more clear than they were. It is especially clear that "the Ionian father of the rest," as Tennyson calls Homer, is not Ionian; that the early Ionian settlers in Asia respected Homer's matter, which is Achaean, and did not intermingle with it any traits of their own very different beliefs, rites, tastes, morals, usages, armour and costume.

By the term "Ionian" I here mean to speak of the works composed in the Ionian settlements in Asia, probably in the eighth to seventh centuries B.C., and of the non-Homeric beliefs, rites, usages, costume and armour of the same people and period. Most of these beliefs, usages, and rites also mark historic Hellas, and very probably existed in the early populations of Greece before the dominance of Homer's Achaeans.

On the chronological period, as determined by archaeology, in which the Iliad and Odyssey were composed, I am fortunate in having the support of Mr. Arthur Evans, the chief authority in this matter; while Mr. T. W. Allen, our leading textual critic, is persuaded of the fact of Homeric unity. Where language is concerned (as has been said), the linguistic Appendices to Miss Stawell's Homer and the Iliad (1909), with the minute and elaborate studies of Professor Scott of the North-Western University, Illinois,[3] seem to me to overthrow the separatist conclusions as to the presence of an earlier stage of language and metre in some books; a later, or "Odyssean" stage in other books of the Iliad. I have seen scarcely any public criticism in reply to Miss Stawell and Professor Scott on these essential points, in which I have not scholarship enough to pretend to be a judge.

Meanwhile my friend, Mr. Shewan, has in preparation a comprehensive criticism of the separatist arguments, especially those drawn from language and metre; a work which, I venture to think, it will not be easy, and will not be fair, to ignore.

All my writings on the Homeric question are, necessarily, controversial. The reaction against the suggestion of Wolf, against a critical tradition of a century's standing, has begun in earnest. But the friends of that tradition are eminently learned, and occupy the highest places in scholarship and education. Scholars as eminent, who differ from them, as a rule, are content to keep their own opinions, and remain silent. If the views of the reaction, of the believers in Homeric unity, in the epics as the wonderful legacy of the brief prehistoric Achaean age, are to prevail, the opposing ideas must be assailed, and if possible confuted. In all controversy the constant danger is the tendency to misunderstand opponents. As a rule, A. supposes B. to be holding this or that position. A. assails and captures it, but B. was holding quite another position. A. has misunderstood his case. Critics of works of mine, on other subjects, have often missed my meaning, and I am therefore constrained to suppose that I may have, in like manner, misconstrued some of the opinions of others, which, as I understand them, I am obliged to contest. I have done my best to understand, and will deeply regret any failures of interpretation on my part.

Mr. Gilbert Murray, whose opinions I am obliged to oppose in the course of "the struggle for existence," has, with very great kindness and courtesy, read my proof sheets, and enabled me to give a less inaccurate statement of his position. On one point where I had misapprehended it, I have added an Appendix, "The Lost Epics and the Homeric Epics."

I owe more than I can easily express to the kindness of my friend, Mr. A. Shewan, of St. Andrews, who read and corrected my first proofs (any surviving errors are due to my own want of care), and who has lent me books and papers from his Homeric collection.

Mr. R. M. Dawkins, Head of the British School of Athens, has had the goodness to read my chapters on Homeric, Ionian, and historic armour and costume, and I have quoted the gist of his letters on points where he differs from my conclusions. The topic of female costume is peculiarly difficult and disputable.

A. LANG.September 9, 1910.

[1] Vinzler, Homer, p. 597 ff.

[2] See Appendix B, "The Supposed Athenian Recension."

[3] "Odyssean Words found in but One Book of the Iliad" (Classical Philology, vol. v. p. 41 ff.). "The Relative Antiquity of the Iliad and Odyssey tested by Abstract Nouns" (Classical Review, vol. xxiv., p. 8 ff.).




Table of Contents



Table of Contents

"Homer's world," "the world that Homer knew," these are familiar phrases; and criticism is apt to tell us that they are empty phrases. Nevertheless when we use them we think of that enchanted land, so clearly seen in the light of "the Sun of Greece"; in the light of Homer. It is a realm of splendid wars, of gleaming gold and bronze, of noble men and of the most beautiful of women, which shines through a rift in the mists that hide the years before it and the years that followed. Can what appears so brilliant, so living, so solid, have been unreal, the baseless fabric of a vision; of a dream, too, that Homer never dreamed, for there was no Homer? The Homeric picture of life, the critics tell us, displays no actual scene of past human existence, and is not even the creation of one man's fantasy. It is but a bright medley and mosaic of coloured particles that came together fortuitously, or were pieced together clumsily, like some church window made up of fragments of stained mediaeval glass. "Homeric civilisation," says a critic, "is like Homeric language; as the one was never spoken, so the other was never lived by any one society."[1]

It is the object of this book to prove, on the other hand, that Homeric civilisation, in all its details, was lived at a brief given period; that it was real. This could never be demonstrated till of recent years; till search with the spade on ancient sites that were ruinous or were built over anew in the historic times of Greece, revealed to us the ages that were before Homer, and that succeeded his day. By dint of excavations in the soil we now know much of the great Aegean or Minoan culture that was behind Homer; and know not a little of the Dark Ages that followed the disruption of his Achaean society.

In studying Homer, and the predecessors and successors of the men of his Achaean time, we find ourselves obliged to take into account Four distinct Ages, and the culture of two or perhaps three distinct peoples; the pre-Homeric population of the Aegean coasts and isles; the Homeric Achaeans: and the historic Greeks, who appear to descend from, and to hold of both the pre-Homeric and the Homeric strains of blood and civilisation.

Turning then to what we shall style the Four Ages, we observe first, that which is called the "Late Minoan," namely the bloom, in Crete and on the mainland, of a civilisation even then very ancient, having its focus, and chief manifestation, in the isle of the Hundred Cities. Here the art is most graphic, a revelation of the life; the palaces are most numerous and most magnificent; the towns are most tranquil, being unwalled, as the palaces are unfortified; while the arrangements, as for sanitation; and the costume of the women at some periods, are quite modern in character. Separate bodices and skirts, heavily flounced, were worn; through all varieties of fashion the dresses were sewn and shaped. Men did not, as a rule, wear the Homeric smock or chiton, but loin-cloths or bathing-drawers. Brooches or fibulae, like safety pins, were not in use.

This culture had also in a less remarkable degree affected the mainland of Greece. It was an Age of bronze, for weapons and implements, with this peculiarity, that, while arrow tips were often of stone, beautifully chipped flint, or of keen black glass-like obsidian, iron was known, a few large finger-rings of iron occur in graves; the metal being rare and strange. It was an Age of linear writing, on clay tablets, or in ink with pen or reed. The dead, perhaps occasionally embalmed, were buried in shaft tombs hewn deep in the rock; or in "beehive"-shaped sepulchres with chambers, often sunk in the side of a hill. With the dead were laid their arms of bronze, golden ornaments, crystal and ivory, and silver, and cups and vases of peculiar fashion, fabric, and decoration.

Concerning the language or languages of the people of this First Age, nothing is known with certainty, as their writing has not been deciphered. We know that they were and had long been in touch with Egypt, and the highly civilised Egyptian society. Egyptian objects are found in the ruins of Cretan palaces; Cretan pottery is abundant in the soil of Egypt; and their envoys, in Egyptian wall-pictures, bear ingots and golden cups of their fashioning, as presents or as tribute to Egyptian kings. Their palaces, about 1450–1400 B.C. (?) were sacked and consumed by fire, but their culture, and even their writing, continued to exist with dwindling vitality. Of the religion we speak later.

Then comes the Second Age, the period represented in the Homeric poems. Greek is their language, whether the people of the Cretan culture on the mainland of Greece had previously spoken Greek, or a cognate language, or not. Iron had ceased to be a rare metal used only for rings; it was now employed for tools and implements, occasionally for arrow-heads, and was an article of commerce; but bronze was the metal for swords, spears, and body armour; and stone was no longer used for arrow points; leather no longer, as previously, sufficed for shield coverings, bronze plating was needed. The dead were not now buried merely, they were cremated, as often in ancient central and northern Europe, and as in these regions the bones were placed in urns of gold, bronze, or pottery, wrapped in linen, and bestowed in a stone-built chamber, beneath a mound or cairn of earth, on which was set a memorial pillar.[2]

Treasures do not appear to have been buried with the dead, as a rule. A new costume, a northern costume, had come in, not sewn and shaped, as in the previous age, but fastened with pins and fibulae, "safety pins," such as were in use in northern regions, in the basin of the Danube, Bosnia, and North Italy. This is the costume and these are the pins and brooches described by Homer.

The Third Age, subsequent to the Homeric, is a dark period; illustrated by the vases and other objects found at ancient "Tiryns of the mighty walls"; and by the contents of the cemetery outside of the Dipylon gate at Athens; in Cretan sites and elsewhere. The nature of the civilisation (called "the Dipylon") will be described later. It is the fully developed age of iron for weapons and implements; riding of horses is superseding the war-chariots, common to both preceding periods; art is represented by both decadent Minoan work, and rude vase-paintings of human existence. The dead, with humbler treasures, are more frequently buried than burned; cairns are not raised over them; the costume of women appears to have been, occasionally at least, a survival from or revival of that of the First Age, the separate skirt and bodice.

The Fourth Age is the archaic or "proto-historic" period of Greece. It is represented by objects found in the soil of Sparta of the ninth to seventh centuries; by objects of the eighth to seventh century used by Ionian settlers in Asia, as at Ephesus; and by "proto-Athenian" "post-Dipylon" vases and other archaic remains in art; while, later, come the Black Figure vases of the early sixth century, to which succeed the more accomplished painters of the Red Figure vases (late sixth and early fifth centuries). In this period male costume was often more of the first or Aegean, than of the second or Homeric Age.

Now, according to the majority of critics of Homer, the life, with all its details, which he describes, is not that of a single age, our second, but is a mosaic of all Four Ages. "The first rhapsodies were born in the bronze age, in the day of the ponderous Mykenaean shield—the last in the iron age, when men armed themselves with breastplate and light round buckler. The whole view of life and death, of divine and human polity had changed."[3]

If this be true, the Homeric world as depicted in the poems existed only in fancy; it is a medley of four periods extending over some six centuries or more, and the Homeric picture must be a mere chaos as regards costume, manners, rites, armour, tactics, laws, geographical knowledge, domestic life, and everything. Is it such a chaos? The critics say that it is, and seek for proof in the poems. They find anachronisms and inconsistencies as to armour (but not costume), as to rites, as to marriage laws, as to houses, as to tactics, as to land tenure; but the inconsistencies and anachronisms at most are petty, and, we are to argue, at most represent such minute variations from the norm as occur in all societies, savage or civilised.

For the Homeric period, except in the case of the fibulae marking the change of costume in the Second Age, we have little evidence except in the Homeric poems themselves. No Homeric cairns with their characteristic contents have been discovered by modern scientific experts, a point to be discussed later. But for our Fourth Age we have literary evidence, that of the remains and epitomes of the Cyclic poems, composed in Ionia, about the eighth to seventh centuries, by the poets of the Ionian settlers in Asia, who were dominated by Attic, not Achaean traditions. These poems, we are to show (see "The Cyclic Poems") differ immensely, in descriptions of rites and of religion, and in the characters of heroes, in their pseudo-historic legends, and in geographical knowledge, from the pictures given by Homer. The Ionian armour, too, and round or oval blazoned bucklers worn on the left arm, as displayed in archaic and early Black Figure vases, are widely different from Homeric armour, and from the huge Homeric shield, unblazoned, suspended by a belt or baldric.

The Fourth Age, in fact, is represented by its own epic poetry, and by its own art; and its representations of armour, religion, rites, personages, and traditions, are never intruded into our Homeric epics. The two ages stand apart. The Homeric world is not that of the Fourth Age. There is no mosaic, except in the epic poetry of the Fourth Age, which imitated the Homeric poetry, but is full of conspicuous anachronisms in essential points.

Though the details of life in the Second and Fourth periods—the Homeric or Achaean and the Ionian, stand conspicuously apart, modern criticism, we have said, represents them as inextricably mingled in our Homer, and naturally thus confused, for what is most ancient in our Homer is said to have been worked over and recomposed by the poets of Ionia; in Ionia, we are told, Homer had a second birth, and our Homer is half-Ionian.

The critical case is well stated thus: "There is, on the whole, a striking resemblance between the life of Homer's heroes in its material aspects and the [Aegean] remains" [of our First Age] "which have been discovered at Tiryns, Mykene, and elsewhere. The two cultures are not identical, but, beyond doubt, the Homeric resembles in the main the Mykenaean rather than that of the "Dipylon" (so far as we know it), or the archaic Greek. The ancient tradition is on the whole truly kept in the Epos. Yet in many points we can see traces of apparent anachronisms," whether the departure from the "Mykenaean" be "due to a later development of that culture itself, or to an unintentional introduction of elements from the very different conditions of later Greece."[4] In the Epics carried to Asia, says our author, "much of the old was faithfully preserved, though adapted to new hearers, much being new added." "We meet with so many inconsistencies so closely interwoven that the tangle may well seem beyond our powers to unravel."[5]

When novelties were intentionally added the purpose was to please listeners later by many centuries than those for whom the original poets sang; to please the active commercial citizens of Ionia, who had not the polity, nor the armour, nor the war-chariots, nor the weapons, nor the costume, nor the beliefs, nor the burial rites, nor the marriage customs, nor the houses, nor the tactics, nor the domestic life, and had more than the geographical knowledge of the people who listened to the original minstrel. Each of the novelties supposed to have been introduced to gratify new hearers, each novelty in armour, weapons, tactics, would only produce in the Iliad an unintelligible and chaotic blend, such as, the critics tell us, actually was produced—a tangle which we cannot unravel. The fighting scenes, in particular, thanks to the retention of old armour and tactics, and the simultaneous introduction of novelties to please practical readers, must have passed all understanding, and, as we are told, they make nonsense. No practical hearers in that case could have endured the confusion, a point to be demonstrated in detail.[6]

Let us remember, too, that the novelties said to have been introduced were of the pettiest kind. The Iliad and Odyssey retain a non-Ionian polity: non-Ionian burial rites; non-Ionian marriage customs (in which a change is detected in one case); non-Ionian houses; non-Ionian shields, non-Ionian armour, non-Ionian military tactics; while truly and specially Ionian rites and beliefs and geographical knowledge are all absent. Why should poets who were innovating have left the whole Homeric picture standing except in certain minute details of corslets, greaves, bride-price, and upper storeys and separate sleeping chambers in houses?

It is our opinion, therefore, that the details of life in the poems are all old and all congruous; while we find the "much new" abundantly present, not in Homer, but in the fragments and summaries of the contents of the "Cyclic" Ionian Epics, dating from the age (770–650 B.C.) when the novelties are supposed to have been most copiously foisted into the Iliad and Odyssey—in which, as a matter of fact, they never appear. Far from altering the old epics, I hope to show that the Ionians laboured at constructing new epics, the "Cyclics"; partly for the purpose of connecting their ancestors with ancient heroic events in which, according to Homeric tradition, their ancestors played no part; partly to tell the whole tale of Troy.

The task of these Ionian poets was later taken up by the Athenian tragedians, and a non-Homeric, we may say almost an anti-Homeric tradition was established, was accepted by Virgil and by the late Greek compiler, Dictys of Crete; and finally reached and was elaborated by the romancers of the Christian Middle Ages.

It is not easy to do justice to this theory except in a perpetual running fight with the believers in the Ionian moulders of the Homeric poems into their actual form with its contents. Now few things are more unpleasant than a running fight of controversial argument, the reader is lost in the jangle and clash of opinions and replies, often concerned with details at once insignificant and obscure. Into such minutiae I would not enter, if they were not the main stock of separatist critics.

On the whole, then, it seems best to describe, first, as far as we may, the age preceding that of Homer, and then the Homeric world, just as the poet paints it, without alluding to differences of critical opinion. These are discussed later, and separately.

[1]Church Quarterly Review, vol. xi. p. 414. It is easy to recognise the anonymous writer.

[2] It does not follow, in my opinion, that the change in burial customs necessarily implies the advent of a new and strange "race" on the scene. Mr. Ridgeway writes that the discovery in the Roman Forum of "graves exhibiting two different ways of disposing of the dead—the one class inhumation, the other cremation, of itself" is "a proof of the existence of two races with very different views respecting the soul." ("Who were the Romans?" Proceedings of the British Academy, vol. iii. p. 7. (Tiré à part.) The word "race" has the vaguest meaning, but the Tasmanians are usually supposed to have been a fairly unmixed "race." Yet they buried, as do the Australian tribes, in a variety of ways, cremation, inhumation, tree burial, and in other fashions, and all sorts of beliefs about the soul co-existed. (See Ling Roth, The Tasmanians, pp. 128–134.) Methods of burial do not afford proof of varieties of "race."

[3] Leaf, Iliad, vol. ii., 1902, p. x.

[4] Leaf, Iliad, vol. i. pp. xiv, xv.

[5]Ibid., vol. ii. p. x. Much of the "new," we must remark, was added, on this theory, not "unintentionally," but consciously and purposefully.

[6] See "Homeric Arms and Costume," and "Homeric Tactics," infra.



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Homer conceives of his heroes as living in an age indefinitely remote: their epoch "has won its way to the mythical." They are often sons or grandsons of Gods: the Gods walk the earth among them, friendly, amorous, or hostile. From this fact, more than from the degeneracy in physical force which Homer often attributes to his contemporaries, we see that the mist of time and the glamour of romance have closed over the heroes.

But this might happen in the course of a pair of centuries. In the French Chansons de Geste of 1080–1300, Charlemagne (circ. 814), a perfectly historical character to us—has become almost as mythical as Arthur to the poets. He conquers Saracens as Arthur conquers all western Europe; he visits Constantinople; he is counselled by visible angels, who to some degree play the part of the gods in Homer.

Perhaps two or three centuries may separate Homer from any actual heroic princes of whom traditions have reached him. Modern research holds that the Achaeans of Homer, by infiltration and by conquest, had succeeded to more civilised owners of Greece.

But Homer has nothing to say about a conquest of Greece by the Achaeans, Danaans, Argives, and the rest, from the north, except in two cases. He speaks of combats with wild mountain-dwelling tribes in Thessaly, in Nestor's youth. Nestor knew "the strongest of men who warred with the strongest, the mountain-dwelling Pheres,"[1] shaggy folk, says the Catalogue, whom Peirithous drove out of Pelion in northern Thessaly, and forced back on the Aethices of Pindus in the west.[2] It appears, from recent excavations, that the age of stone lingered long in these regions, and the people were probably rude and uncultivated, like the Centaurs.

The recent excavators of Zerelia, north-east of the Spercheios valley, the home of Achilles, write that their discoveries in the soil "clearly point to the fact that in prehistoric times the cultures of North and South Greece were radically different. This probably indicates an ethnological difference as well."[3] Before the period when "Late Minoan III." pottery occurs in Thessaly, the people used stone tools and weapons, and knew not the potter's wheel. It may not, therefore, be too fanciful to regard Nestor's tales of fights with a wild mountain race as shadowy memories of actual Achaean conquests in Thessaly, where Aegean culture arrived very much later than in Southern Greece.

Secondly, Homer twice speaks of regions as "Pelasgian," in which he represents the actual inhabitants as Hellenes and Achaeans, not Pelasgic. These regions are the realm of Achilles in south-west Thessaly; and Epirus.[4] But the actual Pelasgians whom Homer knows are allies of Troy; they dwell on the North Aegean coasts (where Herodotus found living Pelasgians), or reside, with Achaeans, Dorians, True Cretans, and Cydonians, in Crete. These facts indicate Homer's knowledge that, in some regions, Achaeans had dispossessed "Pelasgians," whoever the Pelasgians may have been. Again, Homer makes Achilles address the "Pelasgic Zeus" of Dodona in Epirus, in which he locates Perhaebians and Eneienes.

It thus appears that he supposed the Achaeans to have driven out Pelasgians from Epirus and Thessaly, at least, if not from southern Greece. It may well seem to us strange that as the Achaean settlement in Crete, or at least in parts of Crete, must have been comparatively recent when Homer sang, he never mentions so great an event. But reasons for and a parallel to his silence are not hard to find. If, as many authorities hold, the great Cnossian palace had fallen, and the Cretan civilisation had sunk into decadence before the Achaeans arrived in the island,[5] they might meet with but slight resistance; great feats of heroism might not claim record. Again, the Norman Conquest gave rise to no Anglo-Norman epic. The invaders already possessed their epic tradition, that of Charlemagne, borrowed from "the Franks of France," while they presently, in the twelfth century, took up and expanded the epic traditions of the Welsh and Bretons, in the Arthurian cycles of romances. In the same way, for all that we know, the Achaean epics may have a basis in the traditions of the earlier and more civilised populations usually styled "Pelasgians." The manners, however, of the Iliad and Odyssey are Achaean, as the manners of the French romances of Arthur are not Celtic, but feudal and chivalrous.[6] Homer, in any case, conceives of his own race as at home in Greece and Crete, and he has nothing to say about Greek settlements on the Asiatic coast. To him the inhabitants of Miletus are not the Ionian colonists. "Carians uncouth of speech" dwelt by the banks of the Meander, and the Asiatic allies of Priam are people "scattered, of diverse tongues."[7] For purposes of convenience all parties to the war understand each other's speech.[8]

In Odyssey, xix. 172–177, Homer gives an account of populous Crete, with ninety cities, and a mingling of various tongues, "therein are Achaeans, and True Cretans high of heart, and Cydonians, and Dorians in their three divisions, and noble Pelasgians." Did they vary in language, or in dialect and accent merely? We cannot know, we cannot be sure that "True Cretans" were the pre-existing Aegeans. The Cydonians dwelt beside the Jardanus; Jardanus is also a river-name in Elis. Mr. Leaf thinks of the Semitic yârad, "to flow" (Jordan), but we have other such river-names, Yarrow, and the Australian Yarra Yarra; the word may be onomatopoeic, expressing the murmur of the water.

Homer, in any case, does not despise the Asiatic allies of Troy as "barbarous," does not think them alien wholly, as the poets of the Chansons de Geste regard the Saracens—worshippers of Mahound and Apollon. The Asians have the same gods and rites as his own people; Glaucus and Sarpedon are as good knights and live in precisely the same sort of polity as Aias or Achilles. Homer does not think of the strife as between Hellenes and Barbarians, that is a far later idea never interpolated into the Epics. All men are children of the Olympians.

It would appear that Homer sang before the northern invasion, usually called "Dorian," caused the Achaean and Ionian migrations from the Greek mainland, and the Greek settlements on the Asiatic coast (950–900 B.C.?). He never alludes to these events, but it may be said that he deliberately conceals them.

The account which Homer gives of the Achaean heroes and their realms is to be found in the Catalogue of the Ships in Book ii., a passage of three hundred lines. It is, perhaps, not very probable that this long list was usually recited at popular gatherings, and there is much dispute as to its date and purpose. We relegate to an appendix some remarks on the debated questions. Whether the Catalogue, or most of it, was part of the original Iliad or not, most of it was certainly composed at a time when the condition of prehistoric Greece was well known, when a lively tradition of its divisions still existed; moreover, it is the work of a poet, and Milton deemed it worthy of imitation in Paradise Lost.

The Catalogue was omitted from many manuscripts of the Iliad, probably because it was thought tedious reading. But to us there is poetry in the very names of "rocky Aulis," and "Mycalessus of the wide lawns," and "dove-haunted Thisbe," and "Lacedaemon lying low among the rifted hills." The author wrote "with his eye on the object," and the doves of Thisbe have survived many empires and religions, still floating round their old domains and uttering their changeless note.[9] "Pleasant Titaresius" still mingles his clear waters with the chalk-stained Peneius, and Celadon brawls as when Nestor heard its music.

The Catalogue enumerates all the Achaeans; Boeotians, Phocians, Minyans; light-armed Locrian slingers; the Abantes of Euboea, fond of close combat; the Arcadians, whose dialect was nearest akin to Homer's own language, but who take no part in the action; the Epeians of Elis, once foes of Nestor's Pylians; the far-off Aetolians, no longer led by golden-haired Meleager; the Cretans of Cnossos, under Idomeneus, grandson of Minos; his neighbour Tlepolemos of Rhodes, of the blood of Heracles, and probably a Dorian, though the Dorian name is not uttered; and some of the Sporades. There are, too, the south Thessalian Achaeans and Hellenes, the Myrmidons under Achilles; the men of Philoctetes, who lies sore hurt by a serpent's bite in the Isle of Lemnos; the descendants in Thessaly (not a Homeric name) of the Lapithae; the Pethraebians from "wintry Dodona"; the men of Argos and Tiryns of the mighty walls, under Diomede; the men of Lacedaemon under Menelaus; the Athenians (much suspected of interpolating their own mention), Odysseus of the western and Aias of the eastern isles (Ithaca and Salamis); and the host of Agamemnon, lord of Corinth, Sicyon, and Mycenae, himself the Over Lord of all.

Taking the Catalogue as it stands, the princes of whom Agamemnon of Mycenae was Over Lord come from the Greek mainland, from southern Thessaly and Aetolia to the southernmost point of the Morea, and the islands as far south and east as Crete, Carpathos, and Rhodes.

Now, as Agamemnon is the Over Lord, and Idomeneus of Cnossos in Crete is one of his thanes, so to speak, the poet clearly regards the Greek mainland as the centre of an Achaean dominion, of which Crete is a great dependency. He shows no idea that Crete had been the centre of another power, and the focus of another civilisation, held by a people who, since the age of stone weapons and implements, had developed its culture without interruption, and had sent its arts to the mainland of Greece. To Homer, Mycenae is the centre; the prince of Cnossos is a great feudatory of Agamemnon.

The poet is much interested in Crete; not only does the Iliad dwell on the prowess of Idomeneus the prince of Cnossos, and of Meriones; but in the feigned tales of Odysseus, when he returns to Ithaca, he represents himself as a Cretan adventurer. Homer avoids the Athenian tales about Cretan tyranny, about the Minotaur, and the prowess of Theseus in aid of the freedom of Athens. These things are not touched upon, as they certainly would have been had Athenians freely interpolated the poems. Homer entirely ignores all Athenian and Ionian traditions.[10]

This is not the place to ask whether Achaeans from the mainland were the men who took and sacked the palace of Cnossos in Crete about 1400 B.C., or whether the spoilers were "Pelasgians," that is, people living on the mainland in Cretan conditions of culture, driven from the mainland by the Achaean irruption; or whether the palace was wrecked during an internal revolution before the Achaeans came to the island.[11] Homer undeniably regards Idomeneus as an Achaean and a descendant of Minos; and Minos as a son of Zeus.[12] Rhadamanthus of his blood, is "the golden-haired," like Menelaus, Meleager, and some other heroes.[13] We are not here concerned with discrepant traditions, and with the idea that Minos is an Aegean as Pharaoh is an Egyptian name of kings in general. That may be so; Minos may have been a figure in Cretan legend before the Achaeans came thither; if so, they adopted him as their own. We are only stating Homer's view of the relations between Crete and the Achaean power on the mainland.

Homer's Catalogue of the Asian allies of Troy is brief, and contains only about sixty lines. There was a Trojan Catalogue in the Cypria, a lost Ionian epic poem of the eighth century, and as the Ionian colonists in Asia knew the country of their settlement well, it is likely to have been copious. Beginning, in Homer's Trojan Catalogue, with the Dardanians under Aeneas, who may be said to represent "the Orleans branch" of the Trojan royal family, we next hear of the Trojans under Pandarus, who, in fact, broke the solemn oaths of truce, and sealed the doom of Ilium (Iliad, iv.), but who somehow as "Sir Pandarus of Troy" acquired another kind of ill fame among our mediaeval poets. He dwelt by the Aesepus. "At the extreme north of the Troad, where the Hellespont opens out into the Sea of Marmora," lived Adrastus and Amphius. Asius led forces from Sestus and Abydus, on both sides, European and Asian, of the Hellespont: there were also Pelasgians, apparently from the European side. There were, from Europe, Thracians and Cicones; the chief Thracian contingent arrived later (see Iliad, Book x.). The Cicones, with whom Odysseus has trouble when first he leaves Troy, in the Odyssey, are also European, as were probably, in origin, the people of Troy itself. European are the Paeonians, the Paphlagonians, again, are Asiatic; the Alizonians are remote and unrecognisable. Then we have Asiatic Mysians and Phrygians, and Maeonians from near Sardis, and under Mount Tmolos inland. The Carians of Miletus (later an Ionian city) follow, the Meander is their river; last come the Lycians under Sarpedon (whom legend connects with Crete), and Glaucus; another Glaucus was son of Sisyphus of Ephyre (Corinth), in Argos, and was father of Bellerophon. Bellerophon, again, was sent to his death in Lycia, by Proetus, who had married a Lycian princess. The Lycian Glaucus of the Iliad is a grandson of Bellerophon (Iliad, vi.).

According to this story, Greeks freely passed to Lycia and intermarried with Lycians. Only the Carians are described as "barbaric" in language. Homer knows not, we said, the distinction of Hellenes and Barbarians; the Greeks did not know it till the struggle of their Asiatic colonies against Lydia and Persia produced the sense of "racial" repulsion. In Homer any Greek prince going to Asia is courteously treated, perhaps settles there like Bellerophon, or makes hereditary guest-friendships, like the ancestors of Glaucus and Diomede.

The distinction which Homer does know is that between god-fearing men, with cities, laws, and rulers, on one hand, and men who are like the Cyclops, lonely, and lawless (Od. ix. 112–115). The Cyclops is not so godless as he boasts himself to be; he does pray to his father Poseidon, but he is wholly lawless, and each man is king in his own family. The cannibal Laestrygones, even, have a king and a city, though their manners are disgusting. Homer cannot easily, we see, conceive of men whose polity and cities are not like those with which he is familiar. He may have heard vaguely of far northern tribes abiding by their fiords in the land of amber, the land of the nightless summer and of the sunless winter. Such tales would come with the amber from the Baltic coasts, for which merchants bartered the bronze swords and vessels of their own civilisation. He had certainly heard of "the proud Hippemolgoi," drinkers of mares' milk, nomad Scythians north of the Danube, living like Tartars on koumiss.[14] If he has heard of any empire in the Asian hinterland, he may speak of it as one of the two Ethiopian realms; but here all is mythical.

Egypt, too, appears in the tales of Odysseus when he represents himself as a Cretan adventurer, a raider in the lands by the river Aegyptus. Helen has been in Egypt, and received the drug nepenthes from the wife of the king, just as she has been in Egyptian Thebes, and carried treasures thence (Od. iv. 130 ff.). Achilles[15] knows the wealth of Egyptian Thebes, and its hundred gates, and countless charioteers. Sicily is known to the Odyssey, a poem of Ithaca and the west, and of "perilous seas in fairy lands forlorn"; it is not mentioned in the Iliad, a poem of the east and the Asian shore. The Phoenicians are familiar as traders (Iliad, xxiii. 743), and are much better known, as is natural, to the sea-poem, the Odyssey. The appearance of the Phoenicians in the Odyssey, when they sell jewels to the women and kidnap the child Eumaeus, has been spoken of as work of the seventh century B.C.; a scene of contemporary life in that late age. But Mr. H. R. Hall, writing on early relations between Greece and Egypt, as depicted in Egyptian wall-paintings of the eighteenth Egyptian dynasty, represents commerce between the Aegean peoples of Greece and Crete as filtering through "Phoenician channels." The Phoenicians were active navigators and were merchants then and afterwards, that is, from the sixteenth century B.C. onwards. A fresco in an Egyptian tomb of the early date shows the arrival of "beaknosed" Phoenicians "in voluminous and multi-coloured robes," one of them carrying "a small Mycenaean amphora," at the Theban quays.[16] This being so, it is not so easy to bring down the Phoenicians of the Odyssey to the seventh century B.C. The Sidonians make the goods which the Phoenicians transport, but the Phoenician slave of the father of Eumaeus declares that she comes from the town of Sidon, and the Phoenician sailor knows her parents (Odyssey, xv. 415–433). No very clear distinction seems to have been drawn between Phoenicians and Sidonians.

These Semitic peoples were persistently credited, till lately, with all the finer works of art and craft which Homer mentions. The discovery of the art of Minoan Crete has made this unqualified attribution impossible.[17] Certainly Homer conceives of the Semites as doing a large trade, and as kidnapping children in the Greek seas; but their own art was imitative, and it is unlikely that, in Homer's time, the characters of their alphabet had ousted those of Aegean civilisation. It is curious that the place in which Phoenicians exercised most influence, Cyprus, was also the place where the Phoenician alphabet was so long in supplanting the native syllabary, akin to the unread documents of Minoan Crete.

We may thus conceive Homer's ancestors, by 1400 B.C., as men far from savage or barbarian,[18] who then succeeded to an Aegean civilisation much more luxurious and artistic than their own; and, centuries later, when Homer sang, the glow of the Aegean culture still flushed the sky: its art was known to the poet.

[1]Iliad, i. 266–268.

[2]Iliad, ii. 741–744.

[3]Proceedings, British School of Athens, xiv., 1907, 1908, p. 223.

[4]Iliad, ii. 681–684, xvi. 233–235.

[5] Mackenzie, "Cretan Palaces," in Brit. School of Athens, xii. pp. 216–258.

[6] The parallel has been brought to my notice in detail by Mr. J. W. Mackail; it had already occurred to me in a general way.

[7]Iliad, ii. 867, ii. 804.

[8] In the line just cited, and in the Carians Βαρβαροθώνω of Iliad, ii. 867, we cannot positively know whether Homer is thinking of different languages, or of differences in accent and dialect.

[9] Leaf, on Iliad, ii. 502.

[10] Save in the interpolated name of Theseus, twice, and in doubtful parts of Odyssey, xi.

[11] These various views are held, or have been held, by Mr. Evans, Mr. Ridgeway, Dr. Mackenzie, and others (Monthly Review, 1901, pp. 121–131; Times, Oct. 31, 1905; Annuals, British School of Athens, xi. p. 14; ibid. xii. 216 et seqq., xiii. 423 et seqq.). In Dr. Mackenzie's ample arguments, cf. Hogarth, Ionia and the East, pp. 32, 33, the Pelasgians were the sackers of Cnossos. The evidence is mainly archaeological, and might be argued over endlessly.

[12]Iliad, xiii. 450.

[13] These views are suggested by Professor Ridgeway in a paper read to the British Academy; see Athenaeum, June 5, 1909.

[14]Iliad, xiii. 5, 6, and Leaf's note.

[15]Ibid. ix. 381. Mr. Leaf attributes the lines to "some person with a dull chronological mind," who remembered that Thebes in Greece had been left in ruins by the war of the Epigonoi. "He forgot, however, that Egypt is elsewhere unknown to the Iliad." If a place is unknown because no one has occasion to mention it, unknown is Thebes to the Iliad. But to say that a poet familiar with Crete never heard of Egypt; that Egypt was rediscovered between the dates of composition of Iliad and Odyssey, is arbitrary. We might as well say that Shakespeare, who never mentions tobacco, never heard of the weed, or that no Biblical author ever saw a cat (out of the Apocrypha).

[16] B. S. A. viii. 174.

[17] See Hogarth, Ionia and the East, pp. 83–86.

[18]Ibid. pp. 112–115.



Table of Contents

As Homer conceives the period of his heroes, they live in a perfectly well known stage of society, illustrated in later northern Europe by the French Chansons de Geste; by the most ancient Irish stories in prose mixed with verse; and even to some extent by the Arthurian romances. Every prince has his castle and town or towns, his lands, pasturage, tilth, and orchards; he is, in the Irish phrase, a righ. He is surrounded by the γέροντες—in Irish the flaith, the gentry or squires, who held "rich lands remote from towns," and possessed war-chariots.[1] The princes and gentry with war-chariots alone take notable individual parts in the fighting, whether they fight mounted or dismounted. It is the gentry who offer a rich demesne, vineland and tilth, to Meleager, imploring him to take part in their war.[2] It appears to me that the gentry themselves held land in severalty, perhaps contrary to the old letter of the law, and in possession rather than in property.

The question of Homeric land tenure, as of all early land tenure before written records, is very obscure. There existed "common fields" certainly; but were they common property, each freeman having no more than his strip; separated, we know, from that of others by a longitudinal "balk" or boundary? We hear of men wrangling across the balk, "with measures in their hands, in a common field, striving for their right within scanty space."[3] Such quarrels were common in the Scotland of the eighteenth century, under the "run-rig" system of common fields; but then the men were tenants. They may have been free-holders in Homer's time, each with his assured "lot" (κλὴρος)[4] The Irish tribal free man had a right to one of these lots, which were redistributed by rotation, but many lots came gradually into the hands of each of the flaith, squires, (γέροντες), who were rich in cattle, and let out the cattle to poor lease-holders, for returns of rent in kind. A mail in Homer might have no lot,[5] and yet employ hinds, and be a cultivator. He must have been a tenant farmer.

In the Iliad, apart from the demesnes allotted to great men by the γέροντες, we only hear of personal property, gold, iron, cattle, and so on. In the Odyssey (xiv. 211) we read of men in Crete who each possessed several lots; and in so old a civilisation nothing is more probable. One is inclined to suppose that the majority of freemen held each his lot, while some had lost their lots; that many who had been land-holders came to hold as tenants merely, under rent in kind paid for stock to the γέροντες, who were rich in ploughing cattle; and that some γέροντες, and all princes held demesnes and a large share of the unfenced pasturage, worked by slaves and hinds. This is quite a practicable condition of affairs; there were all grades of wealth, some men were, as Odysseus feigned to be, wandering tramps. By the time of Hesiod lots of land were purchaseable,[6] but we do not hear in Homer that lots could be bought and sold.