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On this page: Homer (continued)

HOMER.

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the definite level of epic poetry with its systematic arrangement and its artistic elaboration.

The two epics which bear his name, the Iliad and the Odyssey, both of which at a late period were divided into twenty-four books, deal with the legends of Troy. The Iliad traverses an interval of fifty-one days out of the tenth year of the Trojan War, according to a simple plan with a con­secutive account of the events of the time. Beginning with the wrath of Achilles at being deprived of his captive, the maiden Briseis, at the command of Agamemnon, it narrates the ever-increasing distress which the indignant hero's withdrawal from the battle brings upon the Greeks in their fights on the Trojan plain, around the walls, and near the naval camp. This gives a suitable opportunity for describing the other heroes down to the fall of Patroclus, which is the turning-point of the poem. Then follows the reconciliation of Achilles, his avenging his slain friend by killing Hector, and the funeral games in honour of Patroclus. The poem comes to a tragical conclusion with the surrender and burial of the body of Hector. The Odyssey similarly deals with a multitude of incidents con­nected with the return of Odysseus to his home, all of which take place in the narrow interval of forty days, but according to a highly artistic and complex plan. In contrast to the two main portions of the Iliad, the Odyssey consists of four parts. The first describes the adventures of Telemachus, who is oppressed by the suitors of his mother PenSlSpe, and sets off on a journey to Nestor at Pylos and Mene-laus at Sparta, in quest of his father. Thus the poet finds occasion to give an account of the different fates of the Greek heroes on their return home. The second part describes the adventures of Odysseus in his voyage from Ogygla, the island of Calypso, his stay among the Phseaeians (con­nected with which is the hero's own account of his wanderings on his voyage from Troy down to his landing at Ogygia), and, lastly, his arrival at Ithaca. | The third part contains his visit to the hut of the swineherd Eumseus, his recognition by Telemachus (who has returned home) and by his faithful servant, and the planning of vengeance on the suitors. The fourth part contains the carrying out of the vengeance, and the whole is brought to a peaceful con­clusion by the re-union of the hero with his wife Penelope and his aged father Laertes.

By means of professional reciters, who i went from city to city and were called rhapsOdoi (q.v.), the Homeric poems found a rapid circulation, not only in their Asiatic home, but also in Greece and its western colonies. They were introduced into Sparta by Lycurgus [Plut., Lye. 4], who learned their existence in his travels, at Samos, from the descendants of Creophylus, a poet reputed to have been a friend and relation of Homer. In 753 B.C., twenty-three years after the commencement of the Olympiads, they were, in fact, the common property of all Greeks.

At the recitations given by the rhapsodoi at many places during festivals, the great bulk of the poems from the very first necessitated a regular division of the subject into suitable portions, in order to give intervals of rest not only to the reciters, but also to the audience. Hence arose the division into separate lays called rhapsodies, with distinctive titles, which were still in use at a later date, when both poems were divided into twenty-four books. It soon became customary to recite single rhap­sodies, some being especial favourites and considered more suitable than others for showing the special talents of individual rhapsodists to advantage. Thus it hap­pened that some portions easily fell into oblivion and gaps arose in the oral tradition of the poems. On the other hand, the rhapsodists could not avoid giving a cer­tain finish and completeness to their favourite pieces, and even permitted them­selves to make alterations and additions where they saw fit. To Athens belongs the honour of having arrested the ever-increasing confusion caused by these prac­tices. Solon was the first to order that the rhapsodists at their public recitals should keep closely to the traditional text of the poems. PisistrStus (about B.C. 535) made, by means of a committee of several poets, headed by Onomacrltus (<?.«.), a collection of the scattered lays and a re­vision of the text, founded on extant copies and on the oral traditions of the rhapsodists. [Cic., De Orat. iii 137 and Pausanias, vii 26, are the earliest authorities for this vague and doubtful story.]

Either Pisistratus or his son Hipparchus made the regulation that the rhapsodists, in their competitions at the Panathenaie festival, should recite in consecutive order and completeness the Homeric poems, which had been thus restored to their proper form. To this revision, which could

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