The Ancient Library

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On this page: Homer (continued)



From that time forward down to the latest times of Greek antiquity, Homer never ceased to be a theme for learned disquisition, which is attested for us by numerous remains still in existence. Even in ancient times scholars occupied them­selves with the question whether the Iliad and the Odyssey were composed by the same poet. This question was fully justi­fied by the fact that the name of Homer had long been recognised as a collective term, and had included a long series of epics formed on his model, the true author­ship of which was only gradually dis­covered ; and it did not escape observation that the Odyssey, in its more artistic de­sign, as well as in relation to social, moral, and religious life, belonged to a more advanced stage of development than the Iliad. Thus, in ancient times, those who are known as Chorizontes (or " Separa-ters "), headed by the grammarians Xenon and Hellanicus, probably belonging to the beginning of .the Alexandrine period, held that the Odyssey was composed by a later poet. Even modern scholars have shared this view, while others, relying on the essential correspondence of tone, language, and metre, attribute less importance to the points of divergence, and explain them as due to the difference in the aim of the two poems as well as in the poet's time of life. With all our admiration of the art and beauty of the Homeric poems, it is not to be denied that they do not stand through­out on the same level of perfection, but that, by the side of the most magnificent passages, there are others which are dull and less attractive, and interruptions of the narrative and even contradictions are not wanting. Such blemishes did not escape the observation of the Alexandrine scholars, who met objections of this kind by assuming frequent interpolations, not only of single lines, but of whole passages ; e.g. they .held that the second half of the last book but one, and the whole of the last book of the Odyssey, were spurious.

In modern times many explanations of these defects have been put forward. In the first place F. A. Wolf [1795] observed that in the time of Homer the art of writ­ing was not yet practised to such an extent as to be employed for literary purposes ; and held that it was impossible even for the highest genius, with the aid of memory alone, either to produce such comprehensive works, and to transmit them to others. On these grounds he held that the Iliad

j and Odyssey received their existing form, tor the first time, in the time of Pisistratus,

j when the old lays on the Trojan War, which had hitherto been preserved by oral tradi­tion alone, were fixed by means of writing, and collected and united into two great wholes. He has been followed by others who have endeavoured to dissect the Iliad in particular into its separate and originally independent lays. Others hold that Homer's two poems consisted of compositions of moderate length; the Wrath of Achilles and the Return of Odysseus, which, by amplifications, improvements, and altera­tions, have resulted in the existing Odyssey and Iliad. Others again, instead of assum­ing a larger number of single lays, assume a combination of small epic poems, an Achillns and an Iliad, thus resulting in the present Iliad, and a Telimachia and a Return of Odysseus in the present Odyssey. On the other hand, many important authori­ties maintain that, granting the possibility of a utilization of previously existing lays, the Odyssey and Iliad, from the very beginning, respectively constituted a united whole ; but that, soon after their first com­position, they underwent manifold revision and amplification, until they received, before the beginning of the Olympiads, the essen­tial form which they still retain. Certain it is that, after the first Olympiad, longer epic poems were composed on the model of the Iliad and Odyssey, and in continua­tion of them ; and it cannot be denied that, long before this period, the art of writing had been extensively employed in Greece. It is also beyond contradiction that, apart from corruptions which arose from later alterations, dissimilarities in the treatment of the several parts, as well as many in­consistencies, may have existed in the poems even in their primitive form. In spite of such blemishes of detail, the Homeric poems remain unsurpassed as works of art, which have had an incalculable influence not only upon the development of literature and art, but also upon the whole life of the Greeks, who from the earliest times regarded them as the common property of the nation, and employed them as the foun­dation of all teaching and culture. Even now, after nearly 3,000 years, their in­fluence remains unimpaired.

Besides the Iliad and Odyssey, we still possess under the name of Homer: (a) A

j collection of Hymns: five of greater length on the Pythian and Delian Apollo, Hermes, Aphrfldite, and Demeter.; and twenty-nine

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