true tale of hidden treasure which we were to proceed to

 people involved | time:2023-11-30 01:53:39

Nevertheless, though the Homeric age appears to be a late one when considered with reference to the whole career of the human race, there is a point of view from which it may be justly regarded as the "youth of the world." However long man may have existed upon the earth, he becomes thoroughly and distinctly human in the eyes of the historian only at the epoch at which he began to create for himself a literature. As far back as we can trace the progress of the human race continuously by means of the written word, so far do we feel a true historical interest in its fortunes, and pursue our studies with a sympathy which the mere lapse of time is powerless to impair. But the primeval man, whose history never has been and never will be written, whose career on the earth, dateless and chartless, can be dimly revealed to us only by palaeontology, excites in us a very different feeling. Though with the keenest interest we ransack every nook and corner of the earth's surface for information about him, we are all the while aware that what we are studying is human zoology and not history. Our Neanderthal man is a specimen, not a character. We cannot ask him the Homeric question, what is his name, who were his parents, and how did he get where we found him. His language has died with him, and he can render no account of himself. We can only regard him specifically as Homo Anthropos, a creature of bigger brain than his congener Homo Pithekos, and of vastly greater promise. But this, we say, is physical science, and not history.

true tale of hidden treasure which we were to proceed to

For the historian, therefore, who studies man in his various social relations, the youth of the world is the period at which literature begins. We regard the history of the western world as beginning about the tenth century before the Christian era, because at that date we find literature, in Greece and Palestine, beginning to throw direct light upon the social and intellectual condition of a portion of mankind. That great empires, rich in historical interest and in materials for sociological generalizations, had existed for centuries before that date, in Egypt and Assyria, we do not doubt, since they appear at the dawn of history with all the marks of great antiquity; but the only steady historical light thrown upon them shines from the pages of Greek and Hebrew authors, and these know them only in their latest period. For information concerning their early careers we must look, not to history, but to linguistic archaeology, a science which can help us to general results, but cannot enable us to fix dates, save in the crudest manner.

true tale of hidden treasure which we were to proceed to

We mention the tenth century before Christ as the earliest period at which we can begin to study human society in general and Greek society in particular, through the medium of literature. But, strictly speaking, the epoch in question is one which cannot be fixed with accuracy. The earliest ascertainable date in Greek history is that of the Olympiad of Koroibos, B. C. 776. There is no doubt that the Homeric poems were written before this date, and that Homer is therefore strictly prehistoric. Had this fact been duly realized by those scholars who have not attempted to deny it, a vast amount of profitless discussion might have been avoided. Sooner or later, as Grote says, "the lesson must be learnt, hard and painful though it be, that no imaginable reach of critical acumen will of itself enable us to discriminate fancy from reality, in the absence of a tolerable stock of evidence." We do not know who Homer was; we do not know where or when he lived; and in all probability we shall never know. The data for settling the question are not now accessible, and it is not likely that they will ever be discovered. Even in early antiquity the question was wrapped in an obscurity as deep as that which shrouds it to-day. The case between the seven or eight cities which claimed to be the birthplace of the poet, and which Welcker has so ably discussed, cannot be decided. The feebleness of the evidence brought into court may be judged from the fact that the claims of Chios and the story of the poet's blindness rest alike upon a doubtful allusion in the Hymn to Apollo, which Thukydides (III. 104) accepted as authentic. The majority of modern critics have consoled themselves with the vague conclusion that, as between the two great divisions of the early Greek world, Homer at least belonged to the Asiatic. But Mr. Gladstone has shown good reasons for doubting this opinion. He has pointed out several instances in which the poems seem to betray a closer topographical acquaintance with European than with Asiatic Greece, and concludes that Athens and Argos have at least as good a claim to Homer as Chios or Smyrna.

true tale of hidden treasure which we were to proceed to

It is far more desirable that we should form an approximate opinion as to the date of the Homeric poems, than that we should seek to determine the exact locality in which they originated. Yet the one question is hardly less obscure than the other. Different writers of antiquity assigned eight different epochs to Homer, of which the earliest is separated from the most recent by an interval of four hundred and sixty years,--a period as long as that which separates the Black Prince from the Duke of Wellington, or the age of Perikles from the Christian era. While Theopompos quite preposterously brings him down as late as the twenty-third Olympiad, Krates removes him to the twelfth century B. C. The date ordinarily accepted by modern critics is the one assigned by Herodotos, 880 B. C. Yet Mr. Gladstone shows reasons, which appear to me convincing, for doubting or rejecting this date.

I refer to the much-abused legend of the Children of Herakles, which seems capable of yielding an item of trustworthy testimony, provided it be circumspectly dealt with. I differ from Mr. Gladstone in not regarding the legend as historical in its present shape. In my apprehension, Hyllos and Oxylos, as historical personages, have no value whatever; and I faithfully follow Mr. Grote, in refusing to accept any date earlier than the Olympiad of Koroibos. The tale of the "Return of the Herakleids" is undoubtedly as unworthy of credit as the legend of Hengst and Horsa; yet, like the latter, it doubtless embodies a historical occurrence. One cannot approve, as scholarlike or philosophical, the scepticism of Mr. Cox, who can see in the whole narrative nothing but a solar myth. There certainly was a time when the Dorian tribes--described in the legend as the allies of the Children of Herakles--conquered Peloponnesos; and that time was certainly subsequent to the composition of the Homeric poems. It is incredible that the Iliad and the Odyssey should ignore the existence of Dorians in Peloponnesos, if there were Dorians not only dwelling but ruling there at the time when the poems were written. The poems are very accurate and rigorously consistent in their use of ethnical appellatives; and their author, in speaking of Achaians and Argives, is as evidently alluding to peoples directly known to him, as is Shakespeare when he mentions Danes and Scotchmen. Now Homer knows Achaians, Argives, and Pelasgians dwelling in Peloponnesos; and he knows Dorians also, but only as a people inhabiting Crete. (Odyss. XIX. 175.) With Homer, moreover, the Hellenes are not the Greeks in general but only a people dwelling in the north, in Thessaly. When these poems were written, Greece was not known as Hellas, but as Achaia,--the whole country taking its name from the Achaians, the dominant race in Peloponnesos. Now at the beginning of the truly historical period, in the eighth century B. C., all this is changed. The Greeks as a people are called Hellenes; the Dorians rule in Peloponnesos, while their lands are tilled by Argive Helots; and the Achaians appear only as an insignificant people occupying the southern shore of the Corinthian Gulf. How this change took place we cannot tell. The explanation of it can never be obtained from history, though some light may perhaps be thrown upon it by linguistic archaeology. But at all events it was a great change, and could not have taken place in a moment. It is fair to suppose that the Helleno-Dorian conquest must have begun at least a century before the first Olympiad; for otherwise the geographical limits of the various Greek races would not have been so completely established as we find them to have been at that date. The Greeks, indeed, supposed it to have begun at least three centuries earlier, but it is impossible to collect evidence which will either refute or establish that opinion. For our purposes it is enough to know that the conquest could not have taken place later than 900 B. C.; and if this be the case, the MINIMUM DATE for the composition of the Homeric poems must be the tenth century before Christ; which is, in fact, the date assigned by Aristotle. Thus far, and no farther, I believe it possible to go with safety. Whether the poems were composed in the tenth, eleventh, or twelfth century cannot be determined. We are justified only in placing them far enough back to allow the Helleno-Dorian conquest to intervene between their composition and the beginning of recorded history. The tenth century B. C. is the latest date which will account for all the phenomena involved in the case, and with this result we must be satisfied. Even on this showing, the Iliad and Odyssey appear as the oldest existing specimens of Aryan literature, save perhaps the hymns of the Rig-Veda and the sacred books of the Avesta.

The apparent difficulty of preserving such long poems for three or four centuries without the aid of writing may seem at first sight to justify the hypothesis of Wolf, that they are mere collections of ancient ballads, like those which make up the Mahabharata, preserved in the memories of a dozen or twenty bards, and first arranged under the orders of Peisistratos. But on a careful examination this hypothesis is seen to raise more difficulties than it solves. What was there in the position of Peisistratos, or of Athens itself in the sixth century B. C., so authoritative as to compel all Greeks to recognize the recension then and there made of their revered poet? Besides which the celebrated ordinance of Solon respecting the rhapsodes at the Panathenaia obliges us to infer the existence of written manuscripts of Homer previous to 550 B. C. As Mr. Grote well observes, the interference of Peisistratos "presupposes a certain foreknown and ancient aggregate, the main lineaments of which were familiar to the Grecian public, although many of the rhapsodes in their practice may have deviated from it both by omission and interpolation. In correcting the Athenian recitations conformably with such understood general type, Peisistratos might hope both to procure respect for Athens and to constitute a fashion for the rest of Greece. But this step of 'collecting the torn body of sacred Homer' is something generically different from the composition of a new Iliad out of pre-existing songs: the former is as easy, suitable, and promising as the latter is violent and gratuitous."[151]

[151] Hist. Greece, Vol. II. p. 208.

As for Wolf's objection, that the Iliad and Odyssey are too long to have been preserved by memory, it may be met by a simple denial. It is a strange objection indeed, coming from a man of Wolf's retentive memory. I do not see how the acquisition of the two poems can be regarded as such a very arduous task; and if literature were as scanty now as in Greek antiquity, there are doubtless many scholars who would long since have had them at their tongues' end. Sir G. C. Lewis, with but little conscious effort, managed to carry in his head a very considerable portion of Greek and Latin classic literature; and Niebuhr (who once restored from recollection a book of accounts which had been accidentally destroyed) was in the habit of referring to book and chapter of an ancient author without consulting his notes. Nay, there is Professor Sophocles, of Harvard University, who, if you suddenly stop and interrogate him in the street, will tell you just how many times any given Greek word occurs in Thukydides, or in AEschylos, or in Plato, and will obligingly rehearse for you the context. If all extant copies of the Homeric poems were to be gathered together and burnt up to-day, like Don Quixote's library, or like those Arabic manuscripts of which Cardinal Ximenes made a bonfire in the streets of Granada, the poems could very likely be reproduced and orally transmitted for several generations; and much easier must it have been for the Greeks to preserve these books, which their imagination invested with a quasi-sanctity, and which constituted the greater part of the literary furniture of their minds. In Xenophon's time there were educated gentlemen at Athens who could repeat both Iliad and Odyssey verbatim. (Xenoph. Sympos., III. 5.) Besides this, we know that at Chios there was a company of bards, known as Homerids, whose business it was to recite these poems from memory; and from the edicts of Solon and the Sikyonian Kleisthenes (Herod., V. 67), we may infer that the case was the same in other parts of Greece. Passages from the Iliad used to be sung at the Pythian festivals, to the accompaniment of the harp (Athenaeus, XIV. 638), and in at least two of the Ionic islands of the AEgaean there were regular competitive exhibitions by trained young men, at which prizes were given to the best reciter. The difficulty of preserving the poems, under such circumstances, becomes very insignificant; and the Wolfian argument quite vanishes when we reflect that it would have been no easier to preserve a dozen or twenty short poems than two long ones. Nay, the coherent, orderly arrangement of the Iliad and Odyssey would make them even easier to remember than a group of short rhapsodies not consecutively arranged.

top: 528step on: 6877