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قراءة كتاب The Odyssey

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‏اللغة: English
The Odyssey

The Odyssey

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
الصفحة رقم: 5

and the men who stood forward in it may well be considered as desirous to study, and competent to criticize, from their own individual point of view, the written words of the Homeric rhapsodies, just as we are told that Kallinus both noticed and eulogized the Thebais as the production of Homer. There seems, therefore, ground for conjecturing that (for the use of this newly-formed and important, but very narrow class), manuscripts of the Homeric poems and other old epics,—the Thebais and the Cypria, as well as the Iliad and the Odyssey,—began to be compiled towards the middle of the seventh century B.C. I; and the opening of Egypt to Grecian commerce, which took place about the same period, would furnish increased facilities for obtaining the requisite papyrus to write upon. A reading class, when once formed, would doubtless slowly increase, and the number of manuscripts along with it: so that before the time of Solon, fifty years afterwards, both readers and manuscripts, though still comparatively few, might have attained a certain recognized authority, and formed a tribunal of reference against the carelessness of individual rhapsodies."

But even Peisistratus has not been suffered to remain in possession of the credit, and we cannot help feeling the force of the following observations:—

"There are several incidental circumstances which, in our opinion, throw some suspicion over the whole history of the Peisistratid compilation, at least over the theory that the Iliad was cast into its present stately and harmonious form by the directions of the Athenian ruler. If the great poets, who flourished at the bright period of Grecian song, of which, alas! we have inherited little more than the fame, and the faint echo; if Stesichorus, Anacreon, and Simonides were employed in the noble task of compiling the Iliad and Odyssey, so much must have been done to arrange, to connect, to harmonize, that it is almost incredible that stronger marks of Athenian manufacture should not remain. Whatever occasional anomalies may be detected, anomalies which no doubt arise out of our own ignorance of the language of the Homeric age; however the irregular use of the digamma may have perplexed our Bentleys, to whom the name of Helen is said to have caused as much disquiet and distress as the fair one herself among the heroes of her age; however Mr. Knight may have failed in reducing the Homeric language to its primitive form; however, finally, the Attic dialect may not have assumed all its more marked and distinguishing characteristics:—still it is difficult to suppose that the language, particularly in the joinings and transitions, and connecting parts, should not more clearly betray the incongruity between the more ancient and modern forms of expression. It is not quite in character with such a period to imitate an antique style, in order to piece out an imperfect poem in the character of the original, as Sir Walter Scott has done in his continuation of Sir Tristram.

"If, however, not even such faint and indistinct traces of Athenian compilation are discoverable in the language of the poems, the total absence of Athenian national feeling is perhaps no less worthy of observation. In later, and it may fairly be suspected in earlier times, the Athenians were more than ordinarily jealous of the fame of their ancestors. But, amid all the traditions of the glories of early Greece embodied in the Iliad, the Athenians play a most subordinate and insignificant part. Even the few passages which relate to their ancestors, Mr. Knight suspects to be interpolations. It is possible, indeed, that in its leading outline, the Iliad may be true to historic fact; that in the great maritime expedition of western Greece against the rival and half-kindred empire of the Laomedontiadae, the chieftain of Thessaly, from his valour and the number of his forces, may have been the most important ally of the Peloponnesian sovereign: the pre-eminent value of the ancient poetry on the Trojan war may thus have forced the national feeling of the Athenians to yield to their taste. The songs which spoke of their own great ancestor were, no doubt, of far inferior sublimity and popularity, or, at first sight, a Theseid would have been much more likely to have emanated from an Athenian synod of compilers of ancient song, than an Achilleid or an Odysseid. Could France have given birth to a Tasso, Tancred would have been the hero of the Jerusalem. If, however, the Homeric ballads, as they are sometimes called, which related the wrath of Achilles, with all its direful consequences, were so far superior to the rest of the poetic cycle, as to admit no rivalry,—it is still surprising, that throughout the whole poem the callida junctura should never betray the workmanship of an Athenian hand; and that the national spirit of a race, who have at a later period not inaptly been compared to our self-admiring neighbours, the French, should submit with lofty self-denial to the almost total exclusion of their own ancestors—or, at least, to the questionable dignity of only having produced a leader tolerably skilled in the military tactics of his age."

To return to the Wolfian theory. While it is to be confessed, that Wolf's objections to the primitive integrity of the Iliad and Odyssey have never been wholly got over, we cannot help discovering that they have failed to enlighten us as to any substantial point, and that the difficulties with which the whole subject is beset, are rather augmented than otherwise, if we admit his hypothesis. Nor is Lachmann's modification of his theory any better. He divides the first twenty-two books of the Iliad into sixteen different songs, and treats as ridiculous the belief that their amalgamation into one regular poem belongs to a period earlier than the age of Peisistratus. This as Grote observes, "ex-plains the gaps and contradictions in the narrative, but it explains nothing else." Moreover, we find no contradictions warranting this belief, and the so-called sixteen poets concur in getting rid of the following leading men in the first battle after the secession of Achilles: Elphenor, chief of the Euboeans; Tlepolemus, of the Rhodians; Pandarus, of the Lycians; Odins, of the Halizonians: Pirous and Acamas, of the Thracians. None of these heroes again make their appearance, and we can but agree with Colonel Mure, that "it seems strange that any number of independent poets should have so harmoniously dispensed with the services of all six in the sequel." The discrepancy, by which Pylaemenes, who is represented as dead in the fifth book, weeps at his son's funeral in the thirteenth, can only be regarded as the result of an interpolation.

Grote, although not very distinct in stating his own opinions on the subject, has done much to clearly show the incongruity of the Wolfian theory, and of Lachmann's modifications, with the character of Peisistratus. But he has also shown, and we think with equal success, that the two questions relative to the primitive unity of these poems, or, supposing that impossible, the unison of these parts by Peisistratus, and not before his time, are essentially distinct. In short, "a man may believe the Iliad to have been put together out of pre-existing songs, without recognising the age of Peisistratus as the period of its first compilation." The friends or literary /employes/ of Peisistratus must have found an Iliad that was already ancient, and the silence of the Alexandrine critics respecting the Peisistratic "recension," goes far to prove, that, among the numerous manuscripts they examined, this was either wanting, or thought unworthy of attention.

"Moreover," he continues, "the whole tenor of the poems themselves confirms what is here remarked. There is nothing, either in the Iliad or Odyssey, which savours of modernism, applying that term to the age of Peisistratus—nothing which brings to our view the alterations brought about by two centuries, in the Greek language, the coined money, the habits of writing