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waves of armed emigrants came down overland from Central Europe and, having built or seized ships, sought to acquire footholds in the Southern seas by piratical attacks. And the frequency of leonine similes tells us by implication that the lion was a familiar beast on the mainland—a fact confirmed by Herodotus and Xenophon, who state that he was still met with in Macedonia, Thessalay, and Thrace in the fifth century B.C. Homer indeed gives us history as well as a story, and we are now in a position, thanks to the wonderful results of excavation since Schliemann's epoch-making discoveries, to detach the historical from the legendary and imaginative matter, and to make a picture, correct in its main outlines, of the real Homeric world. Homer, the book, is not an artistic myth; it is the record, howsoever distorted and overlaid and “restored,” of a life that was actually lived by men more like than unlike ourselves.

§ 6


Something must be said as to the great controversy started by Wolf's Prolegomena (published at Halle in 1795) as to the way in which the Iliad and the Odyssey came into being and attained their present form. Wolf's theory was an expression of the all-questioning spirit that, in the domain of politics, broke out with explosive force in the French Revolution, and, in the sphere of historical criticism, prompted Ihne and Niebuhr to show the legendary nature of the early annals of Rome. It attempted to prove four main points. The author contended that (1) the Homeric poems were composed without the aid of writing, which is not mentioned in them and, in 950 B.C., was either unknown to the Greeks or not yet used in the making of literary records, and that the poems out of which the two epics were made up, were passed on by oral recitation, during which process they were much altered; (2) when written down, about 550 B.C., “revisers" and literary critics went on polishing the poems and altering them to suit their tastes in art; (3) the artistic unity of both epics is the result of this artificial treatment in later ages; (4) the original lays out of which the epics are built up were the work of several authors, though it would never be possible to show where the component parts begin and end.

There is nothing dogmatic in Wolf's famous book (which is written in Latin), and he did not deny the existence of a personal Homer, a poet of genius who “began the weaving of the web.” Moreover, he admits that the argument convinced his head but not his heart, so to speak. Turning from his theory to read the poems once more as poetry, plunging into the clear rushing stream of the story yet again, the harmonious consistency of it all renews the old irresistible impression of a personal unity, and he is angry with the reasoned scepticism which has destroyed his belief in a single master-poet. Into the controversial maze created by his book it is impossible to enter here. The ancient conception of authorship must be abandoned; it is comparable with the faith of simple folk who believe that the Bible in its present form was handed down out of Heaven. The very name “Homer,” which means “piecer-together,” is sufficient proof that the belief in a single authorship, one and indivisible, cannot be maintained. And every part of the poems bears the marks of revision; for example, it is abundantly clear that barbaric episodes have been toned down to suit the taste of later and gentler ages when the Greek horror of “the disgusting” had so prevailed as to insist that murders should take place off the stage.

In the long and still unsettled controversy as to the origin and authorship, the poets—and the professional scholars in whom something of a poet survives—have always leant to the side of personal unity. In England the impression has always prevailed, and is perhaps gathering force to-day, that less importance is to be attached to the discrepancies with which the scholar-critic is chiefly concerned than to the sympathetic insight of men of poetic genius such as Schiller, who called Wolf's theory "barbaric,” and Goethe, who, though at first inclined to accept it, on second thought said in a letter to Schiller: "I am more than ever convinced of the unity and indivisibility of the poem (the Iliad).” The opinion of Matthew Arnold, a ripe scholar as well as a poet full of the Greek spirit, is weighty indeed:

The insurmountable obstacle to believing the Iliad a consolidated work of several poets is this—that the work of great masters is unique; and the Iliad has a great master's genuine stamp, and that stamp is the grand style.


The beginner studying Homer will do well to read such books as W. E. Gladstone's Homer, and Sir R. C. Jebb’s Homer: an Introduction to the Iliad and Odyssey; and also the excellent volumes on the Odyssey and the Iliad by the Rev. W. Lucas Collins. Other books are:

Dr. Walter Leaf's A Companion to the Iliad for English Readers; Homer and History; and Troy, a Study in Homeric Geography.

Andrew Lang's Homer and his Age; Homer and the Epic; and The World of Homer.

Matthew Arnold's essay On Translating Homer.

W. E. Gladstone's Studies on Homer and the Homeric Age; Landmarks of Homeric Study; and Homeric Synchronism; an Enquiry into the Time and Place of Homer.

Recent books on Homer are J. A. K. Thomson's Studies in the Odyssey; F. M. Stawell's Homer and the Iliad: an Essay to Determine the Scope and Character of the Original Poem.

Mention must also be made of the two books by Samuel Butler (the author of Erewhon), The Authoress of the Odyssey, in which Butler expresses the view that the Odyssey was written by a woman, and The Humour of Homer.

Important modern translations of Homer are:

The Iliad done into English Prose, by Andrew Lang, Walter Leaf, and Ernest Myers.

The Odyssey done into English Prose, by S. H. Butcher and
Andrew Lang

The Iliad in English Verse, by A. S. Way (2 vols.)
VOL. 1-5

The Odyssey in English Verse, by A. S. Way. Other modern translations are: The Odyssey translated into English Verse, by J. W. Mackail; The Odyssey translated into English in the Original Metre, by Francis Caulfeild; The Odyssey, a line for line translation, in the Metre of the Original, by H. B. Cotterill. William Morris, the famous author of “The Earthly Paradise,” translated the “Odyssey” into English verse (Longmans), while Samuel Butler, author of Erewhon and The Way of All Flesh, did a prose version of the “Odyssey."

There are, of course, many older translations, notably, Alexander Pope's versions of the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey,” the renderings of the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” by George Chapman, the Elizabethan poet and dramatist, , William Cowper's (the poet) English blank verse translation of the “Iliad,” of which there is, apparently, no modern edition. The American poet, William Cullen Bryant, did a blank verse version of the “Iliad” and Sir John F. W. Herschel a version of the “Iliad” in English hexameters.

There is also the version of the “Iliad” in English blank verse by Edward, Earl of Derby and the translation of the "Odyssey” in 2 vols. in the Loeb Classical Library.




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