« PreviousContinue »
common belief as to their origin was founded in fact or not. Second, the artificial construction of the plots of the Iliad and Odyssey prove, on the contrary, that their present form cannot be genuine, for none of the cyclic poets who followed Homer imitated this construction—never plunged in medias res, never laid distant trains for future catastrophes, (as Milman, whose argument this is, says is so remarkable in the Iliad,) never carried on parallel lines of argument, never depressed others in favour of the hero of the poem, were ignorant of concealments, turning points, windings up, but uniformly began with the egg—story succeeding story in historical order, and concluding when the war was at an end. Many of these poets were men of genius, and it was an easier task to rival the plots than the poetry of the Homeric epics. Third, there is no necessary connection between the rhapsodies that constitute the poem. Did the Iliad terminate at the death of Hector, and were thus the two last books omitted, or if the catalogue of the ships and troops was left out, would the design be less perfect, or the poem less connected? Aristophanes, Aristarchus, P. Knight, &c. reject from the two hundred and ninety-seventh verse of the twenty-third book of Odyssey to the end; the Necyomanteia, in the eleventh book of Odyssey, is also considered spurious; others reject the last book of the Iliad. Why may not more be rejected? And does not this prove that there were other poets capable of writing so similarly -to Homer, that early antiquity never doubted the identity of their authorship I—and some of the most splendid passages in the poems are contained in those rejected parts; several gaps also still remain, sufficient to show where distinct poesies have been unskilfully joined together, as from the three hundred and fifty-sixth to the three hundred and sixty-eighth verse of the eighteenth book of the Iliad, which contain a dialogue between Jupiter and Juno, awkwardly thrust in between the speech of Achilles to his myrmidons and the arrival of Thetis at the mansion of Vulcan; and the violent change of scene in the fourth book of the Odyssey, verse six hundred and twenty, from Sparta to Ithaca. There are several diversities of language between the Iliad and Odyssey, (as we shall see hereafter,) and Vico uses this as an argument against the identity of the authorship of the poems.
11. What are the objections against the popular opinion I First, it is inconceivable how any individual should have suddenly appeared, in the midst of a barbarous age, with a mind capable of producing an epic poem so perfect in every point of art, diction, versification, character, and action. Secondly, did such a person exist, how could he have executed his plan? The art of writing, (it is said by Josephus and others,) and certainly the use of manageable writing materials, was unknown in the period in which he is supposed to have lived; and the preservation, but especially the invention and composition of the Iliad, consisting of fifteen thousand lines, and the Odyssey of as many more, together with the Margites, Batrachomyomachia, and hymns, on the authority of Thucydides and Aristotle, is, without the aid of writing materials, utterly impossible. Thirdly, even were it admitted that poems so long could have been invented and remembered by one man, under all these disadvantages, for what end could it have been designed; it was too long for one recital, and thus the author must have laboured at a work which would servo no purpose.
12. Answer to first objection? Paterculus observes of Homer, "Neque ante ilium, quem ille imitaretur, neque post ilium qui eum imitari posset, inventus est." Now if the latter part of this assertion is confessedly true, why might not the former be true also? Poetry is not, like science, progressive; but a bright genius arises at intervals, surpassing all before and after him—" Poeta nascitur, non fit."
13. Answer to the second objection? It consists of two parts—first, the non-existence of the art of "writing and of writing materials is by no means certain; second, did they not exist, the composition of the Homeric poems is posssible without them, as similar feats of the human memory have been accomplished.
14. Answer to the third objection? Granting that the Iliad is too long for one recitation, it is not unreasonable, from our knowledge of the G-reek character, to suppose a succession of recitations at some public festival; thus Herodotus read his history at the Olympic G-ames.
15. Arguments against the use of writing in Homer's age? First, the testimony of Josephus, who mentions as an opinion of some that Homer did not leave his poems in writing. Second, the nonexistence of prose authors before Cadmus the Milesian and Pherecydes of Scyros, 544 B.C., and of any note before Hecataeus of Miletus and PheTecydes of Athens, about 500 B.C. Third, the non-existence of written laws before those of Draco, three hundred and fifty years after Homer. Fourth, the non-existence of written contracts. J'ifth, the non-mention of writing in Homer.
16. Answers to these arguments? First, Josephus wrote as late as the first century of the Christian aera; he speaks very undecidedly; and his authority cannot be admitted, for his assertion is contained in the midst of a laboured attempt to throw discredit on the early history of Greece, and to eulogise his own country, where the knowledge of letters had existed at a .much earlier period. Second, it is supposed that -until writing is common in a nation, all compositions •will be in verse, 'because verse alone can be borne in memory; but the moment that paper, or parchment, or a smoothed hide is to be had, (if the art of carving wood, stone, or lead, were known in Homer's time, it would not serve the purpose,) the chronicler in prose comes forward. Now, admitting the priority of verse composition, how does it follow that the pre-eminence thus attained would be immediately relinquished, as soon as the way was opened for the introduction of prose? Is it not more probable that the species of composition, by which their predecessors had sealed their immortality, would induce others also, for a time at least, to follow in the same path? And accordingly Strabo affirms that the first prose writings were poetry in every thing but the want of measure. The book of Job is a parallel case; it is a poem of high merit, composed above two thousand years A.C., whereas the earliest prose composition we have is the Pentateuch, B.C. 1570; and alphabetical writing was known to the Israelites long before the time of Moses, as he frequently speaks of it in terms which
Slainly prove 'it to have been in common use— fumb. v. 23, Beut. xxiv. 1. Third, though the code of Draco is the first that can be affirmed to have been written in Greece with historical certainty, there is a passage in Euripides (Hec. 854) from which it may be inferred that laws were written at the time of the Trojan war; and Sophocles more distinctly says they existed at the time of Oedipus (Ant. 454); besides, the absence of a written legislation does not argue much against the knowledge of writing in general for the ordinary purposes of life. Fourth, as to the objection that treaties were verbal, and, therefore, accompanied by sacrifices and appeals to heaven, in order to ensure their performance, a similar custom prevailed in the patriarchal age, and among the Jews to a very late period; for instance, Abraham's contract with Ephraim. Nor does it appear that written contracts were resorted to (except the bill of divorce, Deut. xxiv. 8) until the time of Jeremiah, who speaks of one upon the purchase of a field (Jer. xxxii. 6.) The Romans also made their contracts before witnesses in the forum, called stipulate. Besides, the formality of written documents was not likely to occupy the attention of warriors, who had spent their lives in the service of arms. Fifth, Homer in two passages may allude to alphabetical writing; the one is in Il. Z. 168— the ai'ifiara Xvypa was more probably alphabetical than symbolical writing, for symbols could scarcely convey a message of so peculiar a nature as Praetus wished to convey to Jobates about Bellerophon; the words are as applicable to one species of writing as the other, and their application to alphabetical writing is confirmed by a passage in Ovid—" Ite hinc, difficiles, funebria signa, tabellae: the other passage is, Il. H. 175, 6i St Kxjj/sov so-ijjuijvavro
17. Arguments for the use of writing in Homer's age? First, the two passages above mentioned. Second, Sophocles, Trach. 157, mentions a Ssxtov lyyeypafifjitvriv, or written will of Hercules. Euripides, Hippol. 861. 881, speaks of an tmoroXij or ctXroa written by Phaedra to Theseus, eighty years before the Trojan war. ( Virgil also speaks of the Sibyl writing on leaves in the time of .ZEneas, iEneid 3. 443 and 6. 74, and of iEneas writing on a shield, iEn. 3. 286, "iEneas haec de Danais victoribus arma.") And although ypafyw originally signified to carve, yet even Wolf allows that