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AT the head of the once abundant epics’ compositions of Greece, most of them unfortunately lost, stand the Iliad and Odyssey, with the immortal name of Homer attached to each of them, embracing separate portions of the comprehensive legend of Troy. They form the type of what may be called the heroic epic of the Greeks, as distinguished from the genealogical, in which latter species some of the Hesiodic poems—the Catalogue of Women, the Eoiai, and the Naupaktia—stood conspicuous. Poems of the Homeric character (if so it may be called, though the expression is very indefinite), being confined to one of the great events, or great personages of Grecian legendary antiquity, and comprising a limited number of characters, all contemporaneous, made some approach, more or less successful, to a certain poetical unity; while the Hesiodic poems, tamer in their spirit, and unconfined both as to time and as to persons, strung together distinct events without any obvious view to concentration of interest, without legitimate beginning or end. Between these two extremes there were many gradations: biographical poems, such as the Herakleia, or Theseis, recounting all the principal exploits performed by one single hero, present a character intermediate between the two, but bordering more closely on the Hesiodic. Even the hymns to the gods, which pass under the name of Homer, are epical fragments, narrating particular exploits or adventures of the god commemorated.

Both the didactic and the mystico-religious poetry of Greece began in Hexameter verse—the characteristic and consecrated measure of the epic but they belong to a different species, and burst out from a different vein in the Grecian mind. It seems to have been the more common belief among the historical Greeks, that such mystic effusions were more ancient than their narrative poems, and that Orpheus, Musaeus, Linus, Olen, Pamphus, and even Hesiod, etc., etc., the reputed composers of the former, were of earlier date than Homer. But there is no evidence to sustain this opinion, and the presumptions are all against it. Those compositions, which in the sixth century before the Christian era passed under the name of Orpheus and Musaeus, seem to have been unquestionably post-Homeric, nor can we even admit the modified conclusion of Hermann, Ulrici, and others, that the mystic poetry as a genus (putting aside the particular compositions falsely ascribed to Orpheus and others) preceded in order of time the narrative.

Beside the Iliad and Odyssey, we make out the titles of about thirty lost epic poems, sometimes with a brief hint of their contents.

Concerning the legend of Troy there were five : the Cyprian Verses, the Ethiopis, and the Capture of Troy, both ascribed to Arktinus; the lesser Iliad, ascribed to Lesches; the Returns (of the Heroes from Troy), to which the name of Hagias of Troezen is attached; and the Telegonia, by Eugammon, a continuation of the Odyssey. Two poems,—the Thebais and the Epigoni (perhaps two parts of one and the same poem) were devoted to the legend of Thebes,—the two sieges of that city by the Argeians. Another poem, called Edipodia, had for its subject the tragical destiny of Oedipus and his family; and perhaps that which is cited as Europia, or verses on Europa, may have comprehended the tale of her brother Cadmus, the mythical founder of Thebes.

The exploits of Heracles were celebrated in two compositions, each called Herakleia, by Kinaethon and Pisander,—probably also in many others, of which the memory has not been preserved. The capture of Echalia, by Heracles, formed the subject of a separate epic. Two other poems, the Aegimius and the Minyas, are supposed to have been founded on other achievements of this hero,—the effective aid which he lent to the Dorian king Aegimius against the Lapithae, his descent to the underworld for the purpose of rescuing the imprisoned Theseus, and his conquest of the city of the Minyae, the powerful Orchomenus.

Other epic poems : the Phoronis, the Danais, the Alkmaeonis, the Atthis, the Amazonia, we know only by name, and can just guess obscurely at their contents so far as the name indicates. The Titanomachia, the Gigantomachia, and the Corinthiaca, three compositions all ascribed to Eumelus, afford by means of their titles an idea somewhat clearer of the matter which they comprised. The Theogony ascribed to Hesiod still exists, though partially corrupt and mutilated: but there seem to have been other poems, now lost, of the like import and title.

Of the poems composed in the Hesiodic style, diffusive and full of genealogical detail, the principal were, the Catalogue of Women and the Great Eoiai; the latter of which, indeed, seems to have been a continuation of the former. A large number of the celebrated women of heroic Greece were commemorated in these poems, one after the other, without any other than an arbitrary bond of connection. The Marriage of Keyx,—the Melampodia—and a string of fables called Astronomia, are farther ascribed to Hesiod: and the poem above mentioned, called Aegimius, is also sometimes connected with his name, sometimes with that of Kerkops. The Naupaktian Verses (so called, probably, from the birthplace of their author), and the genealogies of Kinaethon and Asius, were compositions of the same rambling character, as far as we can judge from the scanty fragments remaining. The Orchomenian epic poet Chersias, of whom two lines only are preserved to us by Pausanias, may reasonably be referred to the same category.

The oldest of the epic poets, to whom any date, carrying with it the semblance of authority, is assigned, is Arktinus of Miletus, who is placed by Eusebius in the first Olympiad, and by Suidas in the ninth. Eugammon, the author of the Telegonia, and the latest of the catalogue, is placed in the fifty-third Olympiad, BC 566. Between these two we find Asius and Lesches, about the thirtieth Olympiad,—a time when the vein of the ancient epic was drying up, and when other forms of poetry—elegiac, iambic, lyric, and choric—had either already arisen, or were on the point of arising, to compete with it .


It has already been stated in a former chapter, that in the early commencements of prose-writing, Hekataeus, Pherekydes, and ether logographers, made it their business to extract from the ancient fables something like a continuous narrative, chronologically arranged. It was upon a principle somewhat analogous that the Alexandrine literati, about the second century before the Christian era, arranged the multitude of old epic poets into a series founded on the supposed order of time in the events narrated,— beginning with the intermarriage of Uranus and Gaea, and the Theogony,—and concluding with the death of Odysseus by the hands of his son Telegonus. This collection passed by the name of the Epic Cycle, and the poets, whose compositions were embodied in it, were termed Cyclic poets. Doubtless, the epical treasures of the Alexandrine library were larger than had ever before been brought together and submitted to men both of learning and leisure : so that multiplication of such compositions in the same museum rendered it advisable to establish some fixed order of perusal, and to copy them in one corrected and uniform edition. It pleased the critics to determine precedence, neither by antiquity nor by excellence of the compositions themselves, but by the supposed sequence of narrative so that the whole taken together constituted a readable aggregate of epical antiquity.

Much obscurity exists, and many different opinions have been expressed, respecting this Epic Cycle. I view it, not as an exclusive canon, but simply as an all-comprehensive classification, with a new edition founded thereupon. It would include all the epic poems in the library older than the Telegonia, and apt for continuous narrative; it would exclude only two classes; first, the recent epic poets, such as Panyasis and Antimachus; next, the genealogical and desultory poems, such as the Catalogue of Women, the Eoiai, and others, which could not be made to fit in to any chronological sequence of events. Both the Iliad and the Odyssey were comprised in the Cycle, so that the denomination of cyclic poet did not originally or designedly carry with it any association of contempt. But as the great and capital poems were chiefly spoken of by themselves, or by the title of their own separate authors, so the general name of poets of the Cycle came gradually to be applied only to the worst, and thus to imply vulgarity or common-place; the more so, as many of the inferior compositions included in the collection seem to have been anonymous, and their authors in consequence describable only under some such common designation as that of the cyclic poets. It is in this manner that we are to explain the disparaging sentiment connected by Horace and others with the idea of a cyclic writer, though no such sentiment was implied in the original meaning of the Epic Cycle.

The poems of the Cycle were thus mentioned in contrast and antithesis with Homer, though originally the Iliad and Odyssey had both been included among them: and this alteration of the meaning of the word has given birth to a mistake as to the primary purpose of the classification, as if it had been designed especially to part off the inferior epic productions from Homer. But while some critics are disposed to distinguish the cyclic poets too pointedly from Homer, I conceive that Welcker goes too much into the other extreme, and identifies the Cycle too closely with that poet. He construes it as a classification deliberately framed to comprise all the various productions of the Homeric epic, with its unity of action and comparative paucity, both of persons and adventures, —as opposed to the Hesiodic epic, crowded with separate persons and pedigrees, and destitute of central action as well as of closing catastrophe. This opinion does, indeed, coincide to a great degree with the fact, inasmuch as few of the Hesiodic epics appear to have been included in the Cycle : to say that none were included, would be too much, for we cannot venture to set aside either the Theogony or the Aegimius; but we may account for their absence perfectly well without supposing any design to exclude them, for it is obvious that their rambling character (like that of the Metamorphoses of Ovid) forbade the possibility of interweaving them in any continuous series. Continuity in the series of narrated events, coupled with a certain degree of antiquity in the poems, being the principle on which the arrangement called the Epic Cycle was based, the Hesiodic poems generally were excluded, not from any preconceived intention, but because they could not be brought into harmony with such orderly reading.

What were the particular poems which it comprised, we cannot now determine with exactness. Welcker arranges them as follows : Titanomachia, Donais, Amazonia (or Atthis), Edipodia, Thebais (or Expedition of Amphiaraus), Epigoni (or Alcmeonis), Minyas (or Phokais), Capture of Oechalia, Cyprian Verses, Iliad, Athiopis, Lesser Iliad, Iliupersis or the Taking of Troy, Returns of the Heroes, Odyssey, and Telegonia. Wuellner, Lange, and Mr. Fynes Clinton enlarge the list of cyclic poems still farther. But all such reconstructions of the Cycle are conjectural and destitute of authority : the only poems which we can affirm on positive grounds to have been comprehended in it, are, first, the series respecting the heroes of Troy, from the Cypria to the Telegonia, of which Proclus has preserved the arguments, and which includes the Iliad and Odyssey,—next, the old Thebais, which is expressly termed cyclic, in order to distinguish it from the poem of the same name composed by Antimachus. In regard to other particular compositions, we have no evidence to guide us, either for admission or exclusion, except our general views as to the scheme upon which the Cycle was framed. If my idea of that scheme be correct, the Alexandrine critics arranged therein all their old epical treasures, down to the Telegonia,—the good as well as the bad; gold, silver, and iron,—provided only they could be pieced in with the narrative series. But I cannot venture to include, as Mr. Clinton does, the Europia, the Phoronis, and other poems of which we know only the names, because it is uncertain whether their contents were such as to fulfill their primary condition : nor can I concur with him in thinking that, where there were two or more poems of the same title and subject, one of them must necessarily have been adopted into the Cycle to the exclusion of the others. There may have been two Theogonies, or two Herakleias, both comprehended in the Cycle; the purpose being (as I before remarked), not to sift the better from the worse, but to determine some fixed order, convenient for reading and reference, amidst a multiplicity of scattered compositions, as the basis of a new, entire, and corrected edition.


Whatever may have been the principle on which the cyclic poems were originally strung together, they are all now lost, except those two unrivalled diamonds, whose brightness, dimming all the rest, has alone sufficed to confer imperishable glory even upon the earliest phase of Grecian life. It has been the natural privilege of the Iliad and Odyssey, from the rise of Grecian philology down to the present day, to provoke an intense curiosity, which, even in the historical and literary days of Greece, there were no assured facts to satisfy. These compositions are the monuments of an age essentially religious and poetical, but essentially also unphilosophical, unreflecting, and unrecording : the nature of the case forbids our having any authentic transmitted knowledge respecting such a period; and the lesson must be learned, 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. After the numberless comments and acrimonious controversies I to which the Homeric poems have given rise, it can hardly be said that any of the points originally doubtful have obtained a solution such as to command universal acquiescence. To glance at all these controversies, however briefly, would far transcend the limits of the present work; but the most abridged Grecian history would be incomplete without some inquiry respecting the Poet (so the Greek critics in their veneration denominated Homer), and the productions which pass now, or have heretofore passed, under his name.

Who or what was Homer? What date is to be assigned to him? What were his compositions?

A person, putting these questions to Greeks of different towns and ages, would have obtained answers widely discrepant and contradictory. Since the invaluable labors of Aristarchus and the other Alexandrine critics on the text of the Iliad and Odyssey, it has, indeed, been customary to regard those two (putting aside the Hymns, and a few other minor poems) as being the only genuine Homeric compositions : and the literary men called Chorizontes, or the Separators, at the head of whom were Xenon and Hellanikus, endeavored still farther to reduce the number by disconnecting the Iliad and Odyssey, and pointing out that both could not be the work of the same author. Throughout the whole course of Grecian antiquity, the Iliad and the Odyssey, and the Hymns, have been received as Homeric : but if we go back to the time of Herodotus, or still earlier, we find that several other epics also were ascribed to Homer, —and there were not wanting critics, earlier than the Alexandrine age, who regarded the whole Epic Cycle, together with the satirical poem called Margites, the Batrachomyomachia, and other smaller pieces, as Homeric works. The cyclic Thebais and the Epigoni (whether they be two separate poems, or the latter a second part of the former) were in early days currently ascribed to Homer : the same was the case with the Cyprian Verses : some even attributed to him several other poems, the Capture of Oechalia, the Lesser Iliad, the Phokais, and the Amazonia. The title of the poem called Thebais to be styled Homeric, depends upon evidence more ancient than any which can be produced to authenticate the Iliad and Odyssey : for Kallinus, the ancient elegiac poet (BC. 640), mentioned Homer as the author of it,—and his opinion was shared by many other competent judges. From the remarkable description given by Herodotus, of the expulsion of the rhapsodes from Sicyon, by the despot Kleisthenes, in the time of Solon (about BC 580), we may form a probable judgment that the Thebais and the Epigoni were then rhapsodized at Sicyon as Homeric productions. And it is clear from the language of Herodotus, that in his time the general opinion ascribed to Homer both the Cyprian Verses and the Epigoni, though he himself dissents. In spite of such dissent, however, that historian must have conceived the names of Homer and Hesiod to be nearly coextensive with the whole of the ancient epic; otherwise, he would hardly have delivered his memorable judgment, that they two were the framers of Grecian theogony.

The many different cities which laid claim to the birth of Homer (seven is rather below the truth, and Smyrna and Chios are the most prominent among them), is well known, and most of them had legends to tell respecting his romantic parentage, his alleged blindness, and his life of an itinerant bard, acquainted with poverty and sorrow. The discrepancies of statement respecting the date of his reputed existence are no less worthy of remark; for out of the eight different epochs assigned to him, the oldest differs from the most recent by a period of four hundred and sixty years.

Thus conflicting would have been the answers returned in different portions of the Grecian world to any questions respecting the person of Homer. But there were a poetical gens (fraternity or guild) in the Ionic island of Chios, who, if the question had been put to them, would have answered in another manner. To them, Homer was not a mere antecedent man, of kindred nature with themselves, but a divine or semi-divine eponymous and progenitor, whom they worshipped in their gentile sacrifices, and in whose ascendant name and glory the individuality of every member of the gens was merged. The compositions of each separate Homerid, or the combined efforts of many of them in conjunction, were the works of Homer: the name of the individual bard perishes and his authorship is forgotten, but the common gentile father lives and grows in renown, from generation to generation, by the genius of his self-renewing sons.

Such was the conception entertained of Homer by the poetical gens called Homerids; and in the general obscurity of the whole case, I lean towards it as the most plausible conception. Homer is not only the reputed author of the various compositions emanating from the gentile members, but also the recipient of the many different legends and of the divine genealogy, which it pleases their imagination to confer upon him. Such manufacture of fictitious personality, and such perfect incorporation of the entities of religion and fancy with the real world, is a process familiar, and even habitual, in the retrospective vision of the Greeks.


It is to be remarked, that the poetical gens here brought to view, the Homerids, are of indisputable authenticity. Their existence and their considerations were maintained down to the historical times in the island of Chios. If the Homerids were still conspicuous, even in the days of Akusilaus, Pindar, Hellanikus, and Plato, when their productive invention had ceased, and when they had become only guardians and distributors, in common with others, of the treasures bequeathed by their predecessors,—far more exalted must their position have been three centuries before, while they were still the inspired creators of epic novelty, and when the absence of writing assured to them the undisputed monopoly of their own compositions.

Homer, then, is no individual man, but the divine or heroic father (the ideas of worship and ancestry coalescing, as they constantly did in the Grecian mind) of the gentile Homerids, and he is the author of the Thebais, the Epigoni, the Cyprian Verses, the Proems, or Hymns, and other poems, in the same sense in which he is the author of the Iliad and Odyssey,—assuming that these various compositions emanate, as perhaps they may, from different individuals numbered among the Homerids. But this disallowance of the historical personality of Homer is quite distinct from the question, with which it has been often confounded, whether the Iliad and Odyssey are originally entire poems, and whether by one author or otherwise. To us, the name of Homer means these two poems, and little else : we desire to know as much as can be learned respecting their date, their original composition, their preservation, and their mode of communication to the public. All these questions are more or less complicated one with the other.

Concerning the date of the poems, we have no other information except the various affirmations respecting the age of Homer, which differ among themselves (as I have before observed) by an interval of four hundred and sixty years, and which for the most part determine the date of Homer by reference to some other event, itself fabulous and unauthenticated,— such as the Trojan war, the Return of the Herakleids, or the Ionic migration. Krates placed homer earlier than the Return of the Herakleids, and less than eighty years after the Trojan war: Eratosthenes put him one hundred years after the Trojan war : Aristotle, Aristarchus, and Castor made his birth contemporary with the Ionic migration, while Apollodorus brings him down to one hundred years after that event, or two hundred and forty years after the taking of Troy. Thucydides assigns to him a date much subsequent to the Trojan war. On the other hand, Theopompus and Euphorion refer his age to the far more recent period of the Lydian king, Gyges, (Ol. 18-23, BC 708-688,) and put him five hundred years after the Trojan epoch. What were the grounds of these various conjectures, we do not know; though in the statements of Krates and Eratosthenes, we may pretty well divine. But the oldest dictum preserved to us respecting the date of Homer,—meaning thereby the date of the Iliad and Odyssey,— appears to me at the same time the most credible, and the most consistent with the general history of the ancient epic. Herodotus places Homer four hundred years before himself; taking his departure, not from any fabulous event, but from a point of real and authentic time. Four centuries anterior to Herodotus would be a period commencing with 880 BC so that the composition of the Homeric poems would thus fall in a space between 850 and 800 BC. We may gather from the language of Herodotus that this was his own judgment, opposed to a current opinion, which assigned the poet to an earlier epoch.

To place the Iliad and Odyssey at some periods between 850 BC and 776 BC., appears to me more probable than any other date, anterior or posterior, more probable than the latter, because we are justified in believing these two poems to be older than Arktinus, who comes shortly after the first Olympiad; more probable than the former, because, the farther we push the poems back, the more do we enhance the wonder of their preservation, already sufficiently great, down from such an age and society to the historical times.


The mode in which these poems, and indeed all poems, epic as well as lyric, down to the age (probably) of Peisistratus, were circulated and brought to bear upon the public, deserves particular attention. They were not read by individuals alone and apart, but sung or recited at festivals or to assembled companies. This seems to be one of the few undisputed facts with regard to the great poet : for even those who maintain that the Iliad and Odyssey were preserved by means of writing, seldom contend that they were read.

In appreciating the effect of the poems, we must always take account of this great difference between early Greece and our own times; between the congregation mustered at a solemn festival, stimulated by community of sympathy, listening to a measured and musical recital from the lips of trained bards or rhapsodes, whose matter was supposed to have been inspired by the Muse, and the solitary reader, with a manuscript before him; such manuscript being, down to a very late period in Greek literature, indifferently written, without division into parts, and without marks of punctuation. As in the case of dramatic performances, in all ages, so in that of the early Grecian epic, a very large proportion of its impressive effect was derived from the talent of the reciter and the force of the general accompaniments, and would have disappeared altogether in solitary reading.

Originally, the bard sung his own epical narrative, commencing with a proemium or hymn to one of the gods : his profession was separate and special, like that of the carpenter, the leech, or the prophet: his manner and enunciation must have required particular training no less than his imaginative faculty. His character presents itself in the Odyssey as one highly esteemed; and in the Iliad, even Achilles does not disdain to touch the lyre with his own hands, and to sing heroic deeds?

Not only did the Iliad and Odyssey, and the poems embodied in the Epic Cycle, produce all their impression and gain all their renown by this process of oral delivery, but even the lyric and choric poets who succeeded them were known and felt in the same way by the general public, even after the full establishment of habits of reading among lettered men. While in the ease of the epic, the recitation or singing had been extremely simple, and the measure comparatively little diversified, with no other accompaniment than that of the four-stringed harp,—all the variations superinduced upon the original hexameter, beginning with the pentameter and iambus, and proceeding step by step to the complicated strophes of Pindar and the tragic writers, still left the general effect of the poetry greatly dependent upon voice and accompaniments, and pointedly distinguished from mere solitary reading of the words. And in the dramatic poetry, the last in order of time, the declamation and gesture of the speaking actor alternated with the song and dance of the chorus, and with the instruments of musicians, the whole being set off by imposing visible decorations. Now both dramatic effect and song are familiar in modern times, so that every man knows the difference between reading the words and bearing them under the appropriate circumstances : but poetry, as such, is, and has now long been, so exclusively enjoyed by reading, that it requires an especial memento to bring us back to the time when the Iliad and Odyssey were addressed only to the ear and feelings of a promiscuous and sympathizing multitude.

Readers there were none, at least until the century preceding Solon and Peisistratus : from that time forward, they gradually increased both in number and influence; though doubtless small, even in the most literary period of Greece, as compared with modern European society. So far as the production of beautiful epic poetry was concerned, however, the select body of instructed readers, furnished a less potent stimulus than the unlettered and listening crowd of the earlier periods. The poems of Choerilus and Antimachus, towards the close of the Peloponnesian war, though admired by erudite men, never acquired popularity; and the emperor Hadrian failed in his attempt to bring the latter poet into fashion at the expense of Homer.

It will be seen by what has been here stated, that that class of men, who formed the medium of communication between the verse and the ear, were of the highest importance in the ancient world, and especially in the earlier periods of its career,— the bards and rhapsodes for the epic, the singers for the lyric, the actors and singers jointly with the dancers for the chorus and drama. The lyric and dramatic poets taught with their own lips the delivery of their compositions, and so prominently did this business of teaching present itself to the view of the public, that the name Didaskalia, by which the dramatic exhibition was commonly designated, derived from thence its origin.


Among the number of rhapsodes who frequented the festivals at a time when Grecian cities were multiplied and easy of access, for the recitation of the ancient epic, there must have been of course great differences of excellence; but that the more considerable individuals of the class were elaborately trained and highly accomplished in the exercise of their profession, we may assume as certain. But it happens that Socrates, with his two pupils Plato and Xenophon, speak contemptuously of their merits; and many persons have been disposed, somewhat too readily, to admit this sentence of condemnation as conclusive, without taking account of the point of view from which it was delivered. These philosophers considered Homer and other poets with a view to instruction, ethical doctrine, and virtuous practice: they analyzed the characters whom the poet described, sifted the value of the lessons conveyed, and often struggled to discover a hidden meaning, where they disapproved that which was apparent. When they found a man like the rhapsode, who professed to impress the Homeric narrative upon an audience, and yet either never meddled at all, or meddled unsuccessfully, with the business of exposition, they treated him with contempt; indeed, Socrates depreciates the poets themselves, much upon the same principle, as dealing with matters of which they could render no rational account. It was also the habit of Plato and Xenophon to disparage generally professional exertion of talent for the purpose of gaining a livelihood, contrasting it often in an indelicate manner with the gratuitous teaching and ostentatious poverty of their master. But we are not warranted in judging the rhapsodes by such a standard. Though they were not philosophers or moralists, it was their province—and it had been so, long before the philosophical point of view was opened—to bring their poet home to the bosoms and emotions of an assembled crowd, and to penetrate themselves with his meaning so far as was suitable for that purpose, adapting to it the appropriate graces of action and intonation. In this their genuine task they were valuable members of the Grecian community, and seem to have possessed all the qualities necessary for success.

These rhapsodes, the successors of the primitive aoedi, or bards, seem to have been distinguished from them by the discontinuance of all musical accompaniment. Originally, the bard sung, enlivening the song with occasional touches of the simple four-stringed harp: his successor, the rhapsode, recited, holding in his hand nothing but a branch of laurel and depending for affect upon voice and manner,—a species of musical and rhythmical declamation, which gradually increased in vehement emphasis and gesticulation until it approached to that of the dramatic actor. At what time this change took place, or whether the two different modes of enunciating the ancient epic may for a certain period have gone on simultaneously, we have no means of determining. Hesiod receives from the Muse a branch of laurel, as a token of his ordination into their service, which marks him for a rhapsode; while the ancient bard with his harp is still recognized in the Homeric Hymn to the Delian Apollo, as efficient and popular at the Panionic festivals in the island of Delos. Perhaps the improvements made in the harp, to which three strings, in addition to the original four, were attached by Terpander (BC 660), and the growing complication of instrumental music generally, may have contributed to discredit the primitive accompaniment, and thus to promote the practice of recital : the story, that Terpander himself composed music, not only for hexameter poems of his own, but also for those of Homer, seems to indicate that the music which preceded him was ceasing to find favor. By whatever steps the change from the bard to the rhapsode took place, certain it is that before the time of Solon, the latter was the recognized and exclusive organ of the old Epic; sometimes in short fragments before private companies, by single rhapsodes, sometimes several rhapsodes in continuous succession at a public festival.


Respecting the mode in which the Homeric poems were preserved, during the two centuries (or as some think, longer interval) between their original composition and the period shortly preceding Solon, and respecting their original composition and subsequent changes, there are wide differences of opinion among able critics. Were they preserved with or without being written? Was the Iliad originally composed as one poem, and the Odyssey in like manner, or is each of them an aggregation of parts originally self-existent and unconnected? Was the authorship of each poem single-headed or many-headed?

Either tacitly or explicitly, these questions have been generally coupled together and discussed with reference to each other, by inquiries into the Homeric poems; though Mr. Payne Knight's Prolegomena have the merit of keeping them distinct. Half a century ago, the acute and valuable Prolegomena of F. A. Wolf, turning to account the Venetian Scholia which had then been recently published, first opened philosophical discussion as to the history of the Homeric text. A considerable part of that dissertation (though by no means the whole) is employed in vindicating the position, previously announced by Bentley, among others, that the separate constituent portions of the Iliad and Odyssey had not been cemented together into any compact body and unchangeable order until the days of Peisistratus, in the sixth century before Christ. As a step towards that conclusion, Wolf maintained that no written copies of either poem could be shown to have existed during the earlier times to which their composition is referred, and that without writing, neither the perfect symmetry of so complicated a work could have been originally conceived by any poet, nor, if realized by him, transmitted with assurance to posterity. The absence of easy and convenient writing, such as must be indispensably supposed for long manuscripts, among the early Greeks, was thus one of the points in Wolf's case against the primitive integrity of the Iliad and Odyssey. By Nitzsch and other leading opponents of Wolf, the connection of the one with the other seems to have been accepted as he originally put it; and it has been considered incumbent, on those who defended the ancient aggregate character of the Iliad and Odyssey, to maintain that they were written poems from the beginning.

To me it appears that the architectonic functions ascribed by Wolf to Peisistratus and his associates, in reference to the Homeric poems, are nowise admissible. But much would undoubtedly be gained towards that view of the question, if it could be shown that, in order to controvert it, we were driven to the necessity of admitting long written poems in the ninth century before the Christian era. Few things, in my opinion, can be more improbable : and Mr. Payne Knight, opposed as he is to the Wolfian hypothesis, admits this no less than Wolf himself. The traces of writing in Greece, even in the seventh century before the Christian era, are exceedingly trifling. We have no remaining inscription earlier than the 40th Olympiad, and the early inscriptions are rude and unskillfully executed: nor can we even assure ourselves whether Archilochus, Simonides of Amorgus, Kallinus, Tyrtxus, Xanthus, and the other early elegiac and lyric poets, committed their compositions to writing, or at what time the practice of doing so became familiar. The first positive ground, which authorizes us to presume the existence of a manuscript of Homer, is in the famous ordinance of Solon with regard to the rhapsodes at the Panathenma; but for what length of time, previously, manuscripts had existed, we are unable to say.

Those who maintain the Homeric poems to have been written from the beginning, rest their case, not upon positive proofs, nor yet upon the existing habits of society with regard to poetry, for they admit generally that the Iliad and Odyssey were not read, but recited and heard, but upon the supposed necessity that there must have been manuscripts, to insure the preservation of the poems, the unassisted memory of reciters being neither sufficient nor trustworthy. But here we only escape a smaller difficulty by running into a greater; for the existence of trained bards, gifted with extraordinary memory, is far less astonishing than that of long manuscripts in an age essentially non-reading and non-writing, and when even suitable instruments and materials for the process arc not obvious. Moreover, there is a strong positive reason for believing that the bard was under no necessity for refreshing his memory by consulting a manuscript. For if such had been the fact, blindness would have been a disqualification for the profession, which we know that it was not; as well from the example of Demodokus in the Odyssey, as from that of the blind bard of Chios, in the hymn to the Delian Apollo, whom Thucydides, as well as the general tenor of Grecian legend, identifies with Homer himself: The author of that Hymn, be he who he may, could never have described a blind man as attaining the utmost perfection in his art, if he had been conscious that the memory of the bard was only maintained by constant reference to the manuscript in his chest.

Nor will it be found, after all, that the effort of memory required, either from bards or rhapsodes, even for the longest of these old Epic poems, though doubtless great, was at all superhuman. Taking the case with reference to the entire Iliad and Odyssey, we know that there were educated gentlemen at Athens who could repeat both poems by heart: but in the professional recitations, we are not to imagine that the same person did go through the whole : the recitation was essentially a joint undertaking, and the rhapsodes who visited a festival would naturally understand among themselves which part of the poem should devolve upon each particular individual. Under such circumstances, and with such means of preparation beforehand, the quantity of verse which a rhapsode could deliver would be measured, not so much by the exhaustion of his memory, as by the physical sufficiency of his voice, having reference to the sonorous, emphatic, and rhythmical pronunciation required from him.

But what guarantee have we for the exact transmission of the text for a space of two centuries by simply oral means? It may be replied, that oral transmission would hand down the text as exactly as in point of fact it was handed down. The great lines of each poem, the order of parts, the vein of Homeric feeling, and the general style of locution, and, for the most part, the true words, would be maintained : for the professional training of the rhapsode, over and above the precision of his actual memory, would tend to Homerize his mind (if the expression may be permitted), and to restrain him within this magic circle. On the other hand, in respect to the details of the text, we should expect that there would be wide differences and numerous inaccuracies : and so there really were, as the records contained in the Scholia, together with the passages cited in ancient authors, but not found in our Homeric text, abundantly testify.

Moreover, the state of the Iliad and Odyssey, in respect to the letter called the Digamma, affords a proof that they were recited for a considerable period before they were committed to writing, insomuch that the oral pronunciation underwent during the interval a sensible change. At the time when these poems were composed, the Digamma was an effective consonant, and figured as such in the structure of the verse: at the time when they were committed to writing, it had ceased to be pronounced, and therefore never found a place in any of the manuscripts, insomuch that the Alexandrine critics, though they knew of its existence in the much later poems of Alkaeus and Sappho, never recognized it in Homer. The hiatus, and the various perplexities of metre occasioned by the loss of the Digamma, were corrected by different grammatical stratagems. But the whole history of this lost letter is very curious, and is rendered intelligible only by the supposition that the Iliad and Odyssey belonged for a wide space of time to the memory, the voice, and the ear, exclusively.


At what period these poems, or, indeed, any other Greek poems, first began to be written, must be matter of conjecture, though there is ground for assurance that it was before the time of Solon. If, in the absence of evidence, we may venture upon naming any more determinate period, the question at once suggests itself, what were the purposes which, in that stage of society, a manuscript at its first commencement must have been intended to answer? For whom was a written Iliad necessary? Not for the rhapsodes; for with them it was not only planted in the memory, but also interwoven with the feelings, and conceived in conjunction with all those flexions and intonations of voice, pauses, and other oral artifices, which were required for emphatic delivery, and which the naked manuscript could never reproduce. Not for the general public, they were accustomed to receive it with its rhapsodic delivery, and with its accompaniments of a solemn and crowded festival. The only persons for whom the written Iliad would be suitable, would be a select few; studious and curious men, a class of readers, capable of analyzing the complicated emotions which they had experienced as hearers in the crowd, and who would, on perusing the written words, realize in their imaginations a sensible portion of the impression communicated by the reciter.

Incredible as the statement may seem in an age like the present, there is in all early societies, and there was in early Greece, a time when no such reading class existed. If we could discover at what time such a class first began to be formed, we should be able to make a guess at the time when the old Epic poems were first committed to writing. Now the period which may with the greatest probability be fixed upon as having first witnessed the formation even of the narrowest reading class in Greece, is the middle of the seventh century before the Christian era (B. 660 to BC 630), the age of Terpander, Kallinus, Archilochus, Simonides of Amorgus, etc. I ground this supposition on the change then operated in the character and tendencies of Grecian poetry and music, the elegiac and iambic measures having been introduced as rivals to the primitive hexameter, and poetical compositions having been transferred from the epical past to the affairs of present and real life. Such a change was important at a time when poetry was the only known mode of publication (to use a modern phrase not altogether suitable, yet the nearest approaching to the sense). It argued a new way of looking at the old epical treasures of the people, as well as a thirst for new poetical effect; 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 rhapsodes, 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 BC, 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 rhapsodes.

We may, I think, consider the Iliad and Odyssey to have been preserved without the aid of writing, for a period near upon two centuries. But is it true, as Wolf imagined, and as other able critics have imagined, also, that the separate portions of which these two poems are composed were originally distinct epical ballads, each constituting a separate whole and intended for separate recitation? Is it true, that they had not only no common author, but originally, neither common purpose nor fixed order, and that their first permanent arrangement and integration was delayed for three centuries, and accomplished at last only by the taste of Peisistratus conjoined with various lettered friends?

This hypothesis, to which the genius of Wolf first gave celebrity, but which has been since enforced more in detail by others, especially by William Muller and Laehmann, appears to me not only unsupported by any sufficient testimony, but also opposed to other testimony as well as to a strong force of internal probability. The authorities quoted by Wolf are Josephus, Cicero, and Pausanias : Josephus mentions nothing about Peisistratus, but merely states (what we may accept as the probable fact) that the Homeric poems were originally unwritten, and preserved only in songs or recitations, from which they were at a subsequent period put into writing : hence many of the discrepancies in the text. On the other hand, Cicero and Pausanias go farther, and affirm that Peisistratus both collected, and arranged in the existing order, the rhapsodies of the Iliad and Odyssey, (implied as poems originally entire, and subsequently broken into pieces,) which he found partly confused and partly isolated from each other, each part being then remembered only in its own portion of the Grecian world. Respecting Hipparchus the son of Peisistratus, too, we are told in the Pseudo-Platonic dialogue which bears his name, that he was the first to introduce into Attica, the poetry of Homer, and that he prescribed to the rhapsodes to recite the parts of the Panathenaic festival in regular sequence.

Wolf and William Muller occasionally speak as if they admitted something like an Iliad and Odyssey as established aggregates prior to Peisistratus; but for the most part they represent him or his associates as having been the first to put together Homeric poems which were before distinct and self-existent compositions. And Lachmann, the recent expositor of the same theory, ascribes to Peisistratus still more unequivocally this original integration of parts in reference to the Iliad, —distributing the first twenty-two books of the poem into sixteen separate songs, and treating it as ridiculous to imagine that the fusion of these songs, into an order such as we now read, belongs to any date earlier than Peisistratus.


Upon this theory we may remark, first, that it stands opposed to the testimony existing respecting the regulations of Solon; who, before the time of Peisistratus, had enforced a fixed order of recitation on the rhapsodes of the Iliad at the Panathenaic festival; not only directing that they should go through the rhapsodies seriatim, and without omission or corruption, but also establishing a prompter or censorial authority to insure obedience, which implies the existence (at the same time that it proclaims the occasional infringement) of an orderly aggregate, as well as or manuscripts professedly complete. Next, the theory ascribes to Peisistratus a character not only materially different from what is indicated by Cicero and Pausanias, who represent him, not as having put together atoms originally distinct, but as the renovator of an ancient order subsequently lost, but also in itself unintelligible, and inconsistent with Grecian habit and feeling. That Peisistratus should take pains to repress the license, or make up for the unfaithful memory, of individual rhapsodes, and to ennoble the Panathenaic festival by the most correct recital of a great and venerable poem, according to the standard received among the best judges in Greece, this is a task both suitable to his position, and requiring nothing more than an improved recension, together with exact adherence to it on the part of the rhapsodes.

But what motive had he to string together several poems, previously known only as separate, into one new whole? What feeling could he gratify by introducing the extensive changes and transpositions surmised by Lachmann, for the purpose of binding together sixteen songs, which the rhapsodes are assumed to have been accustomed to recite, and the people to hear, each by itself apart?

Peisistratus was not a poet, seeking to interest the public mind by new creations and combinations, but a ruler, desirous to impart solemnity to a great religious festival in his native city. Now such a purpose would be answered by selecting, amidst the divergences of rhapsodes in different parts of Greece, that order of text which intelligent men could approve as a return to the pure and pristine Iliad; but it would be defeated if he attempted large innovations of his own, and brought out for the first time a new Iliad by blending together, altering, and transposing, many old and well-known songs. A novelty so bold would have been more likely to offend than to please both the critics and the multitude. And if it were even enforced, by authority, at Athens, no probable reason can be given why all the other towns, and all the rhapsodes throughout Greece, should abnegate their previous habits in favor of it, since Athens at that time enjoyed no political ascendency such as she acquired during the following century. On the whole, it will appear that the character and position of Peisistratus himself go far to negative the function which Wolf and Lachmann put upon him. His interference 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, he 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 preexisting songs, the former is as easy, suitable, and promising, as the latter is violent and gratuitous.

To sustain the inference, that Peisistratus was the first architect of the Iliad and Odyssey, it ought at least to be shown that no other long and continuous poems existed during the earlier centuries. But the contrary of this is known to be the fact. The Aethiopis of Arktinus, which contained nine thousand one hundred verses, dates from a period more than two centuries earlier than Peisistratus : several other of the lost cyclic epics, some among them of considerable length, appear during the century succeeding Arktinus; and it is important to notice that three or four at least of these poems passed currently under the name of Homer. There is no greater intrinsic difficulty in supposing long epics to have begun with the Iliad and Odyssey than with the Ethiopis : the ascendency of the name of Homer and the subordinate position of Arktinus, in the history of early Grecian poetry, tend to prove the former in preference to the latter.


Moreover, we find particular portions of the Iliad, which expressly pronounce themselves, by their own internal evidence, as belonging to a large whole, and not as separate integers. We can hardly conceive the Catalogue in the second book, except as a fractional composition, and with reference to a series of approaching exploits; for, taken apart by itself, such a barren enumeration of names could have stimulated neither the fancy of the poet, nor the attention of the listeners. But the Homeric Catalogue had acquired a sort of canonical authority even in the time of Solon, insomuch that he interpolated a line into it, or was accused of doing so, for the purpose of gaining a disputed point against the Megarians, who, on their side, set forth another version. No such established reverence could have been felt for this document, unless there had existed for a long time prior to Peisistratus, the habit of regarding and listening to the Iliad as a continuous poem. And when the philosopher Xenophanes, contemporary with Peisistratus, noticed Homer as the universal teacher, and denounced him as an unworthy describer of the gods, he must have connected this great mental sway, not with a number of unconnected rhapsodies, but with an aggregate Iliad and Odyssey; probably with other poems, also, ascribed to the same author, such as the Cypria, Epigoni, and Thebais.

We find, it is true, references in various authors to portions of the Iliad, each by its own separate name, such as the Teichomachy, the Aristeia (preeminent exploits) of Diomedes, or Agamemnon, the Doloneia, or Night-expedition (of Dolon as well as of Odysseus and Diomedes), etc., and hence, it has been concluded, that these portions originally existed as separate poems, before they were cemented together into an Iliad. But such references prove nothing to the point; for until the Iliad was divided by Aristarchus and his colleagues into a given number of books, or rhapsodies, designated by the series of letters in the alphabet, there was no method of calling attention to any particular portion of the poem except by special indication of its subject-matter. Authors subsequent to Peisistratus, such as Herodotus and Plato, who unquestionably conceived the Iliad as a whole, cite the separate fractions of it by designations of this sort.

The foregoing remarks on the Wolfian hypothesis respecting the text of the Iliad, tend to separate two points which are by no means necessarily connected, though that hypothesis, as set forth by Wolf himself, by W. Muller, and by Lachmann, presents the two in conjunction. First, was the Iliad originally projected and composed by one author, and as one poem, or were the different parts composed separately and by unconnected authors, and subsequently strung together into an aggregate? Secondly, assuming that the internal evidence of the poem negative the former supposition, and drive us upon the latter, was the construction of the whole poem deferred, and did the parts exist only in their separate state, until a period so late as the reign of Peisistratus? It is obvious that these two questions are essentially separate, and that a man may believe the Iliad to have been put together out of preexisting songs, without recognizing the age of Peisistratus as the period of its first compilation. Now, whatever may be the steps through which the poem passed to its ultimate integrity, there is sufficient reason for believing that they had been accomplished long before that period : the friends of Peisistratus found an Iliad already existing and already ancient in their time, even granting that the poem had not been originally born in a state of unity. Moreover, the Alexandrine critics, whose remarks are preserved in the Scholia, do not even notice the Peisistratic recension among the many manuscript, which they had before them: and Mr. Payne Knight justly infers from their silence that either they did not possess it, or it was in their eyes of no great authority; which could never have been the case if it had been the prime originator of Homeric unity.

The line of argument, by which the advocates of Wolf's hypothesis negative the primitive unity of the poem, consists in exposing gaps, incongruities, contradictions, etc., between the separate parts. Now, if in spite of all these incoherencies, standing mementos of an antecedent state of separation, the component poems were made to coalesce so intimately as to appear as if they had been one from the beginning, we can better understand the complete success of the proceeding and the universal prevalence of the illusion, by supposing such coalescence to have taken place at a very early period, during the productive days of epical genius, and before the growth of reading and criticism. The longer the aggregation of the separate poems was deferred, the harder it would be to obliterate in men's minds the previous state of separation, and to make them accept the new aggregate as an original unity. The bards or rhapsodes might have found comparatively little difficulty in thus piecing together distinct songs, during the ninth or eighth century before Christ; but if we suppose the process to be deferred until the latter half of the sixth century, if we imagine that Solon, with all his contemporaries and predecessors, knew nothing about any aggregate Iliad, but was accustomed to read and hear only those sixteen distinct epical pieces into which Lachmann would dissect the Iliad, each of the sixteen bearing a separate name of its own, no compilation then for the first time made by the friends of Peisistratus could have effaced the established habit, and planted itself in the general convictions of Greece as the primitive Homeric production. Had the sixteen pieces remained disunited and individualized down to the time of Peisistratus, they would in all probability have continued so ever afterwards; nor could the extensive changes and transpositions which (according to Lachmann’s theory) were required to melt them down into our present Iliad, have obtained at that late period universal acceptance. Assuming it to be true that such changes and transpositions did really take place, they must at least be referred to a period greatly earlier than Peisistratus or Solon.

The whole tenor of the poems themselves confirms what is here remarked. There is nothing either in the Iliad or Odyssey which savors 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 and reading, the despotisms and republican governments, the close military array, the improved construction of ships, the Amphiktyonic convocations, the mutual frequentation of religious festivals, the Oriental and Egyptian veins of religion, etc., familiar to the latter epoch. These alterations Onomakritus and the other literary friends of Peisistratus, could hardly have failed to notice even without design, had they then for the first time undertaken the task of piecing together many self-existent epics into one large aggregate. Everything in the two great Homeric poems, both in substance and in language, belongs to an age two or three centuries earlier than Peisistratus. Indeed, even the interpolations (or those passages which on the best grounds are pronounced to be such) betray no trace of the sixth century before Christ, and may well have been heard by Archilochus and Kallinus, in some cases even by Arktinus and Hesiod, as genuine Homeric matter. As far as the evidences on the case, as well internal as external, enable us to judge, we seem warranted in believing that the Iliad and Odyssey were recited substantially as they now stand, (always allowing for partial divergences of text, and interpolations,) in 776 BC, our first trustworthy mark of Grecian time. And this ancient date, let it be added, as it is the best-authenticated fact, so it is also the most important attribute of the Homeric poems, considered in reference to Grecian history. For they thus afford us an insight into the ante-historical character of the Greeks, enabling us to trace the subsequent forward march of the nation, and to seize instructive contrasts between their former and their later condition.


Rejecting, therefore, the idea of compilation by Peisistratus, and referring the present state of the Iliad and Odyssey to a period more than two centuries earlier, the question still remains, by what process, or through whose agency, they reached that state? Is each poem the work of one author, or of several? If the latter, do all the parts belong to the same age? What ground is there for believing, that any or all of these parts existed before, as separate poems, and have been accommodated to the place in which they now appear, by more or less systematic alteration?

The acute and valuable Prolegomena of Wolf, half a century ago, powerfully turned the attention of scholars to the necessity of considering the Iliad and Odyssey with reference to the age and society in which they arose, and to the material differences in this respect between Homer and more recent epic poets. Since that time, an elaborate study has been bestowed upon the early manifestations of poetry (Sagen-poesie) among other nations; and the German critics especially, among whom this description of literature has been most cultivated, have selected it as the only appropriate analogy for the Homeric poems. Such poetry, consisting for the most part of short, artless effusions, with little of deliberate or far-sighted combination, has been assumed by many critics as a fit standard to apply for measuring the capacities of the Homeric age; an age exclusively of speakers, singers, and hearers, not of readers or writers. In place of the unbounded admiration which was felt for Homer, not merely as a poet of detail, but as constructor of a long epic, at the time when Wolf wrote his Prolegomena, the tone of criticism passed to the opposite extreme, and attention was fixed entirely upon the defects in the arrangement of the Iliad and Odyssey. Whatever was to be found in them of symmetry or pervading system, was pronounced to be decidedly post-Homeric. Under such preconceived anticipations, Homer seems to have been generally studied in Germany, during the generation succeeding Wolf; the negative portion of whose theory was usually admitted, though as to the positive substitute, what explanation was to be given of the history and present constitution of the Homeric poems, there was by no means the like agreement. Dining the last ten years, however, a contrary tendency has manifested itself; the Wolfian theory has been reexamined and shaken by Nitzsch, who, as well as 0. Muller, Welcker, and other scholars, have revived the idea of original Homeric unity, under certain modifications. The change in Goethe's opinion, coincident with this new direction, is recorded in one of his latest works. On the other hand, the original opinion of Wolf has also been reproduced within the last five years, and fortified with several new observations on the text of the Iliad, by Lachmann.

The point is thus still under controversy among able scholars, and is probably destined to remain so. For, in truth, our means of knowledge are so limited, that no man can produce arguments sufficiently cogent to contend against opposing preconceptions; and it creates a painful sentiment of diffidence when we read the expressions of equal and absolute persuasion with which the two opposite conclusions have both been advanced. We have nothing to teach us the history of these poems except the poems themselves. Not only do we possess no collateral information respecting them or their authors, but we have no one to describe to us the people or the age in which they originated; our knowledge respecting contemporary Homeric society, is collected exclusively from the Homeric compositions themselves. We are ignorant whether any other, or what other, poems preceded them, or divided with them the public favor; nor have we anything better than conjecture to determine either the circumstances under which they were brought before the hearers, or the conditions which a bard of that day was required to satisfy. On all these points, moreover, the age of Thucydides and Plato seems to have been no better informed than we are, except in so far as they could profit by the analogies of the cyclic and other epic poems, which would doubtless in many cases have afforded valuable aid.

Nevertheless, no classical scholar can be easy without some opinion respecting the authorship of these immortal poems. And the more defective the evidence we possess, the more essential is it that all that evidence should be marshaled in the clearest order, and its bearing upon the points in controversy distinctly understood beforehand. Both these conditions seem to have been often neglected, throughout the long-continued Homeric discussion.

To illustrate the first point : Since two poems are comprehended in the problem to be solved, the natural process would be, first, to study the easier of the two, and then to apply the conclusions thence deduced as a means of explaining the other. Now, the Odyssey, looking at its aggregate character, is incomparably more easy to comprehend than the Iliad. Yet most Homeric critics apply the microscope at once, and in the first instance, to the Iliad.

  To illustrate the second point : What evidence is sufficient to negative the supposition that the Iliad or the Odyssey is a poem originally and intentionally one? Not simply particular gaps and contradictions, though they be even gross and numerous; but the preponderance of these proofs of mere unprepared coalescence over the other proofs of designed adaptation scattered throughout the whole poem. For the poet (or the cooperating poets, if more than one) may have intended to compose an harmonious whole, but may have realized their intention incompletely, and left partial faults; or, perhaps, the contradictory lines may have crept in through a corrupt text. A survey of the whole poem is necessary to determine the question; and this necessity, too, has not always been attended to.


If it had happened that the Odyssey had been preserved to us alone, without the Iliad, I think the dispute respecting Homeric unity would never have been raised. For the former is, in my judgment, pervaded almost from beginning to end by marks of designed adaptation; and the special faults which Wolf, W. Muller, and B. Thiersch, have singled out for the purpose of disproving such unity of intention, are so few, and of so little importance, that they would have been universally regarded as mere instances of haste or unskillfulness on the part of the poet, had they not been seconded by the far more powerful battery opened against the Iliad. These critics, having laid down their general presumptions against the antiquity of the long epopee, illustrate their principles by exposing the many flaws and fissures in the Iliad, and then think it sufficient if they can show a few similar defects in the Odyssey,— as if the breaking up of Homeric unity in the former naturally entailed a similar necessity with regard to the latter; and their method of proceeding, contrary to the rule above laid down, puts the more difficult problem in the foreground, as a means of solution for the easier. We can hardly wonder, however, that they have applied their observations in the first instance to the Iliad, because it is in every man's esteem the more marked, striking, and impressive poem of the two,—and the character of Homer is more intimately identified with it than with the Odyssey. This may serve as an explanation of the course pursued; but be the case as it may in respect to comparative poetical merit, it is not the less true, that, as an aggregate, the Odyssey is more simple and easily understood, and, therefore, ought to come first in the order of analysis.

Now, looking at the Odyssey by itself, the proofs of an unity of design seem unequivocal and everywhere to be found. A premeditated structure, and a concentration of interest upon one prime hero, under well-defined circumstances, may be traced from the first book to the twenty-third. Odysseus is always either directly or indirectly kept before the reader, as a warrior returning from the fullness of glory at Troy, exposed to manifold and protracted calamities during his return home, on which his whole soul is so bent that he refuses even the immortality offered by Calypso; a victim, moreover, even after his return, to mingled injury and insult from the suitors, who have long been plundering his property, and dishonoring his house; but at length obtaining, by valor and cunning united, a signal revenge, which restores him to all that he had lost. All the persons and all the events in the poem are subsidiary to this main plot : and the divine agency, necessary to satisfy the feeling of the Homeric man, is put forth by Poseidon and Athene, in both cases from dispositions directly bearing upon Odysseus. To appreciate the unity of the Odyssey, we have only to read the objections taken against that of the Iliad, especially in regard to the long withdrawal of Achilles, not only from the scene, but from the memory, together with the independent prominence of Ajax, Diomedes, and other heroes. How far we are entitled from hence to infer the want of premeditated unity in the Iliad, will be presently considered; but it is certain that the constitution of the Odyssey, in this respect, everywhere demonstrates the presence of such unity. Whatever may be the interest attached to Penelope, Telemachus, or Eumaeus, we never disconnect them from their association with Odysseus. The present is not the place for collecting the many marks of artistical structure dispersed throughout this poem; but it may be worthwhile to remark, that the final catastrophe realized in the twenty-second book, the slaughter of the suitors in the very house which they were profaning; is distinctly and prominently marked out in the first and second books, promised by Teiresias in the eleventh, by Athene in the thirteenth, and by Helen in the fifteenth, and gradually. matured by a series of suitable preliminaries, throughout the eight books preceding its occurrence. Indeed, what is principally evident, and what has been often noticed, in the Odyssey, is the equable flow both of the narrative and the events; the absence of that rise and fall of interest which is sufficiently conspicuous in the Iliad.

To set against these evidences of unity, there ought, at least, to be some strong cases produced of occasional incoherence or contradiction. But it is remarkable how little of such counter-evidence is to be found, although the arguments of Wolf, W. Muller, and B. Thiersch stand so much in need of it. They have discovered only one instance of undeniable inconsistency in the parts, the number of days occupied by the absence of Telemachus at Pylus and Sparta. That young prince, though represented as in great haste to depart, and refusing pressing invitations to prolong his stay, must, nevertheless, be supposed to have continued for thirty days the guest of Menelaus, in order to bring his proceedings into chronological harmony with those of Odysseus, and to explain the first meeting of father and son in the swine-fold of Eumaeus. Here is undoubtedly an inaccuracy, (so Nitzsch treats it, and I think justly) on the part of the poet, who did not anticipate, and did not experience in ancient times, so strict a scrutiny; an inaccuracy certainly not at all wonderful; the matter of real wonder is, that it stands almost alone, and that there are no others in the poem.


Now, this is one of the main points on which W. Muller and B. Thiersch rest their theory, explaining the chronological confusion by supposing that the journey of Telemachus to Pylus and Sparta, constituted the subject of an epic originally separate (comprising the first four books and a portion of the fifteenth), and incorporated at second-hand with the remaining poem. And they conceive this view to be farther confirmed by the double assembly of the gods, (at the beginning of the first book as well as of the fifth,) which they treat as an awkward repetition, such as could not have formed part of the primary scheme of any epic poet. But here they only escape a small difficulty by running into another and a greater. For it is impossible to comprehend how the first four books and part of the fifteenth can ever have constituted a distinct epic; since the adventures of Telemachus have no satisfactory termination, except at the point of confluence with those of his father, when the unexpected meeting and recognition takes place under the roof of Eumaeus, nor can any epic poem ever have described that meeting and recognition without giving some account how Odysseus came thither. Moreover, the first two books of the Odyssey distinctly lay the ground, and carry expectation forward, to the final catastrophe of the poem, treating Telemachus as a subordinate person, and his expedition as merely provisional towards an ulterior result. Nor can I agree with W. Muller, that the real Odyssey might well be supposed to begin with the fifth book. On the contrary, the exhibition of the suitors and the Ithakesian agora, presented to us in the second book, is absolutely essential to the full comprehension of the books subsequent to the thirteenth. The suitors are far too important personages in the poem to allow of their being first introduced in so informal a manner as we read in the sixteenth book: indeed, the passing allusions of Athene, (xiii. 310, 375) and Eumaeus (xiv. 41, 81) to the suitors, presuppose cognizance of them on the part of the hearer.

Lastly, the twofold discussion of the gods, at the beginning of the first and fifth books, and the double interference of Athene, far from being a needless repetition, may be shown to suit perfectly both the genuine epical conditions and the unity of the poem. For although the final consummation, and the organization of measures against the suitors, was to be accomplished by Odysseus and Telemachus jointly, yet the march and adventures of the two, until the moment of their meeting in the dwelling of Eumaeus, were essentially distinct. But, according to the religious ideas of the old epic, the presiding direction of Athena was necessary for the safety and success of both of them. Her first interference arouses and inspires the son, her second produces the liberation of the father, constituting a point of union and common origination for two lines of adventures, in both of which she takes earnest interest, but which ate necessarily for a time kept apart in order to coincide at the proper moment.

It will thus appear that the twice-repeated agora of the gods in the Odyssey, bringing home, as it does to one and the same divine agent, that double start which is essential to the scheme of the poem, consists better with the supposition of premeditated unity than with that of distinct self-existent parts. And, assuredly, the manner in which Telemachus and Odysseus, both by different roads, are brought into meeting and conjunction at the dwelling of Eumaeus, is something not only contrived, but very skillfully contrived. It is needless to advert to the highly interesting character of Eumaeus, rendered available as a rallying-point, though in different ways, both to the father and the son, over and above the sympathy which he himself inspires.

If the Odyssey be not an original unity, of what self-existent parts can we imagine it to have consisted? To this question it is difficult to imagine a satisfactory reply : for the supposition that Telemachus and his adventures may once have formed the subject of a separate epos, apart from Odysseus, appears inconsistent with the whole character of that youth as it stands in the poem, and with the events in which he is made to take part. We could better imagine the distribution of the adventures of Odysseus himself into two parts, one containing his wanderings and return, the other handling his ill-treatment by the suitors, and his final triumph. But though either of these two subjects might have been adequate to furnish out a separate poem, it is nevertheless certain that, as they are presented in the Odyssey, the former cannot be divorced from the latter. The simple return of Odysseus, as it now stands in the poem, could satisfy no one as a final close, so long as the suitors remain in possession of his house, and forbid his reunion with his wife. Any poem which treated his wanderings and return separately, must have represented his reunion with Penelope and restoration to his house, as following naturally upon his arrival in Ithaca, thus taking little or no notice of the suitors. But this would be a capital mutilation of the actual epical narrative, which considers the suitors at home as an essential portion of the destiny of the much-suffering hero, not less than his shipwrecks and trials at sea. His return (separately taken) is foredoomed, according to the curse of Polyphemus, executed by Poseidon, to be long deferred, miserable, solitary, and ending with destruction in his house to greet him; and the ground is thus laid, in the very recital of his wanderings, for a new series of events which are to happen to him after his arrival in Ithaca. There is no tenable halting-place between the departure of Odysseus from Troy, and the final restoration to his house and his wife. The distance between these two events may, indeed, be widened, by accumulating new distresses and impediments, but any separate portion of it cannot be otherwise treated than as a fraction of the whole. The beginning and the end are here the data in respect to epical genesis, though the intermediate events admit of being conceived as variables, more or less numerous : so that the conception of the whole may be said without impropriety both to precede and to govern that of the constituent parts.


The general result of a study of the Odyssey may be set down as follows : 1. The poem, as it now stands, exhibits unequivocally adaptation of parts and continuity of structure, whether by one or by several consentient hands : it may, perhaps, be a secondary formation, out of a preexisting Odyssey of smaller dimensions; but, if so, the parts of the smaller whole must have been so far recast as to make them suitable members of the larger, and are noway recognizable by us. 2. The subject-matter of the poem not only does not favor, but goes far to exclude, the possibility of the Wolfian hypothesis. Its events cannot be so arranged as to have composed several antecedent substantive epics, afterwards put together into the present aggregate. Its authors cannot have been mere compilers of preexisting materials, such as Peisistratus and his friends : they must have been poets, competent to work such matter as they found, into a new and enlarged design of their own. Nor can the age in which this long poem, of so many thousand lines, was turned out as a continuous aggregate, be separated from the ancient, productive, inspired age of Grecian epic.

Arriving at such conclusions from the internal evidence of the Odyssey, we can apply them by analogy to the Iliad. We learn something respecting the character and capacities of that early age which has left no other mementos except these two poems. Long continuous epics (it is observed by those who support the views of Wolf), with an artistical structure, are inconsistent with the capacities of a rude and non-writing age. Such epics (we may reply) are not inconsistent with the early age of the Greeks, and the Odyssey is a proof of it; for in that poem the integration of the whole, and the composition of the parts, must have been simultaneous. The analogy of the Odyssey enables us to rebut that preconception under which many ingenious critics sit down to the study of the Iliad, and which induces them to explain all the incoherencies of the latter by breaking it up into smaller unities, as if short epics were the only manifestation of poetical power which the age admitted. There ought to be no reluctance in admitting a presiding scheme and premeditated unity of parts, in so far as the parts themselves point to such a conclusion.

That the Iliad is not so essentially one piece as the Odyssey, every man agrees. It includes a much greater multiplicity of events, and what is yet more important, a greater multiplicity of prominent personages: the very indefinite title which it bears, as contrasted with the specialty of the name, Odyssey, marks the difference at once. The parts stand out more conspicuously from the whole, and admit more readily of being felt and appreciated in detached recitation. We may also add, that it is of more unequal execution than the Odyssey, often rising to a far higher pitch of grandeur, but also, occasionally, tamer : the story does not move on continuously; incidents occur without plausible motive, nor can we shut our eyes to evidences of incoherence and contradiction.

To a certain extent, the Iliad is open to all these remarks, though Wolf and William Muller, and above all Lachmann, exaggerate the case in degree. And from hence has been deduced the hypothesis which treats the parts in their original state as separate integers, independent of, and unconnected with, each other, and forced into unity only by the afterthought of a subsequent age; or sometimes, not even themselves as integers, but as aggregates grouped together out of fragments still smaller, short epics formed by the coalescence of still shorter songs. Now there is some plausibility in these reasonings, so long as the discrepancies are looked upon as the whole of the case. But in point of fact they are not the whole of the case : for it is not less true, that there are large portions of the Iliad which present positive and undeniable evidences of coherence as antecedent and consequent, though we are occasionally perplexed by inconsistencies of detail. To deal with these latter, is a portion of the duties of the critic. But he is not to treat the Iliad as if inconsistency prevailed everywhere throughout its parts; for coherence of parts—symmetrical antecedence and consequence—is discernible throughout the larger half of the poem.


Now the Wolfian theory explains the gaps and contradictions throughout the narrative, but it explains nothing else. If (as Lachmann thinks) the Iliad originally consisted of sixteen song or little substantive epics, (Lachmann’s sixteen songs cover the space only as far as the 22d book, or the death of Hector, and two more songs would have to be admitted for the 23d and 24th books),—not only composed by different authors, but by each without any view to conjunction with the rest, — we have then no right to expect any intrinsic continuity between them; and all that continuity which we now find must be of extraneous origin. Where are we to look for the origin? Lachmann follows Wolf, in ascribing the whole constructive process to Peisistratus and his associates, at a period when the creative epical faculty is admitted to have died out. But upon this supposition, Peisistratus (or his associates) must have done much more than omit, transpose, and interpolate, here and there; he must have gone far to rewrite the whole poem. A great poet might have recast preexisting separate songs into one comprehensive whole, but no mere arrangers or compilers would be competent to do so : and we are thus left without any means of accounting for that degree of continuity and consistence which runs through so large a portion of the Iliad, though not through the whole. The idea that the poem, as we read it, grew out of atoms not originally designed for the places which they now occupy, involves us in new and inextricable difficulties, when we seek to elucidate either the mode of coalescence or the degree of existing unity.

Admitting then premeditated adaptation of parts to a certain extent as essential to the Iliad, we may yet inquire, whether it was produced all at once, or gradually enlarged, whether by one author, or by several; and, if the parts be of different age, which is the primitive kernel, and which are the additions.

Welcker, Lange, and Nitzsch treat the Homeric poems as representing a second step in advance, in the progress of popular poetry. First, comes the age of short narrative songs; next, when these have become numerous, there arise constructive minds, who recast and blend together many of them into a larger aggregate, conceived upon some scheme of their own. The age of the epos is followed by that of the epopee, short, spontaneous effusions preparing the way, and furnishing materials, for the architectonic genius of the poet. It is farther presumed by the above-mentioned authors, that the pre-Homeric epic included a great abundance of such smaller songs, a fact which admits of no proof, but which seems countenanced by some passages in Homer, and is in itself no way improbable. But the transition from such songs, assuming them to be ever so numerous, to a combined and continuous poem, forms an epoch in the intellectual history of the nation, implying mental qualities of a higher order than those upon which the songs themselves depend. Nor is it to be imagined that the materials pass unaltered from their first state of isolation into their second state of combination. They must of necessity be recast, and undergo an adapting process, in which the genius of the organizing poet consists; nor can we hope, by simply knowing them as they exist in the second stage, ever to divine how they stood in the first. Such, in my judgment, is the right conception of the Homeric epoch, an organizing poetical mind, still preserving that freshness of observation and vivacity of details which constitutes the charm of the ballad.

Nothing is gained by studying the Iliad as a congeries of fragments once independent of each other : no portion of the poem can be shown to have ever been so, and the supposition introduces difficulties greater than those which it removes. But it is not necessary to affirm that the whole poem as we now read it, belonged to the original and preconceived plan. In this respect, the Iliad produces, upon my mind, an impression totally different from the Odyssey. In the latter poem, the characters and incidents are fewer, and the whole plot appears of one projection, from the beginning down to the death of the suitors : none of the parts look as if they had been composed separately, and inserted by way of addition into a preexisting smaller poem. But the Iliad, on the contrary, presents the appearance of a house built upon a plan comparatively narrow, and subsequently enlarged by successive additions. The first book, together with the eighth, and the books from the eleventh to the twenty-second, inclusive, seem to form the primary organization of the poem, then properly an Achilleis : the twenty-third and twenty-fourth books are, perhaps, additions at the tail of this primitive poem, which still leave it nothing more than an enlarged Achilleis. But the books from the second to the seventh, inclusive, together with the tenth, are of a wider and more comprehensive character, and convert the poem from an Achilleis into an Iliad. The primitive frontispiece, inscribed with the anger of Achilles, and its direct consequences, yet remains, after it has ceased to be coextensive with the poem. The parts added, however, are not necessarily inferior in merit to the original poem : so far is this from being the case, that amongst them are comprehended some of the noblest efforts of the Grecian epic. Nor are they more recent in date than the original ; strictly speaking, they must be a little more recent, but they belong to the same generation and state of society as the primitive Achilles. These qualifications are necessary to keep apart different questions, which, in discussions of Homeric criticism, are but too often confounded.

If we take those portions of the poem which I imagine to have constituted the original Achilleis, it will be found that the sequence of events contained in them is more rapid, more unbroken, and more intimately knit together in the way of cause and effect, than in the other books. Heyne and Lachmann, indeed, with other objecting critics, complains of the action in them as being too much crowded and hurried, since one day lasts from the beginning of the eleventh book to the middle of the eighteenth, without any sensible halt in the march throughout so large a portion of the journey. Lachmann, likewise, admits that those separate songs, into which he imagines that the whole Iliad may be dissected, cannot be severed with the same sharpness, in the books subsequent to the eleventh, as in those before it. There is only one real halting-place from the eleventh book to the twenty-second—the death of Patroclus; and this can never be conceived as the end of a separate poem, though it is a capital step in the development of the Achilleis, and brings about that entire revolution in the temper of Achilles which was essential for the purpose of the poet. It would be a mistake to imagine that there ever could have existed a separate poem called Patrocleia, though a part of the Iliad was designated by that name. For Patroclus has no substantive position : he is the attached friend and second of Achilles, but nothing else, standing to the latter in a relation of dependence resembling that of Telemachus to Odysseus. And the way in which Patroclus is dealt with in the Iliad, is, (in my judgment,) the most dexterous and artistical contrivance in the poem, that which approaches nearest to the neat tissue of the odyssey.

The great and capital misfortune which prostrates the strength of the Greeks, and renders them incapable of defending themselves without Achilles, is the disablement, by wounds, of Agamemnon, Diomedes, and Odysseus; so that the defense of the wall and of the ships is left only to heroes of the second magnitude (Ajax alone excepted), such as Idomeneus, Leonteus, Polypoetes, Meriones, Menelaus, etc. Now, it is remarkable that all these three first-rate chiefs are in full force at the beginning of the eleventh book : all three are wounded in the battle which that book describes, and at the commencement of which Agamemnon is full of spirits and courage.

Nothing can be more striking than the manner in which Homer concentrates our attention in the first book upon Achilles as the hero, his quarrel with Agamemnon, and the calamities to the Greeks which are held out as about to ensue from it, through the intercession of Thetis with Zeus. But the incidents dwelt upon from the beginning of the second book down to the combat between Hector and Ajax in the seventh, animated and interesting as they are, do nothing to realize this promise. They are a splendid picture of the Trojan war generally, and eminently suitable to that larger title under which the poem has been immortalized,—but the consequences of the anger of Achilles do not appear until the eighth book. The tenth book, or Doloneia, is also a portion of the Iliad, but not of the Achilleis : while the ninth book appears to me a subsequent addition, nowise harmonizing with that main stream of the Achilleis which flows from the eleventh book to the twenty-second. The eighth book ought to be read in immediate connection with the eleventh, in order to see the structure of what seems the primitive Achilleis; for there are several passages in the eleventh and the following books, which prove that the poet who composed them could not have had present to his mind the main event of the ninth book, the outpouring of profound humiliation by the Greeks, and from Agamemnon, especially, before Achilles, coupled with formal offers to restore Briseis, and pay the amplest compensation for past wrong. The words of Achilles (not less than those of Patroclus and Nestor) in the eleventh and in the following books, plainly imply that the humiliation of the Greeks before him, for which he thirsts, is as yet future and contingent; that no plenary apology has yet been tendered, nor any offer made of restoring Briseis; while both Nestor and Patroclus, with all their wish to induce him to take arms, never take notice of the offered atonement and restitution, but view him as one whose ground for quarrel stands still the same as it did at the beginning. Moreover, if we look at the first book,— the opening of the Achilles, — we shall see that this prostration of Agamemnon and the chief Grecian heroes before Achilles, would really be the termination of the whole poem; for Achilles asks nothing more from Thetis, nor Thetis anything more from Zeus, than that Agamemnon and the Greeks may be brought to know the wrong they have done to their capital warrior, and humbled in the dust in expiation of it. We may add, that the abject terror in which Agamemnon appears in the ninth book, when he sends the supplicatory message to Achilles, as it is not adequately accounted for by the degree of calamity which the Greeks have experienced in the preceding (eighth) book, so it is inconsistent with the gallantry and high spirit with which lie shines at the beginning of the eleventh. The situation of the Greeks only becomes desperate when the three great chiefs, Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Diomedes, are disabled by wounds; this is the irreparable calamity which works upon Patroclus, and through him upon Achilles. The ninth book, as it now stands, seems to me an addition, by a different hand, to the original Achilles, framed so as both to forestall and to spoil the nineteenth book, which is the real reconciliation of the two inimical heroes. I will venture to add, that it carries the pride and egotism of Achilles beyond even the largest exigencies of insulted honor, and is shocking to that sentiment of Nemesis which was so deeply seated in the Grecian mind. We forgive any excess of fury against the Trojans and Hector, after the death of Patroclus; but that he should remain unmoved by restitution, by abject supplications, and by the richest atoning presents, tendered from the Greeks, indicates an implacability such as neither the first book, nor the books between the eleventh and seventeenth, convey.


It is with the Grecian agora, in the beginning of the second book, that the Iliad (as distinguished from the Achilleis) commences,—continued through the Catalogue, the muster of the two armies, the single combat between Menelaus and Paris, the renewed promiscuous battle caused by the arrow of Pandarus, the (Epipolesis, or) personal circuit of Agamemnon round the army, the Aristeia, or brilliant exploits of Diomedes, the visit of Hector to Troy for the purposes of sacrifice, his interview with Andromache, and his combat with Ajax,—down to the seventh book. All these are beautiful poetry, presenting to us the general Trojan war, and its conspicuous individuals under different points of view, but leaving no room in the reader's mind for the thought of Achilles. Now, the difficulty for an enlarging poet, was, to pass from the Achilleis in the first book, to the Iliad in the second, and it will accordingly be found that here is an awkwardness in the structure of the poem, which counsel on the poet's behalf (ancient or modern) do not satisfactorily explain.

In the first book, Zeus has promised Thetis, that he will punish the Greeks for the wrong done to Achilles : in the beginning of the second book, he deliberates how he shall fulfill the promise, and sends down for that purpose “mischievous Oneirus” (the Dream-god) to visit Agamemnon in his sleep, to assure him that the gods have now with one accord consented to put Troy into his hands, and to exhort him forthwith to the assembling of his army for the attack. The ancient commentators were here perplexed by the circumstance that Zeus puts a falsehood into the mouth of Oneirus. But there seems no more difficulty in explaining this, than in the narrative of the book of 1 Kings (chap. XXII. 20), where Jehovah is mentioned to have put a lying spirit into the mouth of Ahab’s prophets,—the real awkwardness is that Oneirus and his falsehood produce no effect. For in the first place, Agamemnon takes a step very different from that which his dream recommends,—and in the next place, when the Grecian army is at length armed and goes forth to battle, it does not experience defeat, (which would be the case if the exhortation of Oneirus really proved mischievous,) but carries on a successful day's battle, chiefly through the heroism of Diomedes. Instead of arming the Greeks forthwith, Agamemnon convokes first a council of chiefs, and next an agora of the host. And though himself in a temper of mind highly elate with the deceitful assurances of Oneirus, he deliberately assumes the language of despair in addressing the troops, having previously prepared Nestor and Odysseus for his doing so, merely in order to try the courage of the men, and with formal instructions, given to these two other chiefs, that they are to speak in opposition to him. Now this intervention of Zeus and Oneirus, eminently unsatisfactory when coupled with the incidents which now follow it, and making Zeus appear, but only appear, to realize his promise of honoring Achilles as well as of hurting the Greeks, forms exactly the point of junction between the Achilleis and the Iliad.

The freak which Agamemnon plays off upon the temper of his army, though in itself childish, serves a sufficient purpose, not only because it provides a special matter of interest to be submitted to the Greeks, but also because it calls forth the splendid description, so teeming with vivacious detail, of the sudden breaking up of the assembly after Agamemnon's harangue, and of the decisive interference of Odysseus to bring the men back, as well as to put down Thersites. This picture of the Greeks in agora, bringing out the two chief speaking and counselling heroes, was so important a part of the general Trojan war, that the poet has permitted himself to introduce it by assuming an inexplicable folly on the part of Agamemnon; just as he has ushered in another fine scene in the third book, — the Teichoskopy, or conversation, between Priam and Helen on the walls of Troy,—by admitting the supposition that the old king, in the tenth year of the war, did not know the persons of Agamemnon and the other Grecian chiefs. This may serve as an explanation of the delusion practiced by Agamemnon towards his assembled host; but it does not at all explain the tame and empty intervention of Oneirus.


If the initial incident of the second book, whereby we pass out of the Achilleis into the Iliad, is awkward, so also the final incident of the seventh book, immediately before we come back into the Achilleis, is not less unsatisfactory, I mean, the construction of the wall and ditch round the Greek camp. As the poem now stands, no plausible reason is assigned why this should be done. Nestor proposes it without any constraining necessity : for the Greeks are in a career of victory, and the Trojans are making offers of compromise which imply conscious weakness, —while Diomedes is so confident of the approaching ruin of Troy that he dissuades his comrades from receiving even Helen herself, if the surrender should be tendered. "Many Greeks have been slain," it is true, as Nestor observes; but an equal or greater number of Trojans have been slain, and all the Grecian heroes are yet in full force : the absence of Achilles is not even adverted to.

Now this account of the building of the fortification seems to be an after-thought, arising out of the enlargement of the poem beyond its original scheme. The original Achilleis, passing at once from the first to the eighth, and from thence to the eleventh book, might well assume the fortification, and talk of it as a thing existing, without adducing any special reason why it was erected. The hearer would naturally comprehend and follow the existence of a ditch and wall round the ships, as a matter of course, provided there was nothing in the previous narrative to make him believe that the Greeks had originally been without these bulwarks. And since the Achilleis, immediately after the promise of Zeus to Thetis, at the close of the first book, went on to describe the fulfillment of that promise and the ensuing disasters of the Greeks, there was nothing to surprise anyone in hearing that their camp was fortified. But the case was altered when the first and the eighth books were parted asunder, in order to make room for descriptions of temporary success and glory on the part of the besieging army. The brilliant scenes sketched in the books, from the second to the seventh, mention no fortification, and even imply its nonexistence; yet, since notice of it occurs amidst the first description of Grecian disasters in the eighth book, the hearer, who had the earlier books present to his memory, might be surprised to find a fortification mentioned immediately afterwards, unless the construction of it were specially announced to have intervened. But it will at once appear, that there was some difficulty in finding a good reason why the Greeks should begin to fortify at this juncture, and that the poet who discovered the gap might not be enabled to fill it up with success. As the Greeks have got on, up to this moment, without the wall, and as we have heard nothing but tales of their success, why should they now think farther laborious precautions for security necessary? We will not ask, why the Trojans should stand quietly by and permit a wall to be built, since the truce was concluded expressly for burying the dead.


The tenth book, or Doloneia, was considered by some of the ancient scholiasts, and has been confidently set forth by the modern Wolfian critics, as originally a separate poem, inserted by Peisistratus into the Iliad. How it can ever have been a separate poem, I do not understand. It is framed with great specialty for the antecedent circumstances under which it occurs, and would suit for no other place; though capable of being separately recited, inasmuch as it has a definite beginning and end, like the story of Nisus and Euryalus in the Aeneid. But while distinctly presupposing and resting upon the incidents in the eighth book, and in line 88 of the ninth, (probably, the appointment of sentinels on the part of the Greeks, as well of the Trojans, formed the close of the battle described in the eighth book,) it has not the slightest bearing upon the events of the eleventh or the following books : it goes to make up the general picture of the Trojan war, but lies quite apart from the Achilleis. And this is one mark of a portion subsequently inserted, that, though fitted on to the parts which precede, it has no influence on those which follow.

If the proceedings of the combatants on the plain of Troy, between the first and the eighth book, have no reference either to Achilles, or to an Achilleis, we find Zeus in Olympus still more completely putting that hero out of the question, at the beginning of the fourth book. He is in this last mentioned passage the Zeus of the Iliad, not of the Achilleis. Forgetful of his promise to Thetis, in the first book, he discusses nothing but the question of continuance or termination of the war, and manifests anxiety only for the salvation of Troy, in opposition to the Trojan goddesses, who prevent him from giving effect to the victory of Menelaus over Paris, and the stipulated restitution of Helen, in which case, of course, the wrong offered to Achilles would remain unexpiated. An attentive comparison will render it evident that the poet who composed the discussion among the gods, at the beginning of the fourth book, has not been careful to put himself in harmony either with the Zeus of the first book, or with the Zeus of the eighth.

So soon as we enter upon the eleventh book, the march of the poem becomes quite different. We are then in a series of events, each paving the way for that which follows, and all conducing to the result promised in the first book, the reappearance of Achilles, as the only means of saving the Greeks from ruin, preceded by ample atonement, and followed by the maximum both of glory and revenge. The intermediate career of Patroclus introduces new elements, which, however, are admirably woven into the scheme of the poem, as disclosed in the first book. I shall not deny that there are perplexities in the detail of events, as described in the battles at the Grecian wall, and before the ships, from the eleventh to the sixteenth books, but they appear only cases of partial confusion, such as may be reasonably ascribed to imperfections of text : the main sequence remains coherent and intelligible. We find no considerable events which could be left out without breaking the thread, nor any incongruity between one considerable event and another. There is nothing between the eleventh and twenty-second books, which is at all comparable to the incongruity between the Zeus of the fourth book and the Zeus of the first and eighth. It may, perhaps, be true, that the shield of Achilles is a super-added amplification of that which was originally announced in general terms, because the poet, from the eleventh to the twenty-second books, has observed such good economy of his materials, that he is hardly likely to have introduced one particular description of such disproportionate length, and having so little connection with the series of events. But I see no reason for believing that it is an addition materially later than the rest of the poem.

It must be confessed, that the supposition here advanced, in reference to the structure of the Iliad, is not altogether free from difficulties, because the parts constituting the original Achilleis have been more or less altered or interpolated, to suit the additions made to it, particularly in the eighth book. But it presents fewer difficulties than any other supposition, and it is the only means, so far as I know, of explaining the difference between one part of the Iliad and another; both the continuity of structure, and the conformity to the opening promise, which are manifest when we read the books in the order I, VIII, XI, to XXII, as contrasted with the absence of these two qualities in books II to VII, IX and X. An entire organization, preconceived from the beginning, would not be likely to produce any such disparity, nor is any such visible in the Odyssey; still less would the result be explained by supposing integers originally separate, and brought together without any designed organization. And it is between these three suppositions that our choice has to be made. A scheme, and a large scheme too, must unquestionably be admitted as the basis of any sufficient hypothesis. But the Achilleis would have been a long poem, half the length of the present Iliad, and probably not less compact in its structure than the Odyssey. Moreover, being parted off only by an imaginary Line from the boundless range of the Trojan war, it would admit of enlargement more easily, and with greater relish to hearers, than the adventures of one single hero; while the expansion would naturally take place by adding new Grecian victory, since the original poem arrived at the exaltation of Achilles only through a painful series of Grecian disasters. That the poem under these circumstances should have received additions, is no very violent hypothesis : in fact, when we recollect that the integrity both of the Achilleis and of the Odyssey was neither guarded by printing nor writing, we shall perhaps think it less wonderful that the former was enlarged, than that the latter was not. Any relaxation of the laws of epical unity is a small price to pay for that splendid poetry, of which we find so much between the first and the eighth books of our Iliad.

The question respecting unity of authorship is different, and more difficult to determine, than that respecting consistency of parts, and sequence in the narrative. A poem conceived on a comparatively narrow scale may be enlarged afterwards by its original author, with greater or less coherence and success : the Faust of Goethe affords an example even in our own generation. On the other hand, a systematic poem may well have been conceived and executed by prearranged concert between several poets; among whom probably one will be the governing mind, though the rest may be effective, and perhaps equally effective, in respect to execution of the parts. And the age of the early Grecian epic was favorable to such fraternization of poets, of which the Gens called Homerids probably exhibited many specimens. In the recital or singing of a long unwritten poem, many bards must have conspired together, and in the earliest times the composer and the singer were one and the same person. Now the individuals comprised in the Homerid Gens, though doubtless very different among themselves in respect of mental capacity, were yet homogeneous in respect of training, means of observation and instruction, social experience, religious feelings and theories, etc., to a degree much greater than individuals in modern times. Fallible as our inferences are on this point, where we have only internal evidence to guide us, without any contemporary points of comparison, or any species of collateral information respecting the age, the society, the poets, the hearers, or the language, we must nevertheless, in the present case, take coherence of structure, together with consistency in the tone of thought, feeling, language, customs, etc., as presumptions of one author; and the contrary as presumptions of severalty; allowing, as well as we can, for that inequality of excellence which the same author may at different times present.

Now, the case made out against single-headed authorship of the Odyssey, appears to me very weak; and those who dispute it, are guided more by their a priori rejection of ancient epical unity, than by any positive evidence which the poem itself affords. It is otherwise with regard to the Iliad. Whatever presumptions a disjointed structure, several apparent inconsistencies of parts, and large excrescence of actual matter beyond the opening promise, can sanction, may reasonably be indulged against the supposition that this poem all proceeds from a single author. There is a difference of opinion on the subject among the best critics, which is, probably, not destined to be adjusted, since so much depends partly upon critical feeling, partly upon the general reasonings, in respect to ancient epical unity, with which a man sits down to the study. For the champions of unity, such as Mr. Payne Knight, are very ready to strike out numerous and often considerable passages as interpolations, thus meeting the objections raised against unity of authorship, on the ground of special inconsistencies. Hermann and Boeckh, though not going the length of Lachmann in maintaining the original theory of Wolf, agree with the latter in recognizing diversity of authors in the poem, to an extent overpassing the limit of what can fairly be called interpolation. Payne Knight and Nitzsch are equally persuaded of the contrary. Here, then, is a decided contradiction among critics, all of whom have minutely studied the poems since the Wolfian question was raised. And it is such critics alone who can be said to constitute authority; for the cursory reader, who dwells upon the parts simply long enough to relish their poetical beauty, is struck only by that general sameness of coloring which Wolf himself admits to pervade the poem.


Having already intimated that, in my judgment, no theory of the structure of the poem is admissible which does not admit an original and preconcerted Achilleis,— a stream which begins at the first book and ends with the death of Hector, in the twenty-second, although the higher parts of it now remain only in the condition of two detached lakes, the first book and the eighth, —I reason upon the same basis with respect to the authorship.

Assuming continuity of structure as a presumptive proof, the whole of this Achilleis must be treated as composed by one author. Wolf, indeed, affirmed, that he never read the poem continuously through without being painfully impressed with the inferiority and altered style of the last six books,— and Lachmann carries this feeling farther back, so as to commence with the seventeenth book. If I could enter fully into this sentiment, I should then be compelled, not to deny the existence of a preconceived scheme, but to imagine that the books from the eighteenth to the twenty-second, though forming part of that scheme, or Achilleis, had yet been executed by another and an inferior poet. But it is to be remarked, first, that inferiority of poetical merit, to a certain extent, is quite reconcilable with unity of authorship; and, secondly, that the very circumstances upon which Wolf's unfavorable judgment is built, seem to arise out of increased difficulty in the poet's task, when he came to the crowning cantos of his designed Achilleis. For that which chiefly distinguishes these books, is the direct, incessant, and manual intervention of the gods and goddesses, formerly permitted by Zeus, and the repetition of vast and fantastic conceptions to which such superhuman agency gives occasion; not omitting the battle of Achilles against Skamander and Simois, and the burning up of these rivers by Hephaestus. Now, looking at this vein of ideas with the eyes of a modern reader, or even with those of a Grecian critic of the literary ages, it is certain that the effect is unpleasing : the gods, sublime elements of poetry when kept in due proportion, are here somewhat vulgarized. But though the poet here has not succeeded, and probably success was impossible, in the task which he has prescribed to himself,— yet the mere fact of his undertaking it, and the manifest distinction between his employment of divine agency in these latter cantos as compared with the preceding, seems explicable only on the supposition that they are the latter cantos, and come in designed sequence, as the continuance of a previous plan. The poet wishes to surround the coming forth of Achilles with the maximum of glorious and terrific circumstance; no Trojan enemy can for a moment hold out against him : the gods must descend to the plain of Troy and fight in person, while Zeus, who at the beginning of the eighth book, had forbidden them to take part, expressly encourages them to do so at the beginning of the twentieth. If, then, the nineteenth book (which contains the reconciliation between Achilles and Agamemnon, a subject naturally somewhat tame) and the three following books (where we have before us only the gods, Achilles, and the Trojans, without hope or courage) are inferior in execution and interest to the seven preceding books (which describe the long-disputed and often doubtful death-struggle between the Greeks and Trojans without Achilles), as Wolf and other critics affirm,—we may explain the difference without supposing a new poet as composer; for the conditions of the poem bad become essentially more difficult, and the subject more unpromising. The necessity of keeping Achilles above the level, even of heroic prowess, restricted the poet's means of acting upon the sympathy of his hearers.

The last two books of the Iliad may have formed part of the original Achilleis. But the probability rather is, that they are additions; for the death of Hector satisfies the exigencies of a coherent scheme, and we are not entitled to extend the oldest poem beyond the limit which such necessity prescribes. It has been argued on one side by Nitzsch and 0. Muller, that the mind could not leave off with satisfaction at the moment in which Achilles sates his revenge, and while the bodies of Patroclus and Hector are lying unburied, also, that the more merciful temper which he exhibits in the twenty-fourth book, must always have been an indispensable sequel, in order to create proper sympathy with his triumph. Other critics, on the contrary, have taken special grounds of exception against the last book, and have endeavored to set it aside as different from the other books, both in tone and language. To a certain extent, the peculiarities of the last book appear to me undeniable, though it is plainly a designed continuance, and not a substantive poem. Some weight also is due to the remark about the twenty-third book, that Odysseus and Diomedes, who have been wounded and disabled during the fight, now reappear in perfect force, and contend in the games : here is no case of miraculous healing, and the inconsistency is more likely to have been admitted by a separate enlarging poet, than by the schemer of the Achilles.

The splendid books from the second to v. 322 of the seventh, are equal, in most parts, to any portion of the Achilleis, and are pointedly distinguished from the latter by the broad view which they exhibit of the general Trojan war, with all its principal personages, localities, and causes,—yet without advancing the result promised in the first book, or, indeed, any final purpose whatever. Even the desperate wound inflicted by Tlepolemus on Sarpedon, is forgotten, when the latter hero is called forth in the subsequent Achilleis. The arguments of Lachmann, who dissects these six books into three or four separate songs, carry no conviction to my mind; and I see no reason why we should not consider all of them to be by the same author, bound together by the common purpose of giving a great collective picture which may properly be termed an Iliad. The tenth book, or Doloneia, though adapted specially to the place in which it stands, agrees with the books between the first and eighth in belonging only to the general picture of the war, without helping forward the march of the Achilles; yet it seems conceived in a lower vein, in so far as we can trust our modern ethical sentiment. One is unwilling to believe that the author of the fifth book, or Aristeia of Diomedes, would condescend to employ the hero whom he there so brightly glorifies, the victor even over Ares himself, in slaughtering newly-arrived Thracian sleepers, without any large purpose or necessity. The ninth book, of which I have already spoken at length, belongs to a different vein of conception, and seems to me more likely to have emanated from a separate composer.

While intimating these views respecting the authorship of the Iliad, as being in my judgment the most probable, I must repeat that, though the study of the poem carries to my mind a sufficient conviction respecting its structure, the question between unity and plurality of authors is essentially less determinable. The poem consists of a part original, and other parts superadded; yet it is certainly not impossible that the author of the former may himself have composed the latter; and such would be my belief, if I regarded plurality of composers as an inadmissible idea. On this supposition, we must conclude that the poet, while anxious for the addition of new, and for the most part, highly interesting matter, has not thought fit to recast the parts and events in such manner as to impart to the whole a pervading thread of consensus and organization, such as we see in the Odyssey.


That the Odyssey is of later date than the Iliad, and by a different author, seems to be now the opinion of most critics, especially of Payne Knightl and Nitzsch; though 0. Muller leans to a contrary conclusion, at the same time adding that he thinks the arguments either way not very decisive. There are considerable differences of statement in the two poems in regard to some of the gods : Iris is messenger of the gods in the Iliad, and Hermes in the Odyssey : Eolus, the dispenser of the winds is the Odyssey, is not noticed in the twenty-third book of the Iliad, but, on the contrary, Iris invites the winds, as independent gods, to come and kindle the funeral pile of Patroclus; and, unless we are to expunge the song of Demodokus in the eighth book of the Odyssey, as spurious, Aphrodite there appears as the wife of Hephaestus,— a relationship not known to the Iliad. There are also some other points of difference enumerated by Mr. Knight and others, which tend to justify the presumption that the author of the Odyssey is not identical either with the author of the Achilleis or his enlargers, which G. Hermann considers to be a point unquestionable. Indeed, the difficulty of supposing a long coherent poem to have been conceived, composed, and retained, without any aid of writing, appears to many critics even now, insurmountable, though the evidences on the other side, are, in my view, sufficient to outweigh any negative presumption thus suggested. But it is improbable that the same person should have powers of memorial combination sufficient for composing two such poems, nor is there any proof to force upon us such a supposition.

Presuming a difference of authorship between the two poems, I feel less convinced about the supposed juniority of the Odyssey. The discrepancies in manners and language in the one and the other, are so little important, that two different persons, in the same age and society, might well be imagined to exhibit as great or even greater. It is to be recollected that the subjects of the two are heterogeneous, so as to conduct the poet, even were he the same man, into totally different veins of imagination and illustration. The pictures of the Odyssey seem to delineate the same heroic life as the Iliad, though looked at from a distinct point of view : and the circumstances surrounding the residence of Odysseus, in Ithaca, are just such as we may suppose him to have left in order to attack Troy. If the scenes presented to us are for the most part pacific, as contrasted with the incessant fighting of the Iliad, this is not to be ascribed to any greater sociality or civilization in the real hearers of the Odyssey, but to the circumstances of the hero whom the poet undertakes to adorn : nor can we doubt that the poems of Arktinus and Lesches, of a later date than the Odyssey, would have given us as much combat and bloodshed as the Iliad. I am not struck by those proofs of improved civilization which some critics affirm the Odyssey to present : Mr. Knight, who is of this opinion, nevertheless admits that the mutilation of Melanthius, and the hanging up of the female slaves by Odysseus, in that poem, indicate greater barbarity than any incidents in the fights before Troy. The more skillful and compact structure of the Odyssey, has been often considered as a proof of its juniority in age: and in the case of two poems by the same author, we might plausibly contend that practice would bring with it improvement in the combining faculty. But in reference to the poems before us, we must recollect, first, that in all probability the Iliad (with which the comparison is taken) is not a primitive but an enlarged poem, and that the primitive Achilleis might well have been quite as coherent as the Odyssey; secondly, that between different authors, superiority in structure is not a proof of subsequent composition, inasmuch as, on that hypothesis, we should be compelled to admit that the later poem of Arktinus would be an improvement upon the Odyssey; thirdly, that, even if it were so, we could only infer that the author of the 0dyssey had heard the Achilleis or the Iliad; we could not infer that he lived one or two generations afterwards.

On the whole, the balance of probabilities seems in favor of distinct authorship for the two poems, but the same age, and that age a very early one, anterior to the first Olympiad. And they may thus be used as evidences, and contemporary evidences, for the phenomena of primitive Greek civilization; while they also show that the power of constructing long premeditated epics, without the aid of writing, is to be taken as a characteristic of the earliest known Greek mind. This was the point controverted by Wolf, which a full review of the case (in my judgment) decides against him: it is, moreover, a valuable result for the historian of the Greeks, inasmuch as it marks out to him the ground from which he is to start in appreciating their ulterior progress.

Whatever there may be of truth in the different conjectures of critics respecting the authorship and structure of these unrivalled poems, we are not to imagine that it is the perfection of their epical symmetry which has given them their indissoluble hold upon the human mind, as well modern as ancient. There is some tendency in critics, from Aristotle downwards, to invert the order of attributes in respect to the Homeric poems, so as to dwell most on recondite excellences which escape the unaided reader, and which are even to a great degree disputable. But it is given to few minds (as Goethe has remarked), to appreciate fully the mechanism of a long poem; and many feel the beauty of the separate parts, who have no sentiment for the aggregate perfection of the whole.

Nor were the Homeric poems originally addressed to minds of the rarer stamp. They are intended for those feelings which the critic has in common with the unlettered mass, not for that enlarged range of vision and peculiar standard which he has acquired to himself. They are of all poems the most absolutely and unreservedly popular : had they been otherwise, they could not have lived so long in the mouth of the rhapsode, and the ear and memory of the people : and it was then that their influence was first acquired, never afterwards to be shaken. Their beauties belong to the parts taken separately, which revealed themselves spontaneously to the listening crowd at the festival,—far more than to the whole poem taken together, which could hardly be appreciated unless the parts were dwelt upon and suffered to expand in the mind. The most unlettered hearer of those times could readily seize, while the most instructed reader can still recognize, the characteristic excellence of Homeric narrative, its straightforward, unconscious, unstudied simplicity, its concrete forms of speech and happy alternation of action with dialogue, its vivid pictures of living agents, always clearly and sharply individualized, whether in the commanding proportions of Achilles and Odysseus, in the graceful presence of Helen and Penelope, or in the more humble contrast of Euzmaeus and Melanthius; and always, moreover, animated by the frankness with which his heroes give utterance to all their transient emotions and even all their infirmities, its constant reference to those coarser veins of feeling and palpable motives which belong to all men in common, its fullness of graphic details, freshly drawn from the visible and audible world, and though often homely, never tame, nor trenching upon that limit of satiety to which the Greek mind was so keenly alive, lastly, its perpetual junction of gods and men in the same picture, and familiar appeal to ever-present divine agency, in harmony with the interpretation of nature at that time universal.

It is undoubtedly easier to feel than to describe the impressive influence of Homeric narrative : but the time and circumstances under which that influence was first, and most powerfully felt, preclude the possibility of explaining it by comprehensive and elaborate comparisons, such as are implied in Aristotle's remarks upon the structure of the poems. The critic who seeks the explanation in the right place will not depart widely from the point of view of those rude auditors to whom the poems were originally addressed, or from the susceptibilities and capacities common to the human bosom in every stage of progressive culture. And though the refinements and delicacies of the poems, as well as their general structure, are a subject of highly interesting criticism,—yet it is not to these that Homer owes his widespread and imperishable popularity. Still less is it true, as the well-known observations of Horace would lead us to believe, that Homer is a teacher of ethical wisdom akin and superior to Chrysippus or Crantor. No didactic purpose is to be found in the Iliad and Odyssey; a philosopher may doubtless extract, from the incidents and strongly marked characters which it contains, much illustrative matter for his exhortations, —but the ethical doctrine which he applies must emanate from his own reflection. The homeric hero manifests virtues or infirmities, fierceness or compassion, with the same straightforward and simple-minded vivacity, unconscious of any ideal standard by which his conduct is to be tried nor can we trace in the poet any ulterior function beyond that of the inspired organ of the Muse; and the nameless, but eloquent, herald of lost adventures out of the darkness of the past.