Homer and His Age, by Andrew Lang

Chapter 3

Hypotheses of Epic Composition

Whosoever holds that the Homeric poems were evolved out of the lays of many men, in many places, during many periods of culture, must present a consistent and logical hypothesis as to how they attained their present plots and forms. These could not come by accident, even if the plots are not good — as all the world held that they were, till after Wolf’s day — but very bad, as some critics now assert. Still plot and form, beyond the power of chance to produce, the poems do possess. Nobody goes so far as to deny that; and critics make hypotheses explanatory of the fact that a single ancient “kernel” of some 2500 lines, a “kernel” altered at will by any one who pleased during four centuries, became a constructive whole. If the hypotheses fail to account for the fact, we have the more reason to believe that the poems are the work of one age, and, mainly, of one man.

In criticising Homeric criticism as it is today, we cannot do better than begin by examining the theories of Mr. Leaf which are offered by him merely as “a working hypothesis.” His most erudite work is based on a wide knowledge of German Homeric speculation, of the exact science of Grammar, of archaeological discoveries, and of manuscripts. 28 His volumes are, I doubt not, as they certainly deserve to be, on the shelves of every Homeric student, old or young, and doubtless their contents reach the higher forms in schools, though there is reason to suppose that, about the unity of Homer, schoolboys remain conservative.

In this book of more than 1200 pages Mr. Leaf’s space is mainly devoted to textual criticism, philology, and pure scholarship, but his Introductions, Notes, and Appendices also set forth his mature ideas about the Homeric problem in general. He has altered some of his opinions since the publication of his Companion to the Iliad(1892), but the main lines of his old system are, except on one crucial point, unchanged. His theory we shall try to state and criticise; in general outline it is the current theory of separatist critics, and it may fairly be treated as a good example of such theories.

The system is to the following effect: Greek tradition, in the classical period, regarded the Iliad and Odyssey as the work of one man, Homer, a native of one or other of the Ionian colonies of Asia Minor. But the poems show few obvious signs of origin in Asia. They deal with dwellers, before the Dorian invasion (which the poet never alludes to), on the continent of Europe and in Crete. 29 The lays are concerned with “good old times”; presumably between 1500 and 1100 B.C. Their pictures of the details of life harmonise more with what we know of the society of that period from the evidence of buildings and recent excavations, than with what we know of the life and the much more rude and barbaric art of the so-called “Dipylon” period of “geometrical” ornament considerably later. In the Dipylon age though the use of iron, even for swords (made on the lines of the old bronze sword), was familiar, art was on a most barbaric level, not much above the Bed Indian type, as far, at least, as painted vases bear witness. The human figure is designed as in Tommy Traddles’s skeletons; there is, however, some crude but promising idea of composition.

The picture of life in the Homeric poems, then, is more like that of, say, 1500–1100 B.C. than of, say, 1000–850 B.C. in Mr. Leaf’s opinion. Certainly Homer describes a wealthy aristocracy, subject to an Over–Lord, who rules, by right divine, from “golden Mycenae.” We hear of no such potentate in Ionia. Homer’s accounts of contemporary art seem to be inspired by the rich art generally dated about 1500–1200. Yet there are “many traces of apparent anachronism,” of divergence from the more antique picture of life. In these divergences are we to recognise the picture of a later development of the ancient existence of 1500–1200 B.C.? Or have elements of the life of a much later age of Greece (say, 800–550 B.C.) been consciously or unconsciously introduced by the late poets? Here Mr. Leaf recognises a point on which we have insisted, and must keep insisting, for it is of the first importance. “It is a priori the most probable” supposition that, “in an uncritical age,” poets do not “reproduce the circumstances of the old time,” but “only clothe the old tale in the garb of their own days.” Poets in an uncritical age always, in our experience, “clothe old tales with the garb of their own time,” but Mr. Leaf thinks that, in the case of the Homeric poems, this idea “is not wholly borne out by the facts.”

In fact, Mr. Leaf’s hypothesis, like Helbig’s, exhibits a come-and-go between the theory that his late poets clung close to tradition and so kept true to ancient details of life, and the theory that they did quite the reverse in many cases. Of this frequent examples will occur. He writes, “The Homeric period is certainly later than the shaft tombs” (discovered at Mycenae by Dr. Schliemann), “but it does not necessarily follow that it is post-Mycenaean. It is quite possible that certain notable differences between the poems and the monuments” (of Mycenae) “in burial, for instance, and in women’s dress may be due to changes which arose within the Mycenaean age itself, in that later part of it of which our knowledge is defective — almost as defective as it is of the subsequent ‘Dipylon’ period. On the whole, the resemblance to the typical Mycenaean culture is more striking than the difference.” 30

So far Mr. Leaf states precisely the opinion for which we argue. The Homeric poems describe an age later than that of the famous tombs — so rich in relics — of the Mycenaean acropolis, and earlier than the tombs of the Dipylon of Athens. The poems thus spring out of an age of which, except from the poems themselves, we know little or nothing, because, as is shown later, no cairn burials answering to the frequent Homeric descriptions have ever been discovered — so relics corroborating Homeric descriptions are to seek. But the age attaches itself in many ways to the age of the Mycenaean tombs, while, in our opinion, it stands quite apart from the post-Dorian culture.

Where we differ from Mr. Leaf is in believing that the poems, as wholes, were composed in that late Mycenaean period of which, from material remains, we know very little; that “much new” was not added, as he thinks, in “the Ionian development” which lasted perhaps “from the ninth century B.C. to the seventh.” We cannot agree with Mr. Leaf, when he, like Helbig, thinks that much of the detail of the ancient life in the poems had early become so “stereotyped” that no continuator, however late, dared “intentionally to sap” the type, “though he slipped from time to time into involuntary anachronism.” Some poets are also asserted to indulge in voluntary anachronism when, as Mr. Leaf supposes, they equip the ancient warriors with corslets and greaves and other body armour of bronze such as, in his opinion, the old heroes never knew, such as never were mentioned in the oldest parts or “kernel” of the poems. Thus the traditional details of Mycenaean life sometimes are regarded as “stereotyped” in poetic tradition; sometimes as subject to modern alterations of a sweeping and revolutionary kind.

As to deliberate adherence to tradition by the poets, we have proved that the Cyclic epic poets of 800–660 B.C. wandered widely from the ancient models. If, then, every minstrel or rhapsodist who, anywhere, added at will to the old “kernel” of the Achilles was, so far as he was able, as conscientiously precise in his stereotyped archaeological details as Mr. Leaf sometimes supposes, the fact is contrary to general custom in such cases. When later poets in an uncritical age take up and rehandle the poetic themes of their predecessors, they always give to the stories “a new costume,” as M. Gaston Paris remarks in reference to thirteenth century dealings with French epics of the eleventh century. But, in the critics’ opinion, the late rehandlers of old Achaean lays preserved the archaic modes of life, war, costume, weapons, and so forth, with conscientious care, except in certain matters to be considered later, when they deliberately did the very reverse. Sometimes the late poets devoutly follow tradition. Sometimes they deliberately innovate. Sometimes they pedantically “archaise,” bringing in genuine, but by their time forgotten, Mycenaean things, and criticism can detect their doings in each case.

Though the late continuators of the Iliad were able, despite certain inadvertencies, to keep up for some four centuries in Asia the harmonious picture of ancient Achaean life and society in Europe, critics can distinguish four separate strata, the work of many different ages, in the Iliad. Of the first stratum composed in Europe, say about 1300–1150 B.C. (I give a conjectural date under all reserves), the topic was The Wrath of Achilles. Of this poem, in Mr. Leaf’s opinion, (a) the First Book and fifty lines of the Second Book remain intact or, perhaps, are a blend of two versions. (b) The Valour of Agamemnon and Defeat of the Achaeans. Of this there are portions in Book XI., but they were meddled with, altered, and generally doctored, “down to the latest period,” namely, the age of Pisistratus in Athens, the middle of the sixth century B.C. (c) The fight in which, after their defeat, the Achaeans try to save the ships from the torch of Hector, and the Valour of Patroclus (but some critics do not accept this), with his death (XV., XVI. in parts). (d) Some eighty lines on the Arming of Achilles (XIX.). (e) Perhaps an incident or two in Books XX., XXI. (f) The Slaying of Achilles, in Books XXI., XXII. (but some of the learned will not admit this, and we shall, unhappily, have to prove that, if Mr. Leaf’s principles be correct, we really know nothing about the Slaying of Hector in its original form).

Of these six elements only did the original poem consist, Mr. Leaf thinks; a rigid critic will reject as original even the Valour of Patroclus and the Death of Hector, but Mr. Leaf refuses to go so far as that. The original poem, as detected by him, is really “the work of a single poet, perhaps the greatest in all the world’s history.” If the original poet did no more than is here allotted to him, especially if he left out the purpose of Zeus and the person of Thetis in Book I., we do not quite understand his unapproachable greatness. He must certainly have drawn a rather commonplace Achilles, as we shall see, and we confess to preferring the Iliad as it stands.

The brief narrative cut out of the mass by Mr. Leaf, then, was the genuine old original poem or “kernel.” What we commonly call the Iliad, on the other hand, is, by his theory, a thing of shreds and patches, combined in a manner to be later described. The blend, we learn, has none of the masterly unity of the old original poem. Meanwhile, as criticism of literary composition is a purely literary question, critics who differ from Mr. Leaf have a right to hold that the Iliad as it stands contains, and always did contain, a plot of masterly perfection. We need not attend here so closely to Mr. Leaf’s theory in the matter of the First Expansions, (2) and the Second Expansions, (3) but the latest Expansions (4) give the account of The Embassy to Achilles with his refusal of Agamemnon’s Apology(Book IX.), the Ransoming of Hector (Book XXIV.), the Reconciliation of Achilles and Agamemnon, and the Funeral Games of Patroclus (XXIII.). In all these parts of the poem there are, we learn, countless alterations, additions, and expansions, with, last of all, many transitional passages, “the work of the editor inspired by the statesman,” that is, of an hypothetical editor who really by the theory made our Iliad, being employed to that end by Pistratus about 540 B.C. 31.

Mr. Leaf and critics who take his general view are enabled to detect the patches and tatters of many ages by various tests, for example, by discovering discrepancies in the narrative, such as in their opinion no one sane poet could make. Other proofs of multiplex authorship are discovered by the critic’s private sense of what the poem ought to be, by his instinctive knowledge of style, by detection of the poet’s supposed errors in geography, by modernisms and false archaisms in words and grammar, and by the presence of many objects, especially weapons and armour, which the critic believes to have been unknown to the original minstrel.

Thus criticism can pick out the things old, fairly old, late, and quite recent, from the mass, evolved through many centuries, which is called the Iliad.

If the existing Iliad is a mass of “expansions,” added at all sorts of dates, in any number of places, during very different stages of culture, to a single short old poem of the Mycenaean age, science needs an hypothesis which will account for the Iliad “as it stands.” Everybody sees the need of the hypothesis, How was the medley of new songs by many generations of irresponsible hands codified into a plot which used to be reckoned fine? How were the manners, customs, and characters, unus color, preserved in a fairly coherent and uniform aspect? How was the whole Greek world, throughout which all manner of discrepant versions and incongruous lays must, by the theory, have been current, induced to accept the version which has been bequeathed to us? Why, and for what audience or what readers, did somebody, in a late age of brief lyrics and of philosophic poems, take the trouble to harmonise the body of discrepant wandering lays, and codify them in the Iliad?

An hypothesis which will answer all these questions is the first thing needful, and hypotheses are produced.

Believers like Mr. Leaf in the development of the Iliad through the changing revolutionary centuries, between say 1200 and 600 B.C., consciously stand in need of a working hypothesis which will account, above all, for two facts: first, the relatively correct preservation of the harmony of the picture of life, of ideas political and religious, of the characters of the heroes, of the customary law (such as the bride-price in marriage), and of the details as to weapons, implements, dress, art, houses, and so forth, when these are not (according to the theory) deliberately altered by late poets.

Next, the hypothesis must explain, in Mr. Leafs own words, how a single version of the Iliad came to be accepted, “where many rival versions must, from the necessity of the case, have once existed side by side.” 32

Three hypotheses have, in fact, been imagined: the first suggests the preservation of the original poems in very early written texts; not, of course, in “Homer’s autograph.” This view Mr. Leaf, we shall see, discards. The second presents the notion of one old sacred college for the maintenance of poetic uniformity. Mr. Leaf rejects this theory, while supposing that there were schools for professional reciters.

Last, there is the old hypothesis of Wolf: “Pisistratus” (about 540 B.C.) “was the first who had the Homeric poems committed to writing, and brought into that order in which we now possess them.”

This hypothesis, now more than a century old, would, if it rested on good evidence, explain how a single version of the various lays came to be accepted and received as authorised. The Greek world, by the theory, had only in various places various sets of incoherent chants orally current on the Wrath of The public was everywhere a public of listeners, who heard the lays sung on rare occasions at feasts and fairs, or whenever a strolling rhapsodist took up his pitch, for a day or two, at a street corner. There was, by the theory, no reading public for the Homeric poetry. But, by the time of Pisistratus, a reading public was coming into existence. The tyrant had the poems collected, edited, arranged into a continuous narrative, primarily for the purpose of regulating the recitals at the Panathenaic festival. When once they were written, copies were made, and the rest of Hellas adopted these for their public purposes.

On a small scale we have a case analogous. The old songs of Scotland existed, with the airs, partly in human memory, partly in scattered broadsheets. The airs were good, but the words were often silly, more often they were Fescennine —“more dirt than wit.” Burns rewrote the words, which were published in handsome volumes, with the old airs, or with these airs altered, and his became the authorised versions, while the ancient anonymous chants were almost entirely forgotten.

The parallel is fairly close, but there are points of difference. Burns was a great lyric poet, whereas we hear of no great epic poet in the age of Pisistratus. The old words which Burns’s songs superseded were wretched doggerel; not such were the ancient Greek heroic lays. The old Scottish songs had no sacred historic character; they did not contain the history of the various towns and districts of Scotland. The heroic lays of Greece were believed, on the other hand, to be a kind of Domesday book of ancient principalities, and cities, and worshipped heroes. Thus it was much easier for a great poet like Burns to supersede with his songs a mass of unconsidered “sculdudery” old lays, in which no man or set of men had any interest, than for a mere editor, in the age of Pisistratus, to supersede a set of lays cherished, in one shape or another, by every State in Greece. This holds good, even if, prior to Pisistratus, there existed in Greece no written texts of Homer, and no reading public, a point which we shall show reasons for declining to concede.

The theory of the edition of Pisistratus, if it rested on valid evidence, would explain “how a single version of the poems came to be accepted,” namely, because the poem was now written for the first time, and oral versions fell out of memory. But it would not, of course, explain how, before Pisistratus, during four or five centuries of change, the new poets and reciters, throughout the Greek world, each adding such fresh verses as he pleased, and often introducing such modern details of life as he pleased, kept up the harmony of the Homeric picture of life, and character, and law, as far as it confessedly exists.

To take a single instance: the poems never allude to the personal armorial bearings of the heroes. They are unknown to or unnamed by Homer, but are very familiar on the shields in seventh century and sixth century vases, and AEschylus introduces them with great poetic effect in The Seven against Thebes. How did late continuators, familiar with the serpents, lions, bulls’ heads, crabs, doves, and so forth, on the contemporary shields, keep such picturesque and attractive details out of their new rhapsodies? In mediaeval France, we shall show, the epics (eleventh to thirteenth centuries) deal with Charlemagne and his peers of the eighth century A.D. But they provide these heroes with the armorial bearings which came in during the eleventh to twelfth century A.D. The late Homeric rhapsodists avoided such tempting anachronisms.

Wolf’s theory, then, explains “how a single version came to be accepted.” It was the first written version; the others died out, like the old Scots orally repeated songs, when Burns published new words to the airs. But Wolf’s theory does not explain the harmony of the picture of life, the absence of post-Homeric ideas and ways of living, in the first written version, which, practically, is our own version.

In 1892 (Companion to the Iliad) Mr. Leaf adopted a different theory, the hypothesis of a Homeric “school” “which busied itself with the tradition of the Homeric poetry,” for there must have been some central authority to preserve the text intact when it could not be preserved in writing. Were there no such body to maintain a fixed standard, the poems must have ended by varying indefinitely, according to the caprice of their various reciters. This is perfectly obvious.

Such a school could keep an eye on anachronisms and excise them; in fact, the Maori priests, in an infinitely more barbarous state of society, had such schools for the preservation of their ancient hymns in purity. The older priests “insisted on a critical and verbatim rehearsal of all the ancient lore.” Proceedings were sanctioned by human sacrifices and many mystic rites. We are not told that new poems were produced and criticised; it does not appear that this was the case. Pupils attended from three to five years, and then qualified as priests or tohunga 33. Suppose that the Asiatic Greeks, like the Maoris and Zuñis, had Poetic Colleges of a sacred kind, admitting new poets, and keeping them up to the antique standard in all respects. If this were so, the relative rarity of “anachronisms” and of modernisms in language in the Homeric poems is explained. But Mr. Leaf has now entirely and with a light heart abandoned his theory of a school, which is unsupported by evidence, he says.’

“The great problem,” he writes, “for those who maintain the gradual growth of the poems by a process of crystallisation has been to understand how a single version came to be accepted, where many rival versions must, from the necessity of the case, have once existed side by side. The assumption of a school or guild of singers has been made,” and Mr. Leaf, in 1892, made the assumption himself: “as some such hypothesis we are bound to make in order to explain the possibility of any theory” (1892). 34

But now (1900) he says, after mentioning “the assumption of a school or guild of singers,” that “the rare mention of [Greek: Homeridai] in Chios gives no support to this hypothesis, which lacks any other confirmation.” 35 He therefore now adopts the Wolfian hypothesis that “an official copy of Homer was made in Athens at the time of Solon or Pisistratus,” from the rhapsodies existing in the memory of reciters. 36 But Mr. Leaf had previously said 37 that “the legend which connects his” (Pisistratus’s) “name with the Homeric poems is itself probably only conjectural, and of late date.” Now the evidence for Pisistratus which, in 1892, he thought “conjectural and of late date,” seems to him a sufficient basis for an hypothesis of a Pisistratean editor of the Iliad, while the evidence for an Homeric school which appeared to him good enough for an hypothesis in 1892 is rejected as worthless, though, in each case, the evidence itself remains just what it used to be.

This is not very satisfactory, and the Pisistratean hypothesis is much less useful to a theorist than the former hypothesis of an Homeric school, for the Pisistratean hypothesis cannot explain the harmony of the characters and the details in the Iliad, nor the absence of such glaring anachronisms as the Cyclic poets made, nor the general “preOdyssean” character of the language and grammar. By the Pisistratean hypothesis there was not, what Mr. Leaf in 1892 justly deemed essential, a school “to maintain a fixed standard,” throughout the changes of four centuries, and against the caprice of many generations of fresh reciters and irresponsible poets. The hypothesis of a school was really that which, of the two, best explained the facts, and there is no more valid evidence for the first making and writing out of our Iliad under Pisistratus than for the existence of a Homeric school.

The evidence for the Iliad edited for Pisistratus is examined in a Note at the close of this chapter. Meanwhile Mr. Leaf now revives Wolf’s old theory to account for the fact that somehow “a single version” (of the Homeric poems) “came to be accepted.” His present theory, if admitted, does account for the acceptation of a single version of the poems, the first standard written version, but fails to explain how “the caprice of the different reciters” (as he says) did not wander into every variety of anachronism in detail and in diction, thus producing a chaos which no editor of about 540 A.D. could force into its present uniformity.

Such an editor is now postulated by Mr. Leaf. If his editor’s edition, as being written, was accepted by Greece, then we “understand how a single version came to be accepted.” But we do not understand how the editor could possibly introduce a harmony which could only have characterised his materials, as Mr. Leaf has justly remarked, if there was an Homeric school “to maintain a fixed standard.” But now such harmony in the picture of life as exists in the poems is left without any explanation. We have now, by the theory, a crowd of rhapsodists, many generations of uncontrolled wandering men, who, for several centuries,

“Rave, recite, and madden through the land,”

with no written texts, and with no “fixed body to maintain a standard.” Such men would certainly not adhere strictly to a stereotyped early tradition: that we cannot expect from them.

Again, no editor of about 540 B.C. could possibly bring harmony of manners, customs, and diction into such of their recitals as he took down in writing.

Let us think out the supposed editor’s situation. During three centuries nine generations of strollers have worked their will on one ancient short poem, The Wrath of Achilles. This is, in itself, an unexampled fact. Poets turn to new topics; they do not, as a rule, for centuries embroider one single situation out of the myriads which heroic legend affords. Strolling reciters are the least careful of men, each would recite in the language and grammar of his day, and introduce the newly evolved words and idioms, the new and fashionable manners, costume, and weapons of his time. When war chariots became obsolete, he would bring in cavalry; when there was no Over–Lord, he would not trouble himself to maintain correctly the character and situation of Agamemnon. He would speak of coined money, in cases of buying and selling; his European geography would often be wrong; he would not ignore the Ionian cities of Asia; most weapons would be of iron, not bronze, in his lays. Ionian religious ideas could not possibly be excluded, nor changes in customary law, civil and criminal. Yet, we think, none of these things occurs in Homer.

The editor of the theory had to correct all these anachronisms and discrepancies. What a task in an uncritical age! The editor’s materials would be the lays known to such strollers as happened to be gathered, in Athens, perhaps at the Panathenaic festival. The répertoire of each stroller would vary indefinitely from those of all the others. One man knew this chant, as modified or made by himself; other men knew others, equally unsatisfactory.

The editor must first have written down from recitation all the passages that he could collect. Then he was obliged to construct a narrative sequence containing a plot, which he fashioned by a process of selection and rejection; and then he had to combine passages, alter them, add as much as he thought fit, remove anachronisms, remove discrepancies, accidentally bring in fresh discrepancies (as always happens), weave transitional passages, look with an antiquarian eye after the too manifest modernisms in language and manners, and so produce the Iliad. That, in the sixth century B.C., any man undertook such a task, and succeeded so well as to impose on Aristotle and all the later Greek critics, appears to be a theory that could only occur to a modern man of letters, who is thinking of the literary conditions of his own time. The editor was doing, and doing infinitely better, what Lönnrot, in the nineteenth century, tried in vain to achieve for the Finnish Kalewala. 38

Centuries later than Pisistratus, in a critical age, Apollonius Rhodius set about writing an epic of the Homeric times. We know how entirely he failed, on all hands, to restore the manner of Homer. The editor of 540 B.C. was a more scientific man. Can any one who sets before himself the nature of the editor’s task believe in him and it? To the master-less floating jellyfish of old poems and new, Mr. Leaf supposes that “but small and unimportant additions were made after the end of the eighth century or thereabouts,” especially as “the creative and imaginative forces of the Ionian race turned to other forms of expression,” to lyrics and to philosophic poems. But the able Pisistratean editor, after all, we find, introduced quantities of new matter into the poems — in the middle of the sixth century; that kind of industry, then, did not cease towards the end of the eighth century, as we have been told. On the other hand, as we shall learn, the editor contributed to the Iliad, among other things, Nestor’s descriptions of his youthful adventures, for the purpose of flattering Nestor’s descendant, the tyrant Pisistratus of Athens.

One hypothesis, the theory of an Homeric school — which would answer our question, “How was the harmony of the picture of life in remote ages preserved in poems composed in several succeeding ages, and in totally altered conditions of life?”— Mr. Leaf, as we know, rejects. We might suggest, again, that there were written texts handed down from an early period, and preserved in new copies from generation to generation. Mr. Leaf states his doubt that there were any such texts. “The poems were all this time handed down orally only by tradition among the singers (sic), who used to wander over Greece reciting them at popular festivals. Writing was indeed known through the whole period of epic development” (some four centuries at least), “but it is in the highest degree unlikely that it was ever employed to form a standard text of the Epic or any part of it. There can hardly have been any standard text; at best there was a continuous tradition of those parts of the poems which were especially popular, and the knowledge of which was a valuable asset to the professional reciter.”

Now we would not contend for the existence of any standard text much before 600 B.C., and I understand Mr. Leaf not to deny, now, that there may have been texts of the Odyssey and Iliad before, say, 600–540 B.C. If cities and reciters had any ancient texts, then texts existed, though not “standard” texts: and by this means the harmony of thought, character, and detail in the poems might be preserved. We do not think that it is “in the highest degree unlikely” that there were no texts. Is this one of the many points on which every savant must rely on his own sense of what is “likely”? To this essential point, the almost certain existence of written texts, we return in our conclusion.

What we have to account for is not only the relative lack of anachronisms in poems supposed to have been made through a period of at least four hundred years, but also the harmony of the characters in subtle details. Some of the characters will be dealt with later; meanwhile it is plain that Mr. Leaf, when he rejects both the idea of written texts prior to 600–540 B.C., and also the idea of a school charged with the duty of “maintaining a fixed standard,” leaves a terrible task to his supposed editor of orally transmitted poems which, he says — if unpreserved by text or school —“must have ended by varying infinitely according to the caprice of their various reciters.” 39

On that head there can be no doubt; in the supposed circumstances no harmony, no unus color, could have survived in the poems till the days of the sixth century editor.

Here, then, is another difficulty in the path of the theory that the Iliad is the work of four centuries. If it was, we are not enabled to understand how it came to be what it is. No editor could possibly tinker it into the whole which we possess; none could steer clear of many absurd anachronisms. These are found by critics, but it is our hope to prove that they do not exist.

28 The Iliad. Macmillan & Co. 1900, 1902.

29 If the poet sang after the tempest of war that came down with the Dorians from the north, he would probably have sought a topic in the Achaean exploits and sorrows of that period. The Dorians, not the Trojans, would have been the foes. The epics of France of the eleventh and twelfth centuries dwell, not on the real victories of the remote Charlemagne so much as on the disasters of Aliscans and Roncesvaux — defeats at Saracen hands, Saracens being the enemies of the twelfth-century poets. No Saracens, in fact, fought at Roncesvaux.

30 Leaf, Iliad, vol. i. pp. xiii.-xv. 1900.

31 Leaf, Iliad, vol. ii. pp. x., xiv. 1900.

32 Iliad, vol. i. p. xviii. 1900.

33 White, The Ancient History of the Maori, Vol. i. pp. 8–13.

34 Companion to the Iliad, pp. 20, 21.

35 Iliad, vol. i. xviii. p. xix.

36 Iliad, vol. i. p. xix.

37 Companion to the Iliad, p. 190.

38 See Comparetti, The Kalewala.

39 Companion to the Iliad, p. 21.


Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 22:03