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this Epic religion of the Greeks, as to be well worth a special and detailed discussion. Such considerations, if well established, should have no small effect upon the attitude we take towards our own religious documents.
The first feature to be noted is the consistent assertion of all our authorities that Homer wrote with a moral intent, and with the conscious purpose of conveying moral lessons. There is nothing to my mind farther from the truth, and yet nothing is more persistently believed by the Greeks. It is directly implied by Pindar, Aristophanes, Plato, and a host of other authors. It is developed in the remaining fragments of Dicæarchus1 to an extraordinary extent. fact, just as we read the old Hebrew history to our children much more from a moral than an historical attitude, and give to all the facts a didactic turn, so the old Greeks read Homer as a moral work, containing models of what men ought to be, exhibitions of punished vice and meanness, examples of fortitude, of temperance, of justice, and of wisdom. If we object that the Homeric poems were ill-suited to such a purpose, we shall only repeat the criticisms of Xenophanes and Plato, but not invalidate the facts.
We should do better to consider the analogy of the Old Hebrew Scriptures. I need only mention the fact that there are several chapters unsuited to modern perusal, and passed over in all family reading. This is of less importance. But what is more curious, manifest
' Collected by Carl Müller, in the 2nd vol. of his Fragmenta Historicorum Græcorum pp. 240 sqq.
immoralities are daily read, and are glozed over by our moral attitude in such a way, that they actually fail to do the harm which might have been expected. There are cases of dishonesty in the very highest characters of the history, which somehow are passed over without making an impression on the moral reader. There are lessons in cruelty, which lose their effect by being considered Divine punishments, and special commands of the Author of our being. Thus the incidents which are in accordance with our moral sense are utilised and insisted upon, the other matters are forgotten, and so the whole annals of a race in some respects unfit for our instruction are taught as the inspired word of God written for our learning'.
It is not difficult to explain how the same attitude existed as regards Homer among the Greeks. The earliest known poets whom the Greeks possessed were really moral teachers. First, there was the didactic epos of Hesiod and his school, which professedly dealt in moral lessons; then came the gnomic or proverbial poetry of the early elegiac and the philosophical poets, and of the lyric poets in Pindar's style. These men monopolised the moral teaching in Greece, if we except a few responses of the oracles, during the seventh and sixth centuries. It was but natural that they should represent themselves as the successors of their
1 I am merely speaking of these things as facts, and offering no opinion upon them. I do not know whether any better system of education will be discovered, than this moral interpretation of documents, venerable in age, and of extreme literary excellence. Certain it is that all civilised men have proceeded on this plan, and no other has yet been tried with success. Still I think I am bound to state the facts strongly from a purely historical point of view.
brilliant predecessors, in more than mere poetry, and that they should ascribe to the splendid Iliad and Odyssey an aim and intent similar to their own tamer productions. Thus it came to pass that Homer, in one sense 'the idle singer of an empty day,'—because he sought no other object than the clear and deep delineation of human character and human passion— was degraded, if I may so say, into a moral teacher, and accredited with definite theories of life and of duty.
It was the same sort of blunder as we should make, were we to dilate upon the moral purposes of Shelley and Keats, and insist upon classing them with the school of Mr. Tupper and of Dr. Watts. The obsequious rhapsodist who sang before chiefs and ladies at high feasts, and depended upon their grace for his daily bread and for his fame, thought more of glorifying the royal ancestors of the palace where he sat, and the acts of his patron's forefathers, than of insisting upon moral saws or conveying deep lessons in voluptuous allegories. But, as I said, all historical Greece thought differently. As gnomic poets were moral teachers, as the tragic poets were moral teachers, and were openly criticised as such, so Homer and his legends were accepted and taught by all respectable Greeks as inspired lessons of the highest wisdom and sanctity.
When I speak of them as inspired lessons, I am using no rash expression, though it may doubtless be objected that in this point lies the essential difference of the Hebrew analogy which has been suggested. We are not here concerned with the truth of this claim for the documents on which our religion is founded, nor
am I the least disposed to deny it; but what is here insisted upon is that the Greek epic poets, and indeed some of the lyric poets, laid claim to a closely similar inspiration. In Plato's official dialogue upon this subject, the Ion, he develops very fully a theory of inspiration in every respect like that claimed by the Hebrew poets. He represents the rhapsodists as asserting the great epic poems to have been written under some sort of enthusiasm akin to madness, he represents the authors as only partly responsible for what they said, and plainly asserts that the moral lessons which they claimed to teach were the inspiration of some Divine power, speaking through the bard as a mortal and imperfect instrument1. Such a theory must have
1 'I perceive, Ion; and I will proceed to explain to you what I imagine to be the reason of this. This gift which you have of speaking excellently about Homer is not an art, but, as I was just saying, an inspiration; there is a divinity moving you, like that in the stone which Euripides calls a magnet, but which is commonly known as the stone of Heraclea. For that stone not only attracts iron rings, but also imparts to them a similar power of attracting other rings; and sometimes you may see a number of pieces of iron and rings suspended from one another so as to form quite a long chain: and all of them derive their power of suspension from the original stone. Now this is like the Muse, who first gives to men inspiration herself; and from these inspired persons a chain of other persons is suspended, who take the inspiration from them. For all good poets, epic as well as lyric, compose their beautiful poems not as works of art, but because they are inspired and possessed. And as the Corybantian revellers when they dance are not in their right mind, so the lyric poets are not in their right mind when they are composing their beautiful strains: but when falling under the power of music and metre they are inspired and possessed; like Bacchic maidens who draw milk and honey from the rivers, when they are under the influence of Dionysus, but not when they are in their right mind. And the soul of the lyric poet does the same, as they themselves tell us; for they tell us that they gather their strains
afforded them a ready defence against the moral objections just now stated. Here then we have a second and most remarkable analogy to the religious condition of our own day. The documents on which moral instruction was based claimed a higher authority than mere human wisdom, they boasted a stranger origin than human genius and human labour, for they claimed to be in some way dictated by the Gods, and composed
from honied fountains out of the gardens and dells of the Muses; thither, like the bees, they wing their way. And this is true. For the poet is a light and winged and holy thing, and there is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and is unable to utter his oracles. Many are the noble words in which poets speak of actions like your own words about Homer; but they do not speak of them by any rules of art: only when they make that to which the Muse impels them are their inventions inspired; and then one of them will make dithyrambs, another hymns of praise, another choral strains, another epic or iambic verses—and he who is good at one is not good at any other kind of verse: for not by art does the poet sing, but by power divine. Had he learned by rules of art, he would have known how to speak not of one theme only, but of all; and therefore God takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers, as he also uses diviners and holy prophets, in order that we who hear them may know that they speak not of themselves who utter these priceless words in a state of unconsciousness, but that God is the speaker, and that through them he is conversing with us. And Tynnichus, the Chalcidian, affords a striking instance of what I am saying: he wrote nothing that any one would care to remember but the famous pæan which is in every one's mouth, and is one of the finest poems ever written, and is certainly an invention of the Muses, as he himself says. For in this way the God would seem to indicate to us, and not allow us to doubt that these beautiful poems are not human, or the work of man, but divine and the word of God; and that the poets are only the interpreters of the Gods by whom they are severally possessed. Was not this the lesson which the God intended to teach when by the mouth of the worst of poets he sang the best of songs? Am I not right, Ion?' (Jowett, vol. i. pp. 237-8.)