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Ionians of Asia Minor seem to have lost all the stronger fibre that marked the Greeks of Hellas. Revelling in plenty, associating with Asiatic splendour and luxury, they very soon lost those sterner featureslove of liberty, self-denying heroism, humble submission to the gods-which still survived in Greece; and thus I conceive the courts at which the bards sang thought that a very free and even profane handling of the gods was a racy and piquant entertainment, so that presently it was extended even to the so-called Homeric hymns, which, of all Greek poetry, treat the gods in the most homely and even sensual way. The Hymn to Aphrodite, detailing her amour with Anchises, and that to Hermes, detailing his theft and perjury, are exact counterparts to the lay of Demodocus, which treats both Ares and Aphrodite in the same way.
This bold and familiar attitude was narrowly connected with another leading feature in the Greekstheir realism in art. There is nothing vague, or exaggerated, or incomprehensible, tolerated by their chaste judgment and their correct taste. The figures of dogs or men, cast by Hephæstus, are specially remarked for being life-like throughout the Homeric poems. They actually walk about, and are animated by his peculiar cunning. This, as Overbeck has well observed, is merely the strong expression of the object proposed to himself by the Greek artist, in contrast to the cold repose and mute deadness of Egyptian sculpture. The Egyptians seldom meant to imitate life in action. The Greeks, from their very first rude essays, laid before them this higher goal. Like the statuary, so the poet
did not waste his breath in the tiresome and vague adoration of the Egyptian psalmist, but clothed his gods in the fairest and best human form, and endowed them with a human intellect and human will.
Homer's gods are, therefore, too human to embody an abstract principle, and so this side of their religion the poet relegated to certain personified abstractions, which seldom appear, and which seem to stand apart from the life of the Olympic gods. Perhaps Zeus himself, in his Dodonean character, has this impersonal aspect as the Father of light and of good. But Zeus of Olympus is quite a different conception. So there is a personified or semi-personified Aidès, and an "Arŋ, and Airal, and 'Epívvs, which represent stern and lasting moral ideas, and which relieve the Olympic gods from the necessity of doing so, except when the poet finds it suitable to his purpose. But as these moral ideas restrained and checked men, so the special privilege of the gods seems to be the almost total freedom from such control. The society of Olympus, therefore, is only an ideal Greek society, in the lowest sense, the ideal of the schoolboy, who thinks all control irksome, and its absence the summum bonum,-the ideal of a voluptuous man, who has strong passions, and longs for the power to indulge them without unpleasant consequences.
It appears to me, therefore, that the Homeric picture of Olympus is very valuable as disclosing to us the poet's notion of a society freed from the restraints of religion. For the rhapsodists were dealing a deathblow (perhaps unconsciously) to their religion by these
very pictures of sin and crime among their gods. Their idea is a sort of semi-monarchical aristocracy, where a number of persons have the power to help favourites, and thwart the general progress of affairs; where love of faction overpowers every other consideration, and justifies violence or deceit. It will quite satisfy our present object to select the one typical character which both the poems place in the foreground as the Greek ideal of intelligence and power of the highest order.
The leading personage in Homer's world of men and gods is undoubtedly Pallas Athene. She embodies all the qualities which were most highly esteemed in those days. She is evidently meant to be the greatest and most admirable of the deities that concern themselves with men. Yet, as Mr. Hayman has truly observed, she is rather infrahuman than superhuman. There is no touch of any kindly feeling, no affection or respect for either God or man. There is not even a trace of sex, except in her occasional touches of spite. 'Her character is without tenderness or tie of any sort; it never owns obligation, it never feels pain or privation, it is pitiless; with no gross appetites, its activity is busy and restless, its partisanship unscrupulous, its policy astute, and its dissimulation profound. It is keenly satirical, crafty, whispering base motives of the good (indeed she comprehends no others,) beating down the strong, mocking the weak, and exulting over them; heartless-yet staunch to a comrade; touched by a sense of liking and admiration for its like, [she accounts expressly for her love of Ulysses by his roguery and cunning,] of truth to its party; ready
to prompt and back a friend through every hazard.' Such is Mr. Hayman's picture, verified by citations for each and every statement 1.
This very disagreeable picture is not, as he would have it, an impersonation of what we call the world. Surely the modern world at least professes some high motives, and is touched by some compassion. But it is the impersonation of the Greek world, as conceived by Thucydides in his famous reflections on the Corcyræan massacre. He was mistaken indeed, profoundly mistaken, as we shall often see in the sequel, in considering this hard and selfish type a special outcome of the civil wars. No doubt they stimulated and multiplied it. But here, in the Iliad and Odyssey, in the days of Greek chivalry and Greek romance, even here we have the poet creating his ideal type—intellect and energy unshackled by restraints and we obtain a picture which, but for the total absence of sex, might be aptly described as an Antiphon in petticoats. The great historian, despite of his moral reflections, speaks of Antiphon, the political assassin, the public traitor to his constitution, as ἀρέτῃ οὐδένος ὕστερος—in general merit second to none?? The great epic poet silently
1 Cp. Hayman's Odyssey, i. p. 73, Appendix E.
2 I ought in fairness to mention that some old grammarian notices in the early orators, from whom Thucydides learned his style, a peculiar use of ȧpérη for general reputation. Thus also in Hesiod, "Epy. 313 πλούτῳ δ ̓ ἀρετὴ καὶ κῦδος ὀπηδεῖ. This would give the passage an easier sense, for Antiphon was certainly the most prominent man of Athens at that time. I am not sure that the usual rendering should not be amended in this way, but yet, as none of the lexicographers have noticed it, I leave what I had written in the text.
expresses the same judgment on his own Pallas Athene. Were it not impossible to assign so late a date to the origin of the Iliad and Odyssey, we should be compelled to consider this impersonation of the patron goddess as suggested by the grasping policy and astute intellect of imperial Athens. Had the Athenian envoys who took part in the Melian dialogue chosen to assert mythical precedent for their conduct, they might have cited the Athene of Homer as their patroness and forerunner in a heartless and brutal policy.