1902 Encyclopedia > Greece > The Early Literature

(Part 22)



I. The Early Literature

A process of natural growth may be traced through all
the best work of the Greek genius. The Greeks were not
literary imitators of foreign models; the forms of poetry
and prose in which they attained to such unequalled excel-
lence were first developed by themselves. Their literature
had its roots in their political and social life; it is the
spontaneous expression of that life in youth, maturity, and
decay; and the order in which its several fruits are pro-
duced is not the result of accident or caprice. The series
of its seasons is as much the result of natural laws as the
sequence of spring, summer, and autumn. Further, the
old Greek literature has a striking completeness, due to
the fact that each great branch of the Hellenic race bore a
characteristic part in its development. Ionians, iEolians,
Dorians, in turn contributed their share. Each dialect
corresponded to a certain aspect of Hellenic life and char-
acter. Each found its appropriate work.
The The Ionians on the coast of Asia Minor—a lively and
dialects, genial people, delighting in adventure, and keenly sensitive to everything bright and joyous—created artistic epic poetry out of the lays in which iEolie minstrels sang of the old Achaean wars. And among the Ionians arose elegiac poetry, the first variation on the epic type. These found a fitting instrument in the harmonious Ionic dialect, the flexible utterance of a quick and versatile intelligence. The iEolians of Lesbos next created the lyric of personal passion, in which the traits of their race—its chivalrous pride, its bold but sensuous fancy—found a fitting voice in the fiery strength and tenderness of yEolic speech. The Dorians of the Peloponnesus, Sicily, and Magna Graecia then perfected the choral lyric for festivals and religious worship; and here again an earnest faith, a strong pride in Dorian usage and renown, had an apt interpreter in the massive and sonorous Doric. Finally, the Attic branch of the Ionian stock produced the drama, blending elements of all the other kinds, and developed an artistic literary prose in history, oratory, and philosophy. It is in the Attic litera-ture that the Greek mind receives its most complete inter-pretation.
A natural affinity was felt to exist between each dialect and that species of composition for which it had been speci-ally used. Hence the dialect of the Ionian epic poets would be adopted with more or less thoroughness even by epic or elegiac poets who were not Ionians. Thus the ^Eolian Hesiod uses it in epos, the Dorian Theognis in elegy, though not without alloy. Similarly, the Dorian Theocritus wrote love-songs in iEolic. The Attic Tyrtaeus used Doric forms for his marching songs. All the faculties and tones of the language were thus gradually brought out by the co-operation of the dialects. Old Greek literature has an essential unity—the unity of a living organism; and this unity comprehends a number of distinct types, each of which is complete in its own kind.
Extant Greek literature begins with the Homeric poems. Pre-These are works of art which imply a long period of antece- Homeric dent poetical cultivation. Of the pre-Homeric poetry we PoetI7-have no remains, and very little knowledge. Such glimpses as we get of it connect it with two different stages in the religion of the prehistoric Hellenes. The first of these stages is that in which the agencies or forms of external nature were personified indeed, yet with the consciousness that the personal names were only symbols. Some very ancient Greek songs of which mention is made may have Songs belonged to this stage—as the songs of Linus, Talemus, and of the Hylas. Linus, the fair youth killed by dogs, seems to be seasons-the spring passing away before Sirius. Such songs have been aptly called "songs of the seasons." The second stage is that in which the Hellenes have now definitively personi-fied the powers which they worship. Apollo, Demeter, Dionysus, Cybele, have now become to them beings with, clearly conceived attributes. To this second stage belong the hymns connected with the names of the legendary bards, Hymns, such as Orpheus, Musaeus, Eumolpus, who are themselves associated with the worship of the Pierian Muses and the Attic ritual of Demeter. The seats of this early sacred poetry are not only "Thracian"—i.e., on the borders of northern Greece—but also " Phrygian " and " Cretan." It belongs, that is, presumably to an age when the ancestors of the Hellenes had left the Indo-European home in central Asia, but had not yet taken full possession of the lands which were afterwards Hellenic. Some of their tribes were still in Asia; others were settling in the islands of the iEgean; others were passing through the lands on its northern sea board. If there was a period when the Greeks possessed no poetry but hymns forming part of a religious ritual, it may be conjectured that it was not of long duration. Already in the Iliad a secular character belongs to the

marriage hymn and to the dirge for the dead, which in ancient India were chanted by the priest. The bent of the Greeks was to claim poetry and music as public joys; they would not long have suffered them to remain sacerdotal mysteries. And among the earliest themes on which the lay artist in poetry was employed were probably war-ballads, sung by minstrels in the houses of the chiefs whose ancestors they celebrated.
Epos. Such war-ballads were the materials from which the earliest epic poetry of Greece was constructed. By an " epic " poem the Greeks meant a narrative of heroic action in hexameter verse. The term epe meant at first simply " verses " ; it acquired its special meaning only when mele, lyric songs set to music, came to be distinguished from epe, verses not set to music, but merely recited. Epic poetry is. the only kind of extant Greek poetry which is older than about 700 B.C. The early epos of Greece is repre-sented by the Iliad and the Odyssey, Hesiod, and the Homeric hymns; also by some fragments of the "Cyclic" poets.

The Iliad After the Dorian conquest of the Peloponnesus, the and the /Eolian emigrants who settled in the north-west of Asia Odyssey. ____ brought with them the warlike legends of their chiefs, the Achaean princes of old. These legends lived in the ballads of the iEolic minstrels, and from them passed southward into Ionia, where the Ionian poets gradually shaped them into higher artistic forms. Among the seven places which claimed to be the birthplace of Homer, that which has the best title is Smyrna. Homer himself is called " son of Meles "—the stream which flowed though old Smyrna, on the border between yEolia and Ionia. The tradition is significant in regard to the origin and character of the Iliad, for in the Iliad we have Achsean ballads worked up by Ionian art. A preponderance of evidence is in favour of the view that the Odyssey also, at least in its earliest form, was composed on the Ionian, coast of Asia Minor. According to the Spartan account, Lycurgus was the first to bring to Greece a complete copy of the Homeric poems, which he had obtained from the Creophylidae, a clan or guild of poets in Samos. A better authenticated tradition connects Athens with early attempts to preserve the chief poetical treasure of the nation. Pisistratus is said to have charged some learned men with the task of collecting all " the poems of Homer " ; but it is difficult to decide how much was comprehended under this last phrase, or whether the province of the commission went beyond the mere task of collecting. Nor cau it be determined what exactly it was that Solon and Hipparchus respectively did for the Homeric poems. Solon, it has been thought, enacted that the poems should be recited from an authorized text (<!£ v7roy8o\i7s); Hipparchus, that they should be recited in a regular order (i£ __________). At any rate, we know that in the 6th century _._. a recitation of the poems of Homer was one of the established competitions at the __________, held once in four years. The reciter was called a rhapsodist, —properly one who weaves a long, smoothly-flowing chant, then an epic poet who chants his own or another's poem. The rhapsodist did not, like the early minstrel, use the accom-paniment of the harp; he gave the verses in a flowing recita-tive, bearing in his hand a branch of laurel, the symbol of Apollo's inspiration. In the 5th century _,_. we find that various Greek cities had their own editions (at TTOXITLKCU EKSOO-¤IS) of the poems, for recitation at their festivals. Among these were the editions of Massilia, of Chios, and of Argos. There were also editions bearing the name of the individual editor (al ___ avSpa),—the best known being that which Aristotle prepared for Alexander. The recension of the poems by Aristarchus (156 B.C.) became the standard one, and is probably that on which the existing text is based. The oldest Homeric MS. extant, Venetus A of the Iliad,
is of the 10th century; the first printed edition of Homer was that edited by the Byzantine Demetrius Chalcondyles (Florence, 1488). The first Aldine edition appeared twelve years later.
The ancient Greeks were almost unanimous in believing The the Iliad and the Odyssey to be the work of one man, Homeric Homer, to whom they also ascribed some extant hymns, and 1uestiou-probably much more besides. Aristotle and Aristarchus seem to have put Homer's date about 1044 B.C., Herodotus about 850 B.C. It was not till about 170 B.C. that the grammarians Hellanicus and Xenon put forward the view that Homer was the author of the Iliad, but not of the Odyssey. Those who followed them in assigning different authors to the two poems were called the Separaters (or Ohorizontes). Aristarchus combated "the paradox of Xenon," and it does not seem to have had much acceptance in antiquity. Vico, a Neapolitan (1668-1744), seems to have been the first modern to suggest the composite author-ship and oral tradition of the Homeric poems; but this was a pure conjecture in support of his theory that the names of ancient lawgivers and poets are often mere symbols. F. A. Wolf, in the Prolegomena to his edition (1795), was the founder of a scientific scepticism. The Iliad, he said (for he recognized the comparative unity and consistency of the Odyssey), was pieced together from many small unwritten poems by various hands, and was first committed to writing in the time of Pisistratus. This view was in harmony with the tone of German criticism at the time; it was welcomed as a new testimony to the superiority of popular poetry, springing from fresh natural sources, to elaborate works of art; and it at once found enthusiastic adherents. For the course of Homeric controversy since Wolf the reader is referred to the article HOMER. The general result has been, not to prove any precise theory of authorship, but rather to establish certain general propositions, and so far to limit the question. It is now generally admitted that the Iliad and the Odyssey, whatever their absolute or rela-tive ages, must at least be regarded as belonging to the maturity of a poetical school in Ionia, which had gradually created an epic style. Next, it can no longer be doubted that the Iliad contains elements of various age and origin ; the form and the matter alike show this, though we cannot with certainty point to any one group of these elements as the original nucleus around which our Iliad grew. Compar-ing the Odyssey with the Iliad, we perceive greater unity of design and of colouring, and indications of a somewhat later time; but not even here can we affirm that the poem, as we have it, is the work of one man.
The Ionian school of epos produced a number of poems Cyclic founded on the legends of the Trojan war, and intended as P°ems. introductions or continuations to the Iliad and the Odyssey. The grammarian Proclus (140 A.D.) has preserved the names and subjects of some of these ; but the fragments are very scanty. The Nostoi or Homeward Voyages, by Agias of Trcezen, filled up the gap of ten years between the Iliad and the Odyssey; the Lay of Telegonus, by Eugammon of Cyrene, continued the story of the Odyssey to the death of Odysseus by the hand of Telegonus, the son whom Circe bore to him. Similarly the Cyprian Lays, by Stasinus of Cyprus, was introductory to the Iliad ; the jElhiopis and the Sack of Troy, by Arctinus of Miletus, and the Little Iliad, by Lesches of Mitylene, were supplementary to it. These and many other names of lost epics—some taken also from the Theban myths—serve to show how prolific was that epic school of which only two great examples remain. The name of epic, cycle was properly applied to a prose com-pilation of abstracts from these epics, pieced together in the order of the events. The compilers were called " cyclic " writers ; and the term has now been transferred to the epic poets whom they used.

Hesiodic The epic poetry of Ionia celebrated the great deeds of
epos. heroes in the old wars. But in Greece proper there arose
another school of epos, which busied itself with religious
lore and ethical precepts, especially in relation to the rural
life of Bceotia. This school is represented by the name of
Hesiod. The legend spoke of hiin as vanquishing Homer
in a poetical contest at Chalcis in Eubcea; and it expresses
the fact that, to the old Greek mind, these two names stood
for two contrasted epic types. Nothing is certainly known
of his date, except that it must have been subsequent to the
maturity of Ionian epos. He is conjecturally placed about
850-800 B.C.; but some would refer him to the early part
of the 7th century B.C. His home was at Ascra, a village
in a valley under Helicon, whither his father had migrated
from Cyme in iEolis on the coast of Asia Minor. In
Hesiod's Works and Baps we have the earliest example of
a didactic poem. The seasons and the labours of the
Boeotian farmer's year are followed by a list of the days
which are lucky or unlucky for work. The Theogony, or
" Origin of the Gods," describes first how the visible order
of nature arose out of chaos ; next, how the gods were born.
Though it never possessed the character of a sacred book,
it remained a standard authority on the genealogies of the
gods. So far as a corrupt and confused text warrants a
judgment, the poet was piecing together—not always in-
telligently—the fragments of a very old cosmogonic system,
using for this purpose both the hymns preserved in the
temples and the myths which lived in folklore. The epic
lay in 480 lines called the Shield of Heracles—partly imi-
tated from the 18th book of the Iliad—is the work of an
author or authors later than Hesiod. In the Hesiodic
poetry, as represented by the Works and Days and the
Tlieogony, we see the influence of the temple at Delphi.
Hesiod recognizes the existence of daimones—spirits of the
departed who haunt the earth as the invisible guardians of
justice; and he connects the office of the poet with that of the
prophet. The poet is one whom the gods have authorized
to impress doctrine and practical duties on men. A religious
purpose was essentially characteristic of the Hesiodic school.
Its poets treated the old legends as relics of a sacred history,
and not merely, in the Ionian manner, as subjects of ideal-
izing art. Such titles as the Maxims of Cheiron and the
Lay of Melampus, the seer—lost poems of the Hesiodic
school'—illustrate its ethical and its mystic tendencies.
The The Homeric Hymns form a collection of thirty-three
Homeric pieces, some of them very short, in hexameter verse. Their Hymns, traditional title is—Hymns or Preludes of Homer and the Homeridm. The second of the alternative designations is the true one. The pieces are not " hymns " used in formal worship, but " preludes " or prefatory addresses (^pool/xia) with which the rhapsodists ushered in their recitations of epic poetry. The " prelude " might be addressed to the presiding god of the festival, or to any local deity whom the reciter wished to honour. The pieces range in date perhaps from 750 to 500 B.C., and it is probable that the collection was formed in Attica, for the use of rhapsodists. The style is that of the Ionian or Homeric epos ; but there are also several traces of the Hesiodic or Boeotian school. The five principal " hymns " are those (1) to the Delian Apollo, i. 1-177; (2) to the Pythian Apollo, i. 178 to end; (3) to Hermes, ii.; (4) to Aphrodite, iii.; and (5) to Demeter, v. The hymn to the Delian Apollo, quoted by Thucydides (iii. 104) as Homer's, is of peculiar interest on account of the lines describing the Ionian festival at Delos. Two celebrated pieces of a sportive kind passed under Homer's name. The Margites—a comic poem on one " who knew many things but knew them all badly "—is regarded by Aristotle as the earliest germ of comedy, and was possibly as old as 700 B.C. Only a few lines remain. The Battle of the Frogs and Mice probably belongs to the decline of
Greek literature, perhaps to the 2d century B.C. About 300 verses of it are extant.
In the Iliad and the Odyssey the personal opinions or sym- Transi-pathies of the poet may sometimes be conjectured, but they tlon ft'01" are not declared, or even hinted. Hesiod, indeed, some- efos to times gives us a glimpse of his own troubles or views. Yet Hesiod is, on the whole, essentially a prophet. The message which he delivers is not from himself; the truths which he imparts have not been discovered by his own search. He is the mouthpiece of the Delphian Apollo. Personal opinion and feeling may tinge his utterance, but they do not determine its general complexion. The egotism is a singl: thread; it is not the basis of the texture. Epic poetry was in Greece the foundation of all other poetry; for many centuries no other kind was generally cultivated, no other could speak to the whole people. Politically, the age was monarchical or aristocratic; intellectually, it was too simple for the analysis of thought or emotion. Kings and princes loved to hear of the great deeds of their ancestors; common men loved to hear of them too, for they had no other interest. The mind of Greece found no subject of contem-plation so attractive as the warlike past of the race, or so useful as that lore which experience and tradition had bequeathed. But in the course of the 8th century B.C. the rule of hereditary princes began to disappear. Monarchy gave place to oligarchy, and this'—often after the inter-mediate phase of a tyranny'—to democracy. Such a change was necessarily favourable to the growth of reflection. The private citizen is no longer a mere cipher, the Homeric us, a unit in the dim multitude of the king-ruled folk; he gains more power of independent action, his mental horizon is widened, his life becomes fuller and more interesting. He begins to feel the need of expressing the thoughts and feel-ings that are stirred in him. But as yet a prose literature does not exist; the new thoughts, like the old heroic stories, must still be told in verse. The forms of verse created by this need were the Elegiac and the Iambic.

The elegiac metre is, in form, a simple variation on the Elegy, epic metre, obtained by docking the second of two hexa-meters so as to make it a verse of five feet or measures. But the poetical capabilities of the elegiac couplet are of a wholly different kind from those of heroic verse. Megos seems to be the Greek form of a name given by the Carians and Lydians to a lament for the dead. This was accom-panied by the soft music of the Lydian flute, which con-tinued to be associated with Greek elegy. The non-Hellenic origin of elegy is indicated by this very fact. The flute was to the Greeks an Asiatic instrument,—string instruments were those which they made their own,'—and it would hardly have been wedded by them to a species oi poetry which had arisen among themselves. The .early elegiac poetry of Greece was by no means confined to mourn-ing for the dead. War, love, politics, proverbial philosophy, were in turn its themes; it dealt, in fact, with the chief interest of the poet and his friends, whatever that might be at the time. It is the direct expression of the poet's own thoughts, addressed to a sympathizing society. This is its first characteristic. The second is that, even when most pathetic or most spirited, it still preserves, on the whole, the tone of conversation or of narrative. Greek elegy stops short of lyric passion. English elegy, whether funereal as in Dryden and Pope, or reflective as in Gray, is usually true to the same normal type. Boman elegy is not equally true to it, but sometimes tends to trench on the lyric province. For Roman elegy is mainly amatory or sentimental; and its masters imitated, as a rule, not the early Greek elegists, not Tyrtaaus or Theognis, but the later Alexandrian elegists, such as Callimachus or Philetas. Catullus introduced the metre to Latin literature, and used it with more fidelity than his followers to its genuine Greek inspiration.

Iambic Elegy, as we have seen, was the first slight deviation verse. from epos. But almost at the same time another species arose which had nothing in common with epos, either in form or in spirit. This was the iambic. The word iarnbos (iapto, to dart or shoot) was used in reference to the licensed raillery at the festivals of Demeter; it was the maiden Iambe, the myth said, who drew the first smile from the mourning goddess. The iambic metre was at first used for satire ; and it was in this strain that it was chiefly employed by its earliest master of note, Archilochus of Paros (670 B.C.). But it was adapted to the expression generally of any pointed thought. Thus it was suitable to fables. Elegiac and iambic poetry both belong to the borderland between epic and lyric. "While, however, elegy stands nearer to epos, iambic stands nearer to the lyric. Iambic poetry can express the personal feeling of the poet with greater intensity than elegy does; on the other hand, it has not the lyric flexibility, self-abandonment, or glow. As we see in the case of Solon, iambic verse could serve for the expression of that deeper thought, that more inward self-communing, for which the elegiac form would have been inappropriate.
But these two forms of poetry, both Ionian, the elegiac and the iambic, belong essentially to the same stage of the literature. They stand between the Ionian epos and the lyric poetry of the iEolians and Dorians. The earliest of the Greek elegists, Callinus and Tyrtseus, use elegy to rouse a warlike spirit in sinking hearts. Archi-lochus too wrote warlike elegy, but used it also in other strains, as in lament for the dead. The elegy of Mimnermus is the plaintive farewell of an ease-loving Ionian to the days of Ionian freedom. In Solon elegy takes a higher range ; it becomes political and ethical. Theognis represents the maturer union of politics with a proverbial philosophy. Xenophanes gives a philosophic strain to elegy. With Simonides of Ceos it reverts, in an exquisite form, to its earliest destination, and becomes the vehicle of epitaph on those who fell in the Persian wars. Iambic verse was used by Simonides of Amorgus, as by Archilochus, for satire,'—but satire directed against classes rather than persons. Solon's iambics so far preserve the old associations of the metre that they represent the polemical or controver-sial side of his political poetry. Hipponax of Ephesus was another iambic satirist-—using the "scazon " or " limping " verse, produced by substituting a spondee for an iambus in the last place. But it was not until the rise of the Attic drama that the full capabilities of iambic verse were seen. Lyric The lyric poetry of early Greece may be regarded as the poetry. finai form of that effort at self-expression which in the elegiac and iambic is still incomplete. The lyric expression is deeper and more impassioned. Its intimate union with music and with the rhythmical movement of the dance gives to it more of an ideal character. At the same time the continuity of the music permits pauses to the voice,—pauses necessary as reliefs after a climax. Before lyric poetry conld be effective, it was necessary that some progress should have been made in the art of music. The instru-ment used by the Greeks to accompany the voice was the four-stringed lyre, and the first great epoch in Greek music was when Terpander of Lesbos (660 B.C.), by adding three strings, gave the lyre the compass of the octave. Further improvements are ascribed to Olympus and Thaletas. By 500 B.C. Greek music had probably acquired all the powers of expression which the lyric poet could demand. The period of Greek lyric poetry may be roughly defined as from 670 to 440 B.C TWO different parts in its develop-ment were taken by the iEolians and the Dorians. J3oiian The lyric poetry of the iEolians—especially of Lesbos— schooi. was essentially the utterance of personal feeling, and was usually intended for a single voice, not for a chorus.
Lesbos, in the 7th century B.C., had attained some naval and commercial importance. But the strife of oligarchy and democracy was active; the Lesbian nobles were often driven by revolution to exchange their luxurious home-life for the hardships of exile. It is such a life of contrasts and excitements, working on a sensuous and fiery temperament, that is reflected in the fragments of Alcaeus. In these glimpses of war and love, of anxiety for the storm-tossed state and of careless festivity, there is much of the cavalier spirit; if Archilochus is in certain aspects a Greek Byron, Alcaeus might be compared to Lovelace. The other great representative of the iEolian lyric is Sappho, the only woman of Greek race who is known to have possessed poetical genius of the first order. Intensity and melody are the characteristics of the fragments that remain to us. Pro-bably no poet ever surpassed Sappho as an interpreter of passion in exquisitely subtle harmonies of form and sound. Anacreon of Teos, in Ionia, may be classed with the ^Eolian lyrists in so far as the matter and form of his work resem-bled theirs, though the dialect in which he wrote was mainly the Ionian. A few fragments remain from his hymns to the gods, from love-poems and festive songs. The collection of sixty short pieces which passes current under his name dates only from the 10th century. The short poems which it comprises are of various age and authorship, _—all of them probably of the Christian era. They have not the pure style, the flexible grace, or the sweetness of the classical fragments; but the verses, though somewhat mechanical, are often pretty.
The Dorian lyric poetry, in contrast with the iEolian, had Dorian more of a public than of a personal character, and was" for school the most part choral. Hymns or choruses for the public worship of the gods, and odes to be sung at festivals on occasions, of public interest, were its characteristic forms. Its central inspiration was the pride of the Dorians in the Dorian past, in their traditions of worship, government, and social usage. The history of the Dorian lyric poetry does not present us with vivid expressions of personal character, like those of Al casus and Sappho, but rather with a series of artists whose names are associated with improvements of form. Thus Alcmau (660 B.C.) is said to have introduced the balanced movement of strophe and antistrophe. Stesi-chorus, of Himera in Sicily, added the epode, sung by the chorus while stationary after these movements ; Arion gave a finished form to the choral hymn (" dithyramb") in honour of Dionysus, and organized the " cyclic" or circular chorus which sang it at the altar.
The culmination of the lyric poetry is marked by two Simonicles great names, Simonides and Pindar. Simonides was an and Ionian of the island of Ceos, but his lyrics belonged by Piuiiar-form to the choral Dorian school. Many of his subjects were taken from the events of the Persian wars: his epitaphs on those who fell at Thermopylae and Salamis were celebrated. In him the lyric art of the Dorians is interpreted by Ionian genius, and Athens—where part of his life was passed—is the point at which they meet. Simonides is the first Greek lyrist whose significance is not merely iEolian or Dorian but Panhellenic. The same character belongs even more completely to his younger contemporary. Pindar was born in Bceotia of a Dorian stock; thus, as Ionian and Dorian elements meet in Simonides, so Dorian and jEolian elements meet in Pindar. Simonides was perhaps the most tender and most exquisite of the lyric poets. Pindar was the boldest, the most fervid, and the most sublime. His extant fragments represent almost every branch of the lyric art. But he is known to us mainly by forty-four Upinieia, or odes of victory, for the Olympian, Pythian, Nemean, and Isthmian festivals. The general characteristic of the treatment is that the particular victory is made the occasion of introducing heroic legends connected

with the family or city of the victor, and of inculcating the moral lessons which they teach. No Greek lyric poetry can be completely appreciated apart from the music, now lost, to which it was set. Pindar's odes were, further, essentially occasional poems; they abound in allusions of which the effect is partly or wholly lost on us; and the glories which they celebrate belong to a life which we can but imperfectly realize. Of all the great Greek poets, Pindar is perhaps the one to whom it is hardest for us to do justice; yet we can at least recognize his splendour of imagination, his strong rapidity, and his soaring flight.

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