This book contains one of the most famous literary works in history, "The Odyssey" rendered into beautiful English prose. This book is annotated with a rare extensive biographical sketch of the author, Andrew Lang, written by Sir Edmund Gosse, CB, a contemporary poet and writer.
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The Odyssey Of Homer
Done Into English Prose
Samuel Henry Butcher, M.A.
Andrew Lang, M.A.
ANDREW LANG (1844-1912)
THE ODYSSEY OF HOMER
PREFACE TO THE THIRD EDITION.
The Odyssey Of Homer, A. Lang
Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck
86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9
Biographical Sketch from "Portraits And Sketches" by Edmund Gosse
INVITED to note down some of my recollections of Andrew Lang, I find myself suspended between the sudden blow of his death and the slow development of memory, now extending in unbroken friendship over thirty-five years. The magnitude and multitude of Lang's performances, public and private, during that considerable length of time almost paralyse expression; it is difficult to know where to begin or where to stop. Just as his written works are so extremely numerous as to make a pathway through them a formidable task in bibliography, no one book standing out predominant, so his character, intellectual and moral, was full -of so many apparent inconsistencies, so many pitfalls for rash assertion, so many queer caprices of impulse, that in a whole volume of analysis, which would be tedious, one could scarcely do justice to them all. I will venture to put down, almost at haphazard, what I remember that seems to me to have been overlooked, or inexactly stated, by those who wrote, often very sympathetically, at the moment of his death, always premising that I speak rather of a Lang of from 1877 to 1890, when I saw him very frequently, than of a Lang whom younger people met chiefly in Scotland.
When he died, all the newspapers were loud in proclaiming his "versatility." But I am not sure that he was not the very opposite of versatile. I take "versatile" to mean changeable, fickle, constantly ready to alter direction with the weather-cock. The great instance of versatility in literature is Ruskin, who adopted diametrically different views of the same subject at different times of his life, and defended them with equal ardour. To be versatile seems to be unsteady, variable. But Lang was through his long career singularly unaltered; he never changed his point of view; what he liked and admired as a youth he liked and admired as an elderly man. It is true that his interests and knowledge were vividly drawn along a surprisingly large number of channels, but while there was abundance there does not seem to me to have been versatility. If a huge body of water boils up from a crater, it may pour down a dozen paths, but these will always be the same; unless there is an earthquake, new cascades will not form nor old rivulets run dry. In some authors earthquakes do take place as in Tolstoy, for instance, and in S. T. Coleridge but nothing of this kind was ever manifest in Lang, who was extraordinarily multiform, yet in his varieties strictly consistent from Oxford to the grave. As this is not generally perceived, I will take the liberty of expanding my view of his intellectual development.
To a superficial observer in late life the genius of Andrew Lang had the characteristics which we are in the habit of identifying with precocity. Yet he had not been, as a writer, precocious in his youth. One slender volume of verses represents all that he published in book-form before his thirty-fifth year. No doubt we shall learn in good time what he was doing before he flashed upon the world of journalism in all his panoply of graces, in 1876, at the close of his Merton fellowship. He was then, at all events, the finest finished product of his age, with the bright armour of Oxford burnished on his body to such a brilliance that humdrum eyes could hardly bear the radiance of it. Of the terms behind, of the fifteen years then dividing him from St. Andrews, we know as yet but little; they were years of insatiable acquirement, incessant reading, and talking, and observing gay preparation for a life to be devoted, as no other life in our time has been, to the stimulation of other people's observation and talk and reading. There was no cloistered virtue about the bright and petulant Merton don. He was already flouting and jesting, laughing with Ariosto in the sunshine, performing with a snap of his fingers tasks which might break the back of a pedant, and concealing under an affectation of carelessness a literary ambition which knew no definite bounds.
In those days, and when he appeared for the first time in London, the poet was paramount in him. Jowett is said to have predicted that he would be greatly famous in this line, but I know not what evidence Jowett had before him. Unless I am much mistaken, it was not until Lang left Balliol that his peculiar bent became obvious. Up to that time he had been a promiscuous browser upon books, much occupied, moreover, in the struggle with ancient Greek, and immersed in Aristotle and Homer. But in the early days of his settlement at Merton he began to concentrate his powers, and I think there were certain influences which were instant and far-reaching. Among them one was pre-eminent. When Andrew Lang came up from St. Andrews he had found Matthew Arnold occupying the ancient chair of poetry at Oxford. He was a listener at some at least of the famous lectures which, in 1865, were collected as "Essays in Criticism"; while one of his latest experiences as a Balliol undergraduate was hearing Matthew Arnold lecture on the study of Celtic literature. His conscience was profoundly stirred by "Culture and Anarchy" (1869); his sense of prose-form largely determined by "Friendship's Garland" (1871). I have no hesitation in saying that the teaching and example of Matthew Arnold prevailed over all other Oxford influences upon the intellectual nature of Lang, while, although I think that his personal acquaintance with Arnold was very slight, yet in his social manner there was, in early days, not a little imitation of Arnold's aloofness and superfine delicacy of address. It was unconscious, of course, and nothing would have enraged Lang more than to have been accused of "imitating Uncle Matt."
The structure which his own individuality now began to build on the basis supplied by the learning of Oxford, and in particular by the study of the Greeks, and "dressed" by courses of Matthew Arnold, was from the first eclectic. Lang eschewed as completely what was not sympathetic to him as he assimilated what was attractive to him. Those who speak of his "versatility" should recollect what large tracts of the literature of the world, and even of England, existed outside the dimmest apprehension of Andrew Lang. It is, however, more useful to consider what he did apprehend; and there were two English books, published in his Oxford days, which permanently impressed him: one of these was "The Earthly Paradise," the other D. G. Rossetti's " Poems." In after years he tried to divest himself of the traces of these volumes, but he had fed upon their honey-dew and it had permeated his veins.
Not less important an element in the garnishing of a mind already prepared for it by academic and aesthetic studies was the absorption of the romantic part of French literature. Andrew Lang in this, as in everything else, was selective. He dipped into the wonderful lucky-bag of France wherever he saw the glitter of romance. Hence his approach, in the early seventies, was threefold: towards the mediaeval lais and chansons, towards the sixteenth-century Pleiade, and towards the school of which Victor Hugo was the leader in the nineteenth century. For a long time Ronsard was Lang's poet of intensest predilection; and I think that his definite ambition was to be the Ronsard of modern England, introducing a new poetical dexterity founded on a revival of pure humanism. He had in those days what he lost, or at least dispersed, in the weariness and growing melancholia of later years a splendid belief in poetry as a part of the renown of England, as a heritage to be received in reverence from our fathers, and to be passed on, if possible, in a brighter flame. This honest and beautiful ambition to shine as one of the permanent benefactors to national verse, in the attitude so nobly sustained four hundred years ago by Du Bellay and Ronsard, was unquestionably felt by Andrew Lang through his bright intellectual April, and supported him from Oxford times until 1882, when he published " Helen of Troy." The cool reception of that epic by the principal judges of poetry caused him acute disappointment, and from that time forth he became less eager and less serious as a poet, more and more petulantly expending his wonderful technical gift on fugitive subjects. And here again, when one comes to think of it, the whole history repeated itself, since in " Helen of Troy " Lang simply suffered as Ronsard had done in the "Franciade." But the fact that 1882 was his year of crisis, and the tomb of his brightest ambition, must be recognised by every one who closely followed his fortunes at that time. Lang's habit of picking out of literature and of life the plums of romance, and these alone, comes to be, to the dazzled observer of his extraordinarily vivid intellectual career, the principal guiding line. This determination to dwell, to the exclusion of all other sides of any question, on its romantic side is alone enough to rebut the charge of versatility. Lang was in a sense encyclopaedic; but the vast dictionary of his knowledge had blank pages, or pages pasted down, on which he would not, or could not, read what experience had printed. Absurd as it sounds, there was always something maidenly about his mind, and he glossed over ugly matters, sordid and dull conditions, so that they made no impression whatever upon him. He had a trick, which often exasperated his acquaintances, of declaring that he had " never heard " of things that everybody else was very well aware of. He had " never heard the name " of people he disliked, of books that he thought tiresome, of events that bored him; but, more than this, he used the formula for things and persons whom he did not wish to discuss. I remember meeting in the street a famous professor, who advanced with uplifted hands, and greeted me with " What do you think Lang says now? That he has never heard of Pascal! " This merely signified that Lang, not interested (at all events for the moment) in Pascal nor in the professor, thus closed at once all possibility of discussion.
It must not be forgotten that we have lived to see him, always wonderful indeed, and always passionately devoted to perfection and purity, but worn, tired, harassed by the unceasing struggle, the lifelong slinging of sentences from that inexhaustible ink-pot. In one of the most perfect of his poems, " Natural Theology," Lang speaks of Cagn, the great hunter, who once was kind and good, but who was spoiled by fighting many things. Lang was never " spoiled," but he was injured; the surface of the radiant coin was rubbed by the vast and interminable handling of journalism. He was jaded by the toil of writing many things. Hence it is not possible but that those who knew him intimately in his later youth and early middle-age should prefer to look back at those years when he was the freshest, the most exhilarating figure in living literature, when a star seemed to dance upon the crest of his already silvering hair. Baudelaire exclaimed of Theophile Gautier: " Homme heureux! homme digne d'envie! il n'a jamais aimé que le Beau!" and of Andrew Lang in those brilliant days the same might have been said. As long as he had confidence in beauty he was safe and strong; and much that, with all affection and all respect, we must admit was rasping and disappointing in his attitude to literature in his later years, seems to have been due to a decreasing sense of confidence in the intellectual sources of beauty. It is dangerous, in the end it must be fatal, to sustain the entire structure of life and thought on the illusions of romance. But that was what Lang did he built his house upon the rainbow.
The charm of Andrew Lang's person and company was founded upon a certain lightness, an essential gentleness and elegance which were relieved by a sharp touch; just as a very dainty fruit may be preserved from mawkishness by something delicately acid in the rind of it. His nature was slightly inhuman; it was unwise to count upon its sympathy beyond a point which was very easily reached in social intercourse. If any simple soul showed an inclination, in eighteenth-century phrase, to " repose on the bosom " of Lang, that support was immediately withdrawn, and the confiding one fell among thorns. Lang was like an Angora cat, whose gentleness and soft fur, and general aspect of pure amenity, invite to caresses, which are suddenly met by the outspread paw with claws awake. This uncertain and freakish humour was the embarrassment of his friends, who, however, were preserved from despair by the fact that no malice was meant, and that the weapons were instantly sheathed again in velvet. Only, the instinct to give a sudden slap, half in play, half in fretful caprice, was incorrigible. No one among Lang's intimate friends but had suffered from this feline impulse, which did not spare even the serenity of Robert Louis Stevenson. But, tiresome as it sometimes was, this irritable humour seldom cost Lang a friend who was worth preserving. Those who really knew him recognised that he was always shy and usually tired.
His own swift spirit never brooded upon an offence, and could not conceive that any one else should mind what he himself minded so little and forgot so soon. Impressions swept over him very rapidly, and injuries passed completely out of his memory. Indeed, all his emotions were too fleeting, and in this there was something fairy-like; quick and keen and blithe as he was, he did not seem altogether like an ordinary mortal, nor could the appeal to gross human experience be made to him with much chance of success. This, doubtless, is why almost all imaginative literature which is founded upon the darker parts of life, all squalid and painful tragedy, all stories that " don't end well" all religious experiences, all that is not superficial and romantic, was irksome to him. He tried sometimes to reconcile his mind to the consideration of real life; he concentrated his matchless powers on it; but he always disliked it. He could persuade himself to be partly just to Ibsen or Hardy or Dostoieffsky, but what he really enjoyed was Dumas pêre, because that fertile romance-writer rose serene above the phenomena of actual human experience. We have seen more of this type in English literature than the Continental nations have in theirs, but even we have seen no instance of its strength and weakness so eminent as Andrew Lang. He was the fairy in our midst, the wonder-working, incorporeal, and tricksy fay of letters, who paid for all his wonderful gifts and charms by being not quite a man of like passions with the rest of us. In some verses which he scribbled to R.L.S. and threw away, twenty years ago, he acknowledged this unearthly character, and, speaking of the depredations of his kin, he said:
Faith, they might steal me, w? ma will,
And, ken'd I ony fairy hill
I#d lay me down there, snod and still,
Their land to win;
For, man, I maistly had my fill
O' this world's din
His wit had something disconcerting in its impishness. Its rapidity and sparkle were dazzling, but it was not quite human; that is to say, it conceded too little to the exigencies of flesh and blood. If we can conceive a seraph being fanny, it would be in the manner of Andrew Lang. Moreover, his wit usually danced over the surface of things, and rarely penetrated them. In verbal parry, in ironic misunderstanding, in breathless agility of topsy-turvy movement, Lang was like one of Milton's " yellow-skirted fays," sporting with the helpless, moon-bewildered traveller. His wit often had a depressing, a humiliating effect, against which one's mind presently revolted. I recollect an instance which may be thought to be apposite: I was passing through a phase of enthusiasm for Emerson, whom Lang very characteristically detested, and I was so ill-advised as to show him the famous epigram called " Brahma." Lang read it with a snort of derision (it appeared to be new to him), and immediately he improvised this parody:
If the wild bowler thinks he bowls,
Or if the batsman thinks he's bowled,
They know not, poor misguided souls,
They, too, shall perish unconsoled.
I am the batsman and the bat,
I am the bowler and the ball,
The umpire, the pavilion cat,
The roller, pitch and stumps, and all
This would make a pavilion cat laugh, and I felt that Emerson was done for. But when Lang had left me, and I was once more master of my mind, I reflected that the parody was but a parody, wonderful for its neatness and quickness, and for its seizure of what was awkward in the roll of Emerson's diction, but essentially superficial. However, what would wit be if it were profound? I must leave it there, feeling that I have not explained why Lang's extraordinary drollery in conversation so often left on the memory a certain sensation of distress.
But this was not the characteristic of his humour at its best, as it was displayed throughout the happiest period of his work. If, as seems possible, it is as an essayist that he will ultimately take his place in English literature, this element will continue to delight fresh generations of enchanted readers. I cannot imagine that the preface to his translation of " Theocritus," "Letters to Dead Authors," "In the Wrong Paradise," " Old Friends," and " Essays in Little " will ever lose their charm; but future admirers will have to pick their way to them through a tangle of history and anthropology and mythology, where there may be left no perfume and no sweetness. I am impatient to see this vast mass of writing reduced to the limits of its author's delicate, true, but somewhat evasive and ephemeral. genius. However, as far as the circumstances of his temperament permitted, Andrew Lang has left with us the memory of one of our most surprising contemporaries, a man of letters who laboured without cessation from boyhood to the grave, who pursued his ideal with indomitable activity and perseverance, and who was never betrayed except by the loftiness of his own endeavour. Lang's only misfortune was not to be completely in contact with life, and his work will survive exactly where he was most faithful to his innermost illusions.
There would have been less controversy about the proper method of Homeric translation, if critics bad recognised that the question is a purely relative one, that of Homer there can be no final translation. The taste and the literary habits of each age demand different qualities in poetry, and therefore a different sort of rendering of Homer. To the men of the time of Elizabeth, Homer would have appeared bald, it seems, and lacking in ingenuity, if he had been presented in his antique simplicity. For the Elizabethan age, Chapman supplied what was then necessary, and the mannerisms that were then deemed of the essence of poetry, namely, daring and luxurious conceits. Thus in Chapman's verse Troy must 'shed her towers for tears of overthrow,' and when the winds toss Odysseus about, their sport must be called 'the horrid tennis.'
In the age of Anne, 'dignity' and 'correctness' had to be given to Homer, and Pope gave them by aid of his dazzling rhetoric, his antitheses, his nettete, his command of every conventional and favourite artifice. Without Chapman's conceits, Homer's poems would hardly have been what the Elizabethans took for poetry; without Pope's smoothness, and Pope's points, the Iliad and Odyssey would have seemed rude, and harsh in the age of Anne. These great translations must always live as English poems. As transcripts of Homer they are like pictures drawn from a lost point of view.Chaque siecle depuis le xvi a ue de ce cote son belveder different.Again, when Europe woke to a sense, an almost exaggerated and certainly uncritical sense, of the value of her songs of the people, of all the ballads that Herder, Scott, Lonnrot, and the rest collected, it was commonly said that Homer was a ballad-minstrel, that the translator must imitate the simplicity, and even adopt the formulae of the ballad. Hence came the renderings of Maginn, the experiments of Mr. Gladstone, and others. There was some excuse for the error of critics who asked for a Homer in ballad rhyme. The Epic poet, the poet of gods and heroes, did indeed inherit some of the formulae of the earlier Volks-lied. Homer, like the author of The Song of Roland, like the singers of the Kalevala, uses constantly recurring epithets, and repeats, word for word, certain emphatic passages, messages, and so on. That custom is essential in the ballad, it is an accident not the essence of the epic. The epic is a poem of complete and elaborate art, but it still bears some birthmarks, some signs of the early popular chant, out of which it sprung, as the garden-rose springs from the wild stock, When this is recognised the demand for ballad-like simplicity and 'ballad-slang' ceases to exist, and then all Homeric translations in the ballad manner cease to represent our conception of Homer. After the belief in the ballad manner follows the recognition of the romantic vein in Homer, and, as a result, came Mr. Worsley's admirable Odyssey. This masterly translation does all that can be done for the Odyssey in the romantic style. The smoothness of the verse, the wonderful closeness to the original, reproduce all of Homer, in music and in meaning, that can be rendered in English verse. There still, however, seems an aspect Homeric poems, and a demand in connection with Homer to be recognised, and to be satisfied.
Sainte-Beuve says, with reference probably to M. Leconte de Lisle's prose version of the epics, that some people treat the epics too much as if the were sagas. Now the Homeric epics are sagas, but then they are the sagas of the divine heroic age of Greece, and thus are told with an art which is not the art of the Northern poets. The epics are stories about the adventures of men living in most respects like the men of our own race who dwelt in Iceland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden. The epics are, in a way, and as far as manners and institutions are concerned, historical documents. Whoever regards them in this way, must wish to read them exactly as they have reached us, without modern ornament, with nothing added or omitted. He must recognise, with Mr. Matthew Arnold, that what he now wants, namely, the simple truth about the matter of the poem, can only be given in prose, 'for in a verse translation no original work is any longer recognisable.' It is for this reason that we have attempted to tell once more, in simple prose, the story of Odysseus. We have tried to transfer, not all the truth about the poem, but the historical truth, into English. In this process Homer must lose at least half his charm, his bright and equable speed, the musical current of that narrative, which, like the river of Egypt, flows from an indiscoverable source, and mirrors the temples and the palaces of unforgotten gods and kings. Without this music of verse, only a half truth about Homer can be told, but then it is that half of the truth which, at this moment, it seems most necessary to tell. This is the half of the truth that the translators who use verse cannot easily tell. They MUST be adding to Homer, talking with Pope about 'tracing the mazy lev'ret o'er the lawn,' or with Mr. Worsley about the islands that are 'stars of the blue Aegaean,' or with Dr. Hawtrey about 'the earth's soft arms,' when Homer says nothing at all about the 'mazy lev'ret,' or the 'stars of the blue Aegaean,' or the 'soft arms' of earth. It would be impertinent indeed to blame any of these translations in their place. They give that which the romantic reader of poetry, or the student of the age of Anne, looks for in verse; and without tags of this sort, a translation of Homer in verse cannot well be made to hold together.
There can be then, it appears, no final English translation of Homer. In each there must be, in addition to what is Greek and eternal, the element of what is modern, personal, and fleeting. Thus we trust that there may be room for 'the pale and far-off shadow of a prose translation,' of which the aim is limited and humble. A prose translation cannot give the movement and the fire of a successful translation in verse; it only gathers, as it were, the crumbs which fall from the richer table, only tells the story, without the song. Yet to a prose translation is permitted, perhaps, that close adherence to the archaisms of the epic, which in verse become mere oddities. The double epithets, the recurring epithets of Homer, if rendered into verse, delay and puzzle the reader, as the Greek does not delay or puzzle him. In prose he may endure them, or even care to study them as the survivals of a stage of taste, which is to be found in its prime in the sagas. These double and recurring epithets of Homer are a softer form of the quaint Northern periphrases, which make the sea the 'swan's bath,' gold, the 'dragon's hoard,' men, the 'ring-givers,' and so on. We do not know whether it is necessary to defend our choice of a somewhat antiquated prose. Homer has no ideas which cannot be expressed in words that are 'old and plain,' and to words that are old and plain, and, as a rule, to such terms as, being used by the Translators of the Bible, are still not unfamiliar, we have tried to restrict ourselves. It may be objected, that the employment of language which does not come spontaneously to the lips, is an affectation out of place in a version of the Odyssey. To this we may answer that the Greek Epic dialect, like the English of our Bible, was a thing of slow growth and composite nature, that it was never a spoken language, nor, except for certain poetical purposes, a written language. Thus the Biblical English seems as nearly analogous to the Epic Greek, as anything that our tongue has to offer.
The few foot-notes in this book are chiefly intended to make clear some passages where there is a choice of reading. The notes at the end, which we would like to have written in the form of essays, and in company with more complete philological and archaeological studies, are chiefly meant to elucidate the life of Homer's men. We have received much help from many friends, and especially from Mr. R. W. Raper, Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford and Mr. Gerald Balfour, Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, who has aided us with many suggestions while the book was passing through the press.
In the interpretation of B. i.411, ii.191, v.90, and 471, we have departed from the received view, and followed Mr. Raper, who, however, has not been able to read through the proof-sheets further than Book xii.
We have adopted La Roche's text (Homeri Odyssea, J. La Roche, Leipzig, 1867), except in a few cases where we mention our reading in a foot-note.
The Arguments prefixed to the Books are taken, with very slight alterations, from Hobbes' Translation of the Odyssey.
It is hoped that the Introduction added to the second edition may illustrate the growth of those national legends on which Homer worked, and may elucidate the plot of the Odyssey.
Wet owe our thanks to the Rev. E. Warre, of Eton College, for certain corrections on nautical points. In particular, he has convinced us that the raft of Odysseus in B. v. is a raft strictly so called, and that it is not, under the poet's description, elaborated into a ship, as has been commonly supposed. The translation of the passage (B. v.246-261) is accordingly altered.
COMPOSITION AND PLOT OF THE ODYSSEY.
The Odyssey is generally supposed to be somewhat the later in date of the two most ancient Greek poems which are concerned with the events and consequences of the Trojan war. As to the actual history of that war, it may be said that nothing is known. We may conjecture that some contest between peoples of more or less kindred stocks, who occupied the isles and the eastern and western shores of the Aegean, left a strong impression on the popular fancy. Round the memories of this contest would gather many older legends, myths, and stories, not peculiarly Greek or even 'Aryan,' which previously floated unattached, or were connected with heroes whose fame was swallowed up by that of a newer generation. It would be the work of minstrels, priests, and poets, as the national spirit grew conscious of itself, to shape all these materials into a definite body of tradition. This is the rule of development—first scattered stories, then the union of these into a NATIONAL legend. The growth of later national legends, which we are able to trace, historically, has generally come about in this fashion. To take the best known example, we are able to compare the real history of Charlemagne with the old epic poems on his life and exploits. In these poems we find that facts are strangely exaggerated, and distorted; that purely fanciful additions are made to the true records, that the more striking events of earlier history are crowded into the legend of Charles, that mere fairy tales, current among African as well as European peoples, are transmuted into false history, and that the anonymous characters of fairy tales are converted into historical personages. We can also watch the process by which feigned genealogies were constructed, which connected the princely houses of France with the imaginary heroes of the epics. The conclusion is that the poetical history of Charlemagne has only the faintest relations to the true history. And we are justified in supposing that, quite as little of the real history of events can be extracted from the tale of Troy, as from the Chansons de Geste.
By the time the Odyssey was composed, it is certain that a poet had before him a well-arranged mass of legends and traditions from which he might select his materials. The author of the Iliad has an extremely full and curiously consistent knowledge of the local traditions of Greece, the memories which were cherished by Thebans, Pylians, people of Mycenae, of Argos, and so on. The Iliad and the Odyssey assume this knowledge in the hearers of the poems, and take for granted some acquaintance with other legends, as with the story of the Argonautic Expedition. Now that story itself is a tissue of popular tales,—still current in many distant lands,—but all woven by the Greek genius into the history of Iason.
The history of the return of Odysseus as told in the Odyssey, is in the same way, a tissue of old marchen. These must have existed for an unknown length of time before they gravitated into the cycle of the tale of Troy.
The extraordinary artistic skill with which legends and myths, originally unconnected with each other, are woven into the plot of the Odyssey, so that the marvels of savage and barbaric fancy become indispensable parts of an artistic whole, is one of the chief proofs of the unity of authorship of that poem. We now go on to sketch the plot, which is a marvel of construction.
Odysseus was the King of Ithaca, a small and rugged island on the western coast of Greece. When he was but lately married to Penelope, and while his only son Telemachus was still an infant, the Trojan war began. It is scarcely necessary to say that the object of this war, as conceived of by the poets, was to win back Helen, the wife of Menelaus, from Paris, the son of Priam, King of Troy. As Menelaus was the brother of Agamemnon, the Emperor, so to speak, or recognised chief of the petty kingdoms of 'Greece, the whole force of these kingdoms was at his disposal. No prince came to the leaguer of Troy from a home more remote than that of Odysseus. When Troy was taken, in the tenth year of the war, his homeward voyage was the longest and most perilous.
The action of the Odyssey occupies but the last six weeks of the ten years during which Odysseus was wandering. Two nights in these six weeks are taken up, however, by his own narrative of his adventures (to the Phaeacians, p. xx) in the previous ten years. With this explanatory narrative we must begin, before coming to the regular action of the poem.
After the fall of Troy, Odysseus touched at Ismarus, the city of a Thracian people, whom he attacked and plundered, but by whom he was at last repulsed. The north wind then carried his ships to Malea, the extreme southern point of Greece. Had he doubled Malea safely, he would probably have reached Ithaca in a few days, would have found Penelope unvexed by wooers, and Telemachus a boy of ten years old. But this was not to be.
The 'ruinous winds' drove Odysseus and his ships for ten days, and on the tenth they touched the land of the Lotus- Eaters, whose flowery food causes sweet forgetfulness. Lotus-land was possibly in Western Libya, but it is more probable that ten days' voyage from the southern point of Greece, brought Odysseus into an unexplored region of fairy-land. Egypt, of which Homer had some knowledge, was but five days' sail from Crete.
Lotus-land, therefore, being ten days' sail from Malea, was well over the limit of the discovered world. From this country Odysseus went on till he reached the land of the lawless Cyclopes, a pastoral people of giants. Later Greece feigned that the Cyclopes dwelt near Mount Etna, in Sicily. Homer leaves their place of abode in the vague. Among the Cyclopes, Odysseus had the adventure on which his whole fortunes hinged. He destroyed the eye of the cannibal giant, Polyphemus, a son of Poseidon, the God of the Sea. To avenge this act, Poseidon drove Odysseus wandering for ten long years, and only suffered him to land in Ithaca, 'alone, in evil case, to find troubles in his house.' This is a very remarkable point in the plot. The story of the crafty adventurer and the blinding of the giant, with the punning device by which the hero escaped, exists in the shape of a detached marchen or fairy-tale among races who never heard of Homer. And when we find the story among Oghuzians, Esthonians, Basques, and Celts, it seems natural to suppose that these people did not break a fragment out of the Odyssey, but that the author of the Odyssey took possession of a legend out of the great traditional store of fiction. From the wide distribution of the tale, there is reason to suppose that it is older than Homer, and that it was not originally told of Odysseus, but was attached to his legend, as floating jests of unknown authorship are attributed to eminent wits. It has been remarked with truth that in this episode Odysseus acts out of character, that he is foolhardy as well as cunning. Yet the author of the Odyssey, so far from merely dove-tailing this story at random into his narrative, has made his whole plot turn on the injury to the Cyclops. Had he not foolishly exposed himself and his companions, by his visit to the Cyclops, Odysseus would never have been driven wandering for ten weary years. The prayers of the blinded Cyclops were heard and fulfilled by Poseidon.
From the land of the Cyclops, Odysseus and his company sailed to the Isle of Aeolus, the king of the winds. This place too is undefined; we only learn that, even with the most favourable gale, it was ten days' sail from Ithaca. In the Isle of Aeolus Odysseus abode for a month, and then received from the king a bag in which all the winds were bound, except that which was to waft the hero to his home. This sort of bag was probably not unfamiliar to superstitious Greek sailors who had dealings with witches, like the modern wise women of the Lapps. The companions of the hero opened the bag when Ithaca was in sight, the winds rushed out, the ships were borne back to the Aeolian Isle, and thence the hero was roughly dismissed by Aeolus. Seven days' sail brought him to Lamos, a city of the cannibal Laestrygonians. Their country, too, is in No-man's-land, and nothing can be inferred from the fact that their fountain was called Artacia, and that there was an Artacia in Cyzicus. In Lamos a very important adventure befel Odysseus. The cannibals destroyed all his fleet, save one ship, with which he made his escape to the Isle of Circe. Here the enchantress turned part of the crew into swine, but Odysseus, by aid of the god Hermes, redeemed them, and became the lover of Circe. This adventure, like the story of the Cyclops, is a fairy tale of great antiquity. Dr. Gerland, in his Alt Griechische Marchen in der Odyssee, his shown that the story makes part of the collection of Somadeva, a store of Indian tales, of which 1200 A.D. is the approximate date. Circe appears as a Yackshini, and is conquered when an adventurer seizes her flute whose magic music turns men into beasts. The Indian Circe had the habit of eating the animals into which she transformed men.
We must suppose that the affairs with the Cicones, the Lotus-eaters, the Cyclops, Aeolus, and the Laestrygonians, occupied most of the first year after the fall of Troy. A year was then spent in the Isle of Circe, after which the sailors were eager to make for home. Circe commanded them to go down to Hades, to learn the homeward way from the ghost of the Theban prophet Teiresias. The descent into hell, for some similar purpose, is common in the epics of other races, such as the Finns, and the South-Sea Islanders. The narrative of Odysseus's visit to the dead (book xi) is one of the most moving passages in the whole poem.
From Teiresias Odysseus learned that, if he would bring his companions home, he must avoid injuring the sacred cattle of the Sun, which pastured in the Isle of Thrinacia. If these were harmed, he would arrive in Ithaca alone, or in the words of the Cyclops's prayer, I in evil plight, with loss of all his company, on board the ship of strangers, to find sorrow in his house.' On returning to the Isle Aeaean, Odysseus was warned by Circe of the dangers he would encounter. He and his friends set forth, escaped the Sirens (a sort of mermaidens), evaded the Clashing Rocks, which close on ships (a fable known to the Aztecs), passed Scylla (the pieuvre of antiquity) with loss of some of the company, and reached Thrinacia, the Isle of the Sun. Here the company of Odysseus, constrained by hunger, devoured the sacred kine of the Sun, for which offence they were punished by a shipwreck, when all were lost save Odysseus. He floated ten days on a raft, and then reached the isle of the goddess Calypso, who kept him as her lover for eight years.
The first two years after the fall of Troy are now accounted for. They were occupied, as we have seen, by adventures with the Cicones, the Lotus-eaters, the Cyclops, Aeolus, the Laestrygonians, by a year's residence with Circe, by the descent into Hades, the encounters with the Sirens, and Scylla, and the fatal sojourn in the isle of Thrinacia. We leave Odysseus alone, for eight years, consuming his own heart, in the island paradise of Calypso.
In Ithaca, the hero's home, things seem to have passed smoothly till about the sixth year after the fall of Troy. Then the men of the younger generation, the island chiefs, began to woo Penelope, and to vex her son Telemachus. Laertes, the father of Odysseus, was too old to help, and Penelope only gained time by her famous device of weaving and unweaving the web. The wooers began to put compulsion on the Queen, quartering themselves upon her, devouring her substance, and insulting her by their relations with her handmaids. Thus Penelope pined at home, amidst her wasting possessions. Telemachus fretted in vain, and Odysseus was devoured by grief and home-sickness in the isle of Calypso. When he had lain there for nigh eight years, the action of the Odyssey begins, and occupies about six weeks.
DAY 1 (Book i).
The ordained time has now arrived, when by the counsels of the Gods, Odysseus is to be brought home to free his house, to avenge himself on the wooers, and recover his kingdom. The chief agent in his restoration is Pallas Athene; the first book opens with her prayer to Zeus that Odysseus may be delivered. For this purpose Hermes is to be sent to Calypso to bid her release Odysseus, while Pallas Athene in the shape of Mentor, a friend of Odysseus, visits Telemachus in Ithaca. She bids him call an assembly of the people, dismiss the wooers to their homes, and his mother to her father's house, and go in quest of his own father, in Pylos, the city of Nestor, and Sparta, the home of Menelaus. Telemachus recognises the Goddess, and the first day closes.
DAY 2 (Book ii).
Telemachus assembles the people, but he has not the heart to carry out Athene's advice. He cannot send the wooers away, nor turn his mother out of her house. He rather weakly appeals to the wooers' consciences, and announces his intention of going to seek his father. They answer with scorn, but are warned of their fate, which is even at the doors, by Halitherses. His prophecy (first made when Odysseus set out for Troy) tallies with the prophecy of Teiresias, and the prayer of the Cyclops. The reader will observe a series of portents, prophecies, and omens, which grow more numerous and admonishing as their doom draws nearer to the wooers. Their hearts, however, are hardened, and they mock at Telemachus, who, after an interview with Athene, borrows a ship and secretly sets out for Pylos. Athene accompanies him, and his friends man his galley.
DAY 3 (Book iii).
They reach Pylos, and are kindly received by the aged Nestor, who has no news about Odysseus. After sacrifice, Athene disappears.
DAY 4 (Book iii).
The fourth day is occupied with sacrifice, and the talk of Nestor. In the evening Telemachus (leaving his ship and friends at Pylos) drives his chariot into Pherae, half way to Sparta; Peisistratus, the soil of Nestor, accompanies him.
DAY 5 (Book iv).
Telemachus and Peisistratus arrive at Sparta, where Menelaus and Helen receive them kindly.
DAY 6 (Book iv).
Menelaus tells how he himself came home in the eighth year after the fall of Troy. He had heard from Proteus, the Old Man of the Sea, that Odysseus was alive, and a captive on an island of the deep. Menelaus invites Telemachus to Stay with him for eleven days or twelve, which Telemachus declines to do. It will later appear that he made an even longer stay at Sparta, though whether he changed his mind, or whether we have here an inadvertence of the poet's it is hard to determine. This blemish has been used as an argument against the unity of authorship, but writers of all ages have made graver mistakes.
On this same day (the sixth) the wooers in Ithaca learned that Telemachus had really set out to I cruise after his father.' They sent some of their number to lie in ambush for him, in a certain strait which he was likely to pass on his return to Ithaca. Penelope also heard of her son's departure, but was consoled by a dream.
DAY 7 (Book v).
The seventh day finds us again in Olympus. Athene again urges the release of Odysseus; and Hermes is sent to bid Calypso let the hero go. Zeus prophecies that after twenty days sailing, Odysseus will reach Scheria, and the hospitable Phaeacians, a people akin to the Gods, who will convey him to Ithaca. Hermes accomplishes the message to Calypso.
DAYS 8-12-32 (Book v).
These days are occupied by Odysseus in making and launching a raft; on the twelfth day from the beginning of the action he leaves Calypso's isle. He sails for eighteen days, and on the eighteenth day of his voyage (the twenty-ninth from the beginning of the action), he sees Scheria. Poseidon raises a storm against him, and it is not till the thirty-second day from that in which Athene visited Telemachus, that he lands in Scheria, the country of the Phaeacians. Here he is again in fairy land. A rough, but perfectly recognisable form of the Phaeacian myth, is found in an Indian collection of marchen (already referred to) of the twelfth century A.D. Here the Phaeacians are the Vidyidhiris, and their old enemies the Cyclopes, are the Rakshashas, a sort of giants. The Indian Odysseus, who seeks the city of gold, passes by the home of an Indian Aeolus, Satyavrata. His later adventures are confused, and the Greek version retains only the more graceful fancies of the marchen.
DAY 33 (Book vi).
Odysseus meets Nausicaa, daughter of Alcinous, the Phaeacian King, and by her aid, and that of Athene, is favourably received at the palace, and tells how he came from Calypso's island. His name is still unknown to his hosts.
DAY 34 (Books vii, viii, ix, x, xi, xii).
The Phaeacians and Odysseus display their skill in sports. Nausicaa bids Odysseus farewell. Odysseus recounts to Alcinous, and Arete, the Queen, those adventures in the two years between the fall of Troy and his captivity in the island of Calypso, which we have already described (pp. xiii-xvii).
DAY 35 (Book xiii).
Odysseus is conveyed to Ithaca, in the evening, on one of the magical barques of the Phaeacians.
DAY 36 (Books xiii, xiv, xv).
He wakens in Ithaca, which he does not at first recognise He learns from Athene, for the first time, that the wooers beset his house. She disguises him as an old man, and bids him go to the hut of the swineherd Eumaeus, who is loyal to his absent lord. Athene then goes to Lacedaemon, to bring back Telemachus, who has now resided there for a month. Odysseus won the heart of Eumaeus, who of course did not recognise him, and slept in the swineherd's hut, while Athene was waking Telemachus, in Lacedaemon, and bidding him 'be mindful of his return.'
DAY 37 (Book xv).
Is spent by Odysseus in the swineherd's hut. Telemachus reaches Pherae, half-way to Pylos.
DAY 38 (Book xv).
Telemachus reaches Pylos, but does not visit Nestor. To save time he goes at once on board ship, taking with him an unfortunate outlaw, Theoclymenus, a second-sighted man, or the family of Melampus, in which the gift of prophecy was hereditary. The ship passed the Elian coast at night, and evaded the ambush of the wooers. Meanwhile Odysseus was sitting up almost till dawn, listening to the history of Eumaeus, the swineherd.
DAY 39 (Books xv, xvi).
Telemachus reaches the Isle of Ithaca, sends his ship to the city, but himself, by advice of Athene, makes for the hut of Eumaeus, where he meets, but naturally does not recognise, his disguised father. He sends Eumaeus to Penelope with news of his arrival, and then Athene reveals Odysseus to Telemachus. The two plot the death of the wooers. Odysseus bids Telemachus remove, on a favourable opportunity, the arms which were disposed as trophies on the walls of the hall at home. (There is a slight discrepancy between the words of this advice and the manner in which it is afterwards executed.) During this interview, the ship of Telemachus, the wooers who had been in ambush, and Eumaeus, all reached the town of Ithaca. In the evening Eumaeus returned to his hut, where Athene had again disguised Odysseus.
DAY 40 (Books xvii, xviii, xix, xx).
The story is now hastening to its close, and many events are crowded into the fortieth day. Telemachus goes from the swineherd's hut to the city, and calls his guest, Theoclymenus, to the palace. The second-sighted man prophesies of the near revenge of Odysseus. In the afternoon, Odysseus (still disguised) and Eumaeus reach the city, the dog Argos recognises the hero, and dies. Odysseus goes begging through his own hall, and is struck by Antinous, the proudest of the wooers. Late in the day Eumaeus goes home, and Odysseus fights with the braggart beggar Irus. Still later, Penelope appears among the wooers, and receives presents from them. When the wooers have withdrawn, Odysseus and Telemachus remove the weapons from the hall to the armoury. Afterwards Odysseus has an interview with Penelope (who does not recognise him), but he is recognised by his old nurse Eurycleia. Penelope mentions her purpose to wed the man who on the following day, the feast of the Archer-god Apollo, shall draw the bow of Odysseus, and send an arrow through the holes in twelve axe-blades, set up in a row. Thus the poet shows that Odysseus has arrived in Ithaca not a day too soon. Odysseus is comforted by a vision of Athene, and
DAY 41 (Books xx, xxi, xxii, xxiii).
by the ominous prayer uttered by a weary woman grinding at the mill. The swineherd and the disloyal Melanthius arrive at the palace. The wooers defer the plot to kill Telemachus, as the day is holy to Apollo. Odysseus is led up from his seat near the door to a place beside Telemachus at the chief's table. The wooers mock Telemachus, and the second-sighted Theoclymenus sees the ominous shroud of death covering their bodies, and the walls dripping with blood. He leaves the doomed company. In the trial of the bow, none of the wooers can draw it; meanwhile Odysseus has declared himself to the neatherd and the swineherd. The former bars and fastens the outer gates of the court, the latter bids Eurycleia bar the doors of the womens' chambers which lead out of the hall. Odysseus now gets the bow into his hands, strings it, sends the arrow through the axe-blades, and then leaping on the threshold of stone, deals his shafts among the wooers. Telemachus, the neatherd, and Eumaeus, aiding him, he slaughters all the crew, despite the treachery of Melanthius. The paramours of the wooers are hanged, and Odysseus, after some delay, is recognised by Penelope.
DAY 42 (Books xxiii, xxiv).
This day is occupied with the recognition of Odysseus by his aged father Laertes, and with the futile attempt of the kinsfolk of the wooers to avenge them on Odysseus. Athene reconciles the feud, and the toils of Odysseus are accomplished.
The reader has now before him a chronologically arranged sketch of the action of the Odyssey. It is, perhaps, apparent, even from this bare outline, that the composition is elaborate and artistic, that the threads of the plot are skilfully separated and combined. The germ of the whole epic is probably the popular tale, known all over the world, of the warrior who, on his return from a long expedition, has great difficulty in making his prudent wife recognise him. The incident occurs as a detached story in China, and in most European countries it is told of a crusader. 'We may suppose it to be older than the legend of Troy, and to have gravitated into the cycle of that legend. The years of the hero's absence are then filled up with adventures (the Cyclops, Circe, the Phaeacians, the Sirens, the descent into hell) which exist as scattered tales, or are woven into the more elaborate epics of Gaels, Aztecs, Hindoos, Tartars, South-Sea Islanders, Finns, Russians, Scandinavians, and Eskimo. The whole is surrounded with the atmosphere of the kingly age of Greece, and the result is the Odyssey, with that unity of plot and variety of character which must have been given by one masterly constructive genius. The date at which the poet of the Odyssey lived may be approximately determined by his consistent descriptions of a peculiar and definite condition of society, which had ceased to exist in the ninth century B.C., and of a stage of art in which Phoenician and Assyrian influences predominated. (Die Kunst bei Homer. Brunn.) As to the mode of composition, it would not be difficult to show that at least the a priori Wolfian arguments against the early use of writing for literary purposes have no longer the cogency which they were once thought to possess. But this is matter for a separate investigation.
In a Council of the Gods, Poseidon absent, Pallas procureth an order for the restitution of Odysseus; and appearing to his son Telemachus, in human shape, adviseth him to complain of the Wooers before the Council of the people, and then go to Pylos and Sparta to inquire about his father.
Tell me, Muse, of that man, so ready at need, who wandered far and wide, after he had sacked the sacred citadel of Troy, and many were the men whose towns he saw and whose mind he learnt, yea, and many the woes he suffered in his heart upon the deep, striving to win his own life and the return of his company. Nay, but even so he saved not his company, though he desired it sore. For through the blindness of their own hearts they perished, fools, who devoured the oxen of Helios Hyperion: but the god took from them their day of returning. Of these things, goddess, daughter of Zeus, whencesoever thou hast heard thereof, declare thou even unto us.
Now all the rest, as many as fled from sheer destruction, were at home, and had escaped both war and sea, but Odysseus only, craving for his wife and for his homeward path, the lady nymph Calypso held, that fair goddess, in her hollow caves, longing to have him for her lord. But when now the year had come in the courses of the seasons, wherein the gods had ordained that he should return home to Ithaca, not even there was he quit of labours, not even among his own; but all the gods had pity on him save Poseidon, who raged continually against godlike Odysseus, till he came to his own country. Howbeit Poseidon had now departed for the distant Ethiopians, the Ethiopians that are sundered in twain, the uttermost of men, abiding some where Hyperion sinks and some where he rises. There he looked to receive his hecatomb of bulls and rams, there he made merry sitting at the feast, but the other gods were gathered in the halls of Olympian Zeus. Then among them the father of gods and men began to speak, for he bethought him in his heart of noble Aegisthus, whom the son of Agamemnon, far-famed Orestes, slew. Thinking upon him he spake out among the Immortals:
'Lo you now, how vainly mortal men do blame the gods! For of us they say comes evil, whereas they even of themselves, through the blindness of their own hearts, have sorrows beyond that which is ordained. Even as of late Aegisthus, beyond that which was ordained, took to him the wedded wife of the son of Atreus, and killed her lord on his return, and that with sheer doom before his eyes, since we had warned him by the embassy of Hermes the keen-sighted, the slayer of Argos, that he should neither kill the man, nor woo his wife. For the son of Atreus shall be avenged at the hand of Orestes, so soon as he shall come to man's estate and long for his own country. So spake Hermes, yet he prevailed not on the heart of Aegisthus, for all his good will; but now hath he paid one price for all.'
And the goddess, grey-eyed Athene, answered him, saying: 'O father, our father Cronides, throned in the highest; that man assuredly lies in a death that is his due; so perish likewise all who work such deeds! But my heart is rent for wise Odysseus, that hapless one, who far from his friends this long while suffereth affliction in a seagirt isle, where is the navel of the sea, a woodland isle, and therein a goddess hath her habitation, the daughter of the wizard Atlas, who knows the depths of every sea, and himself upholds the tall pillars which keep earth and sky asunder. His daughter it is that holds the hapless man in sorrow: and ever with soft and guileful tales she is wooing him to forgetfulness of Ithaca. But Odysseus yearning to see if it were but the smoke leap upwards from his own land, hath a desire to die. As for thee, thine heart regardeth it not at all, Olympian! What! did not Odysseus by the ships of the Argives make thee free offering of sacrifice in the wide Trojan land? Wherefore wast thou then so wroth with him, O Zeus?'
And Zeus the cloud-gatherer answered her, and said, 'My child, what word hath escaped the door of thy lips? Yea, how should I forget divine Odysseus, who in understanding is beyond mortals and beyond all men hath done sacrifice to the deathless gods, who keep the wide heaven? Nay, but it is Poseidon, the girdler of the earth, that hath been wroth continually with quenchless anger for the Cyclops' sake whom he blinded of his eye, even godlike Polyphemus whose power is mightiest amongst all the Cyclopes. His mother was the nymph Thoosa, daughter of Phorcys, lord of the unharvested sea, and in the hollow caves she lay with Poseidon. From that day forth Poseidon the earth-shaker doth not indeed slay Odysseus, but driveth him wandering from his own country. But come, let us here one and all take good counsel as touching his returning, that he may be got home; so shall Poseidon let go his displeasure, for he will in no wise be able to strive alone against all, in despite of all the deathless gods.'
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