Page images

their original language with facility or enjoyment, or to understand the constant allusions in current literature to their poetical conceptions and practical teachings.

Many scholarly Translations of them, however, have been published, and the object of this Epitome is to afford such a glimpse of their contents as will stimulate the desire of all classes of readers for a better acquaintance with the earliest and grandest literary efforts of the human brain, which, like those in the sister arts, have never been surpassed, and, after a lapse of more than two thousand years, still entrance the imagination with their inimitable charms of freshness and originality.

H. G.

LONDON, ist January 1881.

[blocks in formation]


EN of learning are far from being agreed whether

Homer—the Prince of Poets—had any real exist

ence; whether he was the author of the poems which bear his name, or whether they are the collected works of several composers, dove-tailed into each other by some clever editor of ancient times. Uncritical readers, however, will prefer the idea of the blind old bard singing his lays to a crowd of admiring listeners. In a biography of him, supposed to have been written by Herodotus, we are told, though several other cities have claimed the honour, that he was born at Smyrna, and that in early life he travelled through Egypt, Italy, Spain, and the islands of the Mediterranean, until he was stricken with blindness, when he returned to his native place, and composed his two great poems, which he afterwards recited through the towns of Asia Minor, and at Athens, as a wandering minstrel. Their preservation, in days when writing was hardly invented, has been the subject of much speculation ; but


copies of them appear to have existed from an early period of Greek civilisation, and they have ever since been regarded as the storehouse of ancient history and genealogy, as well as the main source of the epic poetry, the heroic drama, and the romantic literature of mediæval and modern times.

THE ILIAD consists of more than fifteen thousand lines, and the date of the story, which embraces a period of thirty years, is about twelve hundred years before the Christian era.

It passes over the carrying away of Helen, wife of Menelaus, King of Sparta, by Paris, the son of Priam, King of Troy; the outraged Monarch's appeal to his brother Agamemnon, King of Argos and Mycenæ; the preparations throughout Greece for the invasion of Troas; the sailing of a fleet of twelve hundred ships, carrying 100,000 men; the sacrifice of Iphigenia, and the landing on the coast of Ilium ; but assumes all these, and many other details, to be understood.

Nine years are supposed to have elapsed in desultory warfare, and the opening line of the poem,

‘Sing, heavenly muse, the wrath of Peleus' son,' introduces Achilles, who has quarrelled with Agamemnon about a captive woman appropriated by the latter. This has angered Apollo, and a pestilence is raging in the Greek camp. Agamemnon consents to restore his captive to her father, but insists that Achilles shall give up a woman named Briseis whom he has carried off. Achilles complies, but appeals to his goddess-mother, Thetis, who counsels him to nurse his wrath, and withdraw from the siege, whilst she intercedes with Jupiter. The king of the gods, however, has gone to a festival of twelve days' duration with the Ethiopians, and when Thetis obtains an audience, he tells her that he dreads the taunts of his wife Juno, but pledges his promise to humiliate the Greeks, and ratifies it with a nod:

Waved on th' immortal head th' ambrosial locks,

And all Olympus trembled at his nod.' Juno, however, has witnessed the interview, and a connubial dialogue ensues, in which she is silenced by the

« PreviousContinue »