4
MYCENAEAN POETRY

W e have had already glimpses of Mycenaean poetry from several angles. From the records Mycenaean society appears as a particular variant of Eastern Aegean society, of which clear traces can be seen in the Homeric epic, and these memories must have been handed down in poetry, since this kind of society did not survive the second millennium. Mycenaean art not only shows singers of various different kinds in action but also represents stories which can be identified with Greek stories, and were therefore presumably handed down in poetry to the classical age. Eastern poetry of the second millennium is surprisingly like Homeric poetry in manner and matter: the manner is much more suited to an age of great courts than to an age of small cities, and seems therefore to be a survival in Homer; some of the matter is so deeply embedded in our Homer that it is difficult to believe it was recently borrowed.

To make this picture more precise and detailed (and at the same time to confirm the suggestions already made) we must look again at the tablets, at the archaeological remains, and at Homer. Miss Lorimer in her great book 1 has given a full account of the archaeological remains and related them to Homer; her work will save much discussion of detail here. Something however can be added from later excavations, and we now have the invaluable evidence of the tablets for institutions and language. The general principle must be that elements of Mycenaean civilization in Homer (whether detected by comparing his text with the tablets or with archaeological remains) can only be accepted as evidence of Mycenaean poetry when we have reason to suppose that these elements did not survive the Mycenaean age.

Sometimes Mycenaean memories survive with their terminology demonstrably unchanged; sometimes we cannot say whether the

____________________
1
Homer and the Monuments (=HM), 1950.

-91-

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