Tradition and Design in the Iliad

Tradition and Design in the Iliad

Tradition and Design in the Iliad

Tradition and Design in the Iliad

Excerpt

This book makes no claim to add any new facts to our knowledge of Homer, and indeed it is doubtful whether any new facts are likely to be discovered. But so much industry and acumen have been spent on the study of the Iliad that it seems worth while to see if any satisfactory conclusions on its character and authorship can be drawn in the present state of our information. In this book I have tried to use the work of scholars in an effort to reconstruct the conditions under which the Iliad was formed and to explain some of its more peculiar characteristics by reference to those conditions. For some years I have felt that the Iliad has suffered from two opposed methods of treatment. On the one side it has been treated exclusively as an historical document and subjected to an analysis which disregards it as poetry. On the other side it has been treated as a poem produced like great modern poems with all the resources of literature behind it. Both these views have led to serious errors. The first has resulted in incompatible theories of multiple authorship, which assume the existence of many great poets of remarkably similar gifts. The second has refused to reply to questions that must be answered and contented itself with highly dubious dogma. Under such circumstances my aim has been to steer between these two courses. I have tried to show that the Iliad is a poem and must be treated as such, but I have also tried to show that it is far nearer to the beginnings of poetry than most epics and must therefore be judged by different standards from those applied to them.

Fortunately we possess enough early epics to know what this type of poetry is like, and we are able to note the appearance of common characteristics and in some measure to account for them. In many ways the Iliad shows these characteristics, and may because of them be classed as an early epic. But its standard of construction and its poetical quality are far higher than those of works even so good as the Song of Roland. The conclusion then follows that the Iliad was com-

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