IN our discussion of the origins of the Iliad we have said nothing of the hexameter and its history. The metre should give us good evidence for the beginnings of the epic, but the problems it presents are so special that they need separate consideration. Here we are on slippery ground. The loss of pre-Homeric poetry deprives us of the only conclusive evidence, and there is no sphere of Homeric study where we are more dependent on general considerations.
At the outset we are faced by a fundamental problem. Was the Iliad composed for singing or for recitation? The bards in the Odyssey sing their lays and accompany them on the ϕόρμιγξ ( θ 67,332). This form of art agrees with conditions elsewhere. Slavonic bards accompany their narrations on a single-stringed fiddle, and the French jongleurs of the Middle Ages intoned their epics to a musical accompaniment. On the other hand the popular bards of Russia use no such accompaniment but content themselves with declamation.1 To which of these classes does the Iliad belong? Was the ϕόρμιγξ of Demodocus used by Homer, or was it known only to tradition and put into the Odyssey just because it belonged to the past? And was Μη + ̑νιν ἄειδε, θεά, a genuine invocation of song or a conventional formula which had lost its real meaning?
When the poems first appear in history there is no trace of
the ϕόρμιγξ. The bard has not a lyre but a baton. Pindar, a
careful and reverent observer of ancient custom, attributes
such a method to Homer:
'But Homer has honoured him (sc. Aias) among men--he who set aright all his excellence and told it to the wand of his divine songs for others to sing of.'