HOMER AND THE HEROIC AGE
Homer found the subject of the Iliad in the doings of an age of heroes. For him the world had changed since those spacious days, and the race of the heaven-born had perished. The world of his similes is different from the world of his story, and he is fully conscious that his contemporaries are weaker than the great men of old. He knows that men, οἱ + ̑οι νυ + ̑ν ßροτοί εἰσι,1 cannot do what his heroes did. Between him and them everything has grown more commonplace, and the golden past is dead with Agamemnon in the grave. This gulf between Homer and his subject has often been overlooked, but it is of great importance for a proper appreciation of his poetry. It is, especially, one of the many differences between him and most early poetry. Neither the author of Beowulf nor the author of the Song of Roland shows any such feeling that his own days were vastly inferior to those of which he writes. Perhaps they thought so, but both are silent on any such sense of inferiority. Even the marvels and miracles which they describe seem to belong to a world which still existed for them. The comet which appeared to the Conqueror would have seemed to Turoldus no less a wonder than the darkening of the earth at Roland's death. And the author of Beowulf, full of a newly-discovered Christianity, must have believed that the world was full of things passing his understanding. But Homer, whose story makes horses speak and the gods walk on the earth, avoids all traces of miracle in his similes and seems to have lived in a world not unlike our own. He does not, like Shakespeare, create the heroes of his fancy to match the great men around him. For these he seems to have felt more affection than reverence, and he made his ideal world out of the stuff of story and song.
Homer lived in a generation later than the heroic age, but his creative imagination is so powerful that in his company we are normally among the thoughts and actions which belong____________________