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MÜLLER AND DONALDSON ON GREEK
THE history of a literature embraces relations scarcely less complex and multitudinous than even the history of a state; for it narrates the growth and development of human thought itself, as well as of the art of expressing it. Sects of philosophy, and schools of poetry, the social and the political conditions favourable to the genesis of particular forms of literature, the legacies, whether of thought or of style, bequeathed to posterity as a xтua is dei by some great master of speech; these and a multitude of similar matters will have to pass in review before the eyes of the historian of a literature. Neither can he afford to neglect the study of philology. The study of language will be as important to him as geography is to the political historian. He will have to show how the condition of a language rendered a given kind of literature possible; and on the other hand, he will have to point out the reflex influence of literature upon language. The history even of alphabetic writing, and of the various materials in use for writing, will play, if a subordinate, certainly not an unimportant part in the inquiry.
In ordinary cases the investigation will be additionally complicated by the influence either of a foreign contemporary (or nearly contemporary) literature, or of one which has been inherited from an ancient and extinct civilization. In one case, at all events, this further difficulty does not present itself. The historian of Greek literature is subject to no such necessity, or, if at all, is subject to it only in a very subordinate degree. Greece is the head and source of European civilization, and the civilization of Greece appears, for all that has yet been shown to the contrary, to have been all but entirely selfdeveloped, and the literature of Greece may safely be said to have been altogether original. The glorious language of Greece, so accurate and yet so richly inflected, and the fundamental conceptions, at least, out of which their marvellous mythology gradually developed itself, were originally a part
* A History of the Literature of Ancient Greece. By K. O. Müller, late Professor in the University of Göttingen. Continued, after the Author's death, by John William Donaldson, D.D., Classical Examiner in the University of London, and late Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. London: J. W. Parker and Son. 1858.
VOL. II. N. IV,
of the common inheritance of the Indo-Germanie race. From Semitic nations they received nothing but an alphabet, that alphabet which, though perfectly adapted to the use of the people who invented it, appears as an imperfect instrument in the hands of the various nations of ancient and modern Europe, by whom it was either directly or indirectly received from the former. In latter ages, indeed, we trace, in the literature of Greece, oriental influences of another kind; but these did not appear until that literature was long past its prime, or until the Greek nation had lost its independence. Jewish and Christian ideas, blending with the dualism of the more remote east, found a congenial soil in the later Greek philosophy, and produced there the strange growth of NeoPlatonism. It might have been expected, also, that the literature of Rome, itself a reflection from that of Greece, would not be without influence on the latter in its later stages. On the whole, however, it does not appear that this was the case. Latin literature seems never to have failed to acknowledge its obligation to Greece; and the Greeks appear, on their part, to have recognized that obligation throughout, and never to have made any account of the intellectual achievements of their conquerors. So that we are not to look for any considerable results from this source, even to the latest age of Greek literature. The history of Greek literature which owes its origin to K. O. Müller, and was partly completed by him, was designed entirely for English readers. It was undertaken by the author at the invitation of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge on the suggestion of Sir G. Cornewall Lewis. They requested Müller to produce a strictly popular work for the use of English readers. The German professor can hardly have failed to find one, if not both, of these conditions something of an impediment: one incidental evil resulting from the request has been the purely negative one, that the author was induced by it to withhold a full display of his exhaustless learning; but we are perhaps more than compensated by the production of a work which, as Dr. Donaldson observes, while thoroughly scholarlike, is infinitely more readable than any similar production from the pen of a German philologer.' Dr. Donaldson hits the German scholars hard, and not altogether without reason. The Germans labour under a fatal facility, not merely of writing, but of publishing, In Germany there is no check to the multiplication of heavy literature, and German writers are consequently less careful to make their books readable or saleable than is generally the case among us. At the same time we feel bound to except
K. O. Müller from this general charge, and that not only on the strength of the volumes now before us. Müller had the soul of a poet and the eye of an artist, and invested every subject which was capable of it with a marvellous warmth and richness of colouring. Take, for example, the antiquarian discussions in his essay of the Eumenides of Eschylus. The entire mise en scene is before us; the actors live and move and speak before our very eyes: the conduct of the drama, its moral and theological lessons, and the political relations which suggested to the poet a portion of its details, are expatiated on in a way which manifests the author's warm appreciation of his subject. The same mode of treatment is even more conspicuous in the history before us, in proportion as the subject is more capable of receiving it.
That Müller did not live to complete his work is a matter for deep regret; for although Dr. Donaldson's contribution to the work is thoroughly well done, we miss in it the freshness and liveliness which characterize the original work. The continuation is perfectly scholarlike; while Müller's part of the book is the work, not of a scholar merely, but of a genius. But even if the continuation had been much less worthy to follow the original chapters than it is, we should not have scrupled to speak of the whole as a great work, and a valuable contribution to our knowledge of the ancient world. For the portion executed by Müller himself, although it occupies somewhat less than one half of the entire book, nevertheless comprises almost the whole of the golden age of Greck literature. No poet of the first class, and none of those whose works are commonly read at the present day, with the single exception of Theocritus, has fallen to the lot of Dr. Donaldson; while of the prose writers of the best stamp, the two great historians fall within the period completed by Müller. He had, therefore, the satisfaction of finishing by far the most interesting portion of his task, while he bequeathed to his successor the less congenial occupation of tracing the decline and fall of Greek literature to the lowest depth of Byzantine history.
Moreover, we seriously doubt whether Dr. Donaldson sufficiently recognizes the position already held by K. O. Müller in the estimation of English scholars. We do not mean to depreciate the work which has now come before the English public under the auspices of Dr. Donaldson, when we say that we do not think that it is likely to obtain for Müller, what we believe that he already possesses, an established place among those who teach by their writings the classical students of our great schools and universities.'
Among those races, with whom we are ourselves more nearly allied, poetry preceded prose of every kind. This was certainly the case in Greece, and even more strikingly so in India. In the former something may have been due to an influence, or rather to the want of an influence, to which we have already slightly adverted. Prose implies alphabetic writing. It is of the essence of literature that it should be, so to speak, indestructible. It must belong to posterity. We do not class a speech or a sermon with any form of literature, unless it is published. Now it is possible to hand down poetry to posterity through the medium of oral tradition. There is still a good deal of popular poetry floating about in different countries of Europe which has never been reduced to writing, or never had been so until it had attracted the attention of antiquarian collectors. It is not easy to say what limits can be placed to the power of memory in this respect; but it cannot reasonably be doubted, after a fair examination of the evidence, that the Homeric poems were at first handed down by oral tradition. But it is not possible to preserve a prose narrative unaltered without the aid of alphabetic writing. Every successive narrator tells the story after his own fashion; so that, however identical it may be in substance, a new form is given to it every time that it is told. The form exists only for the matter. In poetry, on the contrary, the form is every thing. The reciter or rhapsodist learns, not only the substance, but the words, and treats them as an end in themselves, and not merely as a vehicle for the matter. The introduction of alphabetic writing, as we shall see presently, tended materially to change the aspect of Greek literature. But when we recollect that this art was borrowed by the Greeks from a Semitic source, and that it is not easy to fix the date of its invention among the Semitic nations, we need not be surprised at the comparatively early use of prose among those nations. We ought, therefore, to be very cautious in applying to the ancient records of Western Asia the canons of historical criticism which we have framed from an examination of European literature.
The writings of Homer form the point of departure for every history of Greek literature; and this for more reasons than one. First, because they stand first in order of time. Secondly, because they form the sole surviving representative of the age to which they must be referred, and which they incidentally depict. Thirdly, because no extant specimen of Greek literature approaches them in date, with the solitary exception of Hesiod, whose works belong to an evidently different class.
Fourthly, because Homer exercised a greater influence on the later literature of Greece than was exercised by any other author during the whole period of Greek history. See, for example, how the Attic dramatists take myths ready made from Homer, and how the myths, as was essential for their purpose, are recognized and understood by their audience. Perhaps the most remarkable testimony to the wide-spread influence of the father of European poetry, is to be found in the fact that the great work of Strabo is, to a very considerable extent, although not by any means exclusively, a sort of Homeric topography; one of the main objects of the geographer having apparently been the identification of places named in the text of the Iliad' and 'Odyssey.'
But although the works of Homer must form the actual starting-point in a history of Greek literature, or, indeed, in a history of the Greek nation, we are not, therefore, necessarily to conclude that Greek literature, any more than the national life of Greece, began with Homer. If there lived brave men before Agamemnon, it is probable that there were also sacred bards before Homer, although their productions may in no instance have reached us. At the same time it is probable, or not impossible, that fragments of præ-Homeric poetry, more or less polished by the author or authors of the Iliad' and 'Odyssey,' are embodied in the form of episodes in one or both of the two great poems. Whether this is the case or not, it is certain that the art of poetry must have reached the perfection which it here exhibits by a gradual process. We cannot conceive it to have sprung full grown and full armed from the brain of a single minstrel. Whether we conceive the two great epics to have been the work of one or of separate hands, or even if we should look upon them as accretions of short heroic lays, we must still allow to epic poetry a childhood and a youth anterior to the fully-developed manhood in which it first meets our gaze. And the rude epics which we are compelled to assign to the præHomeric era seem to presuppose still humbler efforts of the muse. Rustic songs referring to the seasons and their phenomena,' and frequently marked by a plaintive and melancholy character;' hymns in honour of particular deities; dirges for the dead, and bridal songs;-such short and inartificial poems arose in the simplest form of social life, were associated with the daily occupations of a rude people, and expressed religious feelings such as they might be expected to entertain. Epic poetry would take its first rise in a somewhat more artificial state of society. It is essentially the poetry of an heroic and monarchical or aristocratic age. It paints the chivalrous