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Title: Familiar Studies in Homer
Author: Clerke, Agnes M. (Agnes Mary)
Language: English
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                       FAMILIAR STUDIES IN HOMER


                               PRINTED BY


                           _FAMILIAR STUDIES_




                            AGNES M. CLERKE


                       AB HOMERO OMNE PRINCIPIUM


                       _LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO._
                  AND NEW YORK: 15 EAST 16^{th} STREET

                          All rights reserved



HOMERIC archæology has, within the last few years, finally left the
groove of purely academic discussion to advance along the new route laid
down for it by practical methods of investigation. The results are full
of present interest, and of future promise. They already imply a
reconstruction of the Hellenic past; they vitalise the Homeric world,
bringing it into definite relations with what went before, and with what
came after, and transforming it from a poetical creation into an
historical reality. Excavations and explorations in Greece, Egypt, and
Asia Minor, have thus entirely changed the aspect of the perennial
Homeric problem, and afford reasonable hope of providing it with a
satisfactory solution.

These remarkable, and promptly-gathered fruits of an experimental system
of inquiry deserve the attention, not of scholars alone, but of every
educated person; nevertheless, their value has as yet been realised by a
very limited class. The following chapters may then, it is hoped,
usefully serve to illustrate some of them for the benefit of the general
reading public, while making no pretension to discuss, formally or
exhaustively, the wide subject of Homeric antiquities. For the proper
discharge of that task, indeed, qualifications would be needed to which
the writer lays no claim. The object of the present little work will be
attained if it contribute to stir a wider interest in the topics it
discusses; above all, should it in any degree help to promote a
non-erudite study of the noble poetical monuments it is concerned with.
Greek enough to read the Iliad and Odyssey in the original can be
learned with comparative ease; and what trouble there may be in its
acquisition meets an ample reward in mental profit and enjoyment of a
high order. These ancient epics have a unique freshness about them; they
are still open founts of animating pleasure for all who choose to apply
to them; one cannot, then, but regret that so few have intellectual
energy to do so.

The author’s best thanks are due to Messrs. Macmillan, and to Messrs.
Hodder and Stoughton, for their courteous permission to reprint the
chapters entitled ‘Homeric Astronomy,’ ‘Homer’s Magic Herbs,’ and ‘The
Dog in Homer,’ originally published in the pages of _Nature_,
_Macmillan’s Magazine_, and the _British Quarterly Review_ respectively.

In quoting illustrative passages from the Homeric poems, considerable
use has been made of the admirable prose version of the Iliad by Messrs.
Lang, Leaf, and Myers, and of the Odyssey by Messrs. Butcher and Lang.
With the object, however, of securing a certain variety of effect,
versified translations have also been resorted to, their authors being
duly specified in foot-notes. The citations of Helbig’s valuable work,
_Das Homerische Epos aus den Denkmälern erläutert_, refer to the second
enlarged edition published in 1887.



           CHAPTER                                       PAGE
               I. HOMER AS A POET AND AS A PROBLEM         1

              II. HOMERIC ASTRONOMY                       30

             III. THE DOG IN HOMER                        58

              IV. HOMERIC HORSES                          84

               V. HOMERIC ZOOLOGY                        116

              VI. TREES AND FLOWERS IN HOMER             150

             VII. HOMERIC MEALS                          176

            VIII. HOMER’S MAGIC HERBS                    207

              IX. THE METALS IN HOMER                    231

               X. HOMERIC METALLURGY                     258

              XI. AMBER, IVORY, AND ULTRAMARINE          283


                       FAMILIAR STUDIES IN HOMER.

                               CHAPTER I.

                   HOMER AS A POET AND AS A PROBLEM.

THE perennial youth of the Homeric poems is without a parallel in the
history of art. No other imaginative works have so nearly succeeded in
bidding defiance to the ‘tooth of time.’ Like the golden watch-dogs of
Alcinous, they seem destined to be ‘deathless and ageless all their
days.’ Nor is theirs the faded immortality of Tithonus—the bare
preservation of a material form emptied of the glow of vitality, and
grown out of harmony with its environment. Their survival is not even
that of an ‘Attic shape’ whose undeniable beauty has, in our eyes,
assumed somewhat of a recondite coldness, very different from the
loveliness of old, when connoisseurship was not needed for appreciation.
The Iliad and Odyssey are still auroral. They have the charm of an
‘unpremeditated lay,’ springing from the very source of our own life;
they appeal alike to rude sensibilities and to cultivated tastes; their
splendour and pathos, their powerful vitality, the strength and
swiftness of their numbers, require to be accentuated by no critical
notes of admiration; they strike of themselves the least tutored native
perception. These vigorous growths out of the deep soil of humanity have
not yet been transported from the open air of indiscriminate enjoyment
into the greenhouse of æstheticism; delight in them lays hold of any
schoolboy capable of reading them fluently in the original as naturally
as enthralment with ‘Cinderella’ or ‘Jack the Giant-Killer’ commands the
unreflecting nursery. For they combine, as no other primitive poetry
does, imaginative energy with sobriety of thought and diction. The _ne
quid nimis_ regulates all their scenes. They are simple without being
archaic, fervid without extravagance, fanciful, yet never grotesque. The
strict proprieties of classic form effectually restrain in them the
exuberance of romantic invention. Not that any such distinctions in the
mode of composition had then begun to be thought of. The poet was
unconsciously a ‘law unto himself.’ Indeed the very potency of his
creative faculty prescribed retrenchment and moderation; the images
conjured up by it with much of the plastic reality of sculpture
subjecting themselves spontaneously to the laws of sculpturesque
fitness. Clear-cut and firm of outline, they move in the transparent
ether of definite thought. Projected into the vaporous atmosphere of a
riotous fancy, they might show vaster, but they could hardly be equally

But these matchless productions are not merely the ‘wood-notes wild’ of
untrained inspiration. They imply a long course of free development
under favourable conditions. The vehicle of expression used in them
might alone well be the product of centuries of pre-literary culture.
Greek hexameter verse was by no means an obvious contrivance. It is an
exceedingly subtle structure, depending for its effect—nay, for its
existence—upon unvarying obedience to a complex set of metrical rules.
These could not have originated all at once, by the decree of some
poetical law-giver. They must have been arrived at more or less
tentatively by repeated experiments, the recognised success of which
led, in the slow course of time, to their general adoption.

Moreover, the legendary materials of the Epics were not dug straight out
of the mine of popular fancy and tradition. They had doubtless been
elaborated and manipulated, before Homer took them in hand, by
generations of singers and reciters. The ‘tale of Troy divine’ was
already a full-leaved tree when he plucked from it and planted the
branches destined to flourish through the ages. His verses display or
betray acquaintance with many ‘other stories’ of public notoriety
besides those completely unfolded in them. The fate of Agamemnon, the
death of Achilles, the madness of Ajax, the advent of Neoptolemus, the
slaying of Memnon, son of the Morning, the ambush in the Wooden Horse,
the mysterious wanderings of Helen, the last journey of Odysseus,
furnished themes of surpassing interest, all or most of which had been
made into songs for the pastime of lordly feasters and the solace of
noble dames, before the wrath of Achilles suggested a more adventurous
flight. Inexhaustible, indeed, was the store of romantic adventure
furnished by the famous ten years’ siege.

          A castle built in cloudland, or at most
            A crumbling clay-fort on a windy hill,
          Where needy men might flee a robber-host,
            This, this was Troy! and yet she holds us still.[1]

Footnote 1:

  Lang’s _Helen of Troy_, vi. 21.

But the saga-literature of the Greeks did not begin with the mustering
of the fleet at Aulis. The ‘ante-Troica’ were not neglected. Many a
ballad was chanted about the doings of those ‘strong men’ who ‘lived
before Agamemnon,’ although it was not their fortune to be commemorated
by a supreme singer. That supreme singer, however, knew much concerning
the Argonauts, the War of Thebes, the Calydonian Boar-hunt, the sorrows
of Niobe, and the betrayal of Bellerophon; ante-Trojan lays served as
parables for the instruction of Clytemnestra, and the recreation of
Achilles in that disastrous interval when he doffed his armour and
strung his lyre. And a small but privileged class of the community was
devoted, under the presumed tuition of the Muses, to the perfecting and
perpetuation of these treasures of poetic lore.

Homer was accordingly no unprepared phenomenon. He rose in a sky already
luminous. The flowering of his genius, indeed, marked the close of an
epoch. His achievements were of the definitive and synthetic kind; they
summed up and surpassed what had previously been accomplished; they were
the outcome—although not the necessary outcome—of a multitude of minor

Now it is impossible to admit the prevalence of such sustained poetical
activity as the Homeric Epics by their very nature postulate, apart from
the existence of a tolerably widespread and well-regulated social
organisation. They besides describe a polity which was certainly not
imaginary, and thus lead us back to a pre-Hellenic world, different in
many ways from historical Greece, and separated from it by several blank
and silent centuries. The people who moved and suffered, and nurtured
their loves and grudges in it, were called ‘Achæans’—the ethnical title
given by Homer to his countrymen from all parts of the Greek peninsula
and its adjacent islands. Homer himself was evidently an Achæan;
Achilles, Agamemnon, and Odysseus, Helen and Penelope, sprang from the
same race, which was an offshoot from the general Hellenic stock. They
were a seafaring people, but not much given to commerce; active,
energetic, sensitive, highly imaginative, they showed, nevertheless,
receptivity rather than inventiveness as regards the practical arts of
life. Their great national exploit was probably that bellicose
expedition to the Troad upon which the Ilian legend, with all its
mythical accretions, was founded; and some records of attacks by them on
Egypt have been deciphered on hieroglyphically-inscribed monuments; but
they can claim no assured place in history. As a nation, they ceased
indeed to exist before the dim epoch of fables came to an end; the
Dorian conquest of the Peloponnesus brought about their political
annihilation and social disintegration, impelling them, nevertheless, to
establish new settlements in Asia Minor, and thus setting on foot the
long process by which Greek culture became cosmopolitan.

Homeric conditions do not then represent simply an initial stage in
classic Greek civilisation. There was no continuous progress from the
one state of things to the other. Development was interrupted by
revolution. Hence, much irretrievable loss and prolonged seething
confusion; until, out of the chaos, a renovated order emerged, and the
Greece of the Olympiads comes to view in the year 776 B.C.

For this reason Homeric Greece is strange to history; the relative
importance of the states included in it, the centre of gravity of its
political power, the modes of government and manners of men it displays,
are all very different from what they had become in the time of
Herodotus. But it is only of late that these differences have come to
have an intelligible meaning. Until expounded by archæological research,
they were a source of unmixed perplexity to the learned. The state of
society described by Homer could certainly not be regarded as
fictitious; yet it hung suspended, as it were, in the air, without
definite limitations of time or place. These uncertainties have now been
removed. The excavations at Mycenæ, undertaken by Dr. Schliemann in
1876, may be said to have had for their upshot the rediscovery of the
old Achæan civilisation, the material relics of which have been brought
to light from the ‘shaft-tombs’ of Agamemnon’s citadel, the ‘bee-hive
tombs’ of the lower city, in the palaces and other coeval buildings of
Tiryns, Mycenæ, and Orchomenos. The points of agreement between Homeric
delineations and Mycenæan antiquities are, in fact, too numerous to
permit the entertainment of any reasonable doubt that the poet’s
experience lay in the daily round of Mycenæan life—of life, that is to
say, governed by the same ideas and carried on under approximately the
same conditions with those prevailing through the ancient realm of the
sons of Atreus.

The detection of this close relationship has lent a totally new aspect
to what is called the Homeric Question, widening its scope at the same
time that it provides a sure basis for its discussion. For this can no
longer be disconnected from inquiries into the status and fortunes of
the great confederacy, out of the wreck of which the splendid fabric of
Hellenic society arose. The civilisation centred at Mycenæ covered a
wide range; how wide we do not yet fully know: the results of future
explorations must be awaited before its limits can be fixed. It
undoubtedly spread, however, beyond Greece proper through the Sporades
to Crete, Rhodes, the coasts of Asia Minor, and even to Egypt. The
traces left behind by it in Egypt are of particular importance.[2] From
the Mycenæan pottery discovered in the Fayûm, tangible proof has been
derived that the Græco-Libyan assaults upon that country were to some
extent effective, and that the seafaring people who took part in them
were no other than the Homeric Achæans, then in an early stage of their
career. The fact of their having secured a foothold in the Nile Valley
accounts, too, for the strong Egyptian element in Mycenæan art; and the
evidence of habitual intercourse is further curiously strengthened by
the presence of an ostrich egg amid the other antique remains in the
Myceneæan citadel graves.[3] Above all, the Egypto-Mycenæan pottery,
from its association with other objects of known dates, is determinable
as to time. And it appears, as the outcome of Mr. Flinders Petrie’s
careful comparisons, that one class of vases, adorned with linear
patterns, goes back to about 1400 B.C., while those exhibiting
naturalistic designs were freely manufactured in 1100. The culminating
period, however, of pre-Hellenic fictile art is placed considerably
earlier, in 1500-1400 B.C., and there are indications that its
development had occupied several previous centuries. Mr. Petrie, indeed,
finds himself compelled to believe that the Græco-Libyan league was
already active in or before the year 2000 B.C. Achæan predominance may,
then, very well have boasted a millennium of antiquity when the Dorians
crossed the Gulf of Corinth. Its subversion drove many of the leading
native families over the Ægean, where they found seats already doubtless
familiar to them through their own and their ancestors’ maritime and
piratical adventures, and the colonising impulse once given, did not
soon cease to promote the enlargement of the Greek domain. But the mass
of the Achæan people lived on in their old homes, in a state of
subjection resembling that of the Saxons in England after the Norman
Conquest. They were designated ‘Periœci’ by their Dorian rulers.

Footnote 2:

  Flinders Petrie, _Journal of Hellenic Studies_, vols. xi. p. 271; xii.
  p. 199.

Footnote 3:

  Schuchhardt and Sellers, _Schliemann’s Excavations_, p. 268.

Archæological discoveries have thus shown the largeness of the
historical issues embraced in the Homeric Question; they also afford the
possibility, and still more, the promise, of satisfactorily answering
it. The problem is threefold. It includes the consideration of where,
when, and how the great Epics were composed.

Seven cities—

        Smyrna, Chios, Colophon, Salamis, Rhodos, Argos, Athenæ—

competed for the honour of having given birth to their author. Wherever,
in short, their study was localised by the foundation of a school of
‘Homerids,’ there was asserted to be the native place of the eponymous
bard. The truth is that no really authentic tradition regarding him
reached posterity. The very name of ‘Homer,’ or the ‘joiner together,’
is obviously rather typical than personal; and it gradually came to
aggregate round it all that was antique and unclaimed in the way of
verse. The aggregation, it is true, was presumably formed in Asiatic
Ionia; the ‘Cyclic Poems,’ supplementary to the Iliad, were mainly the
work of Ionic poets; and the Epic was substantially an Ionic dialect.
Yet the inference of an Asiatic origin thence naturally arising now
clearly appears to be invalid. The linguistic argument, to begin with,
has been completely disposed of by Fick’s remarkable demonstration that
the Iliad and Odyssey underwent an early process of Ionicisation.[4] So
far as metrical considerations permitted, they were actually translated
from the Æolic, or rather Achæan tongue, in which they were composed,
into the current idiom of Colophon and Miletus. Objections urged from
this side against their production in Europe have accordingly lost their
force; and the reasons favouring it, always strong, have of late grown
to be well-nigh irresistible. Some of the more cogent were briefly
stated by Mr. D. B. Monro in 1886;[5] and others might now be added. One
only, but one surely conclusive, need here be mentioned. It is this.
Homer could not have been an Asiatic Greek, because Asiatic Greece did
not exist in Homer’s time. He was aware of no Achæan settlements in Asia
Minor; not one of the twelve cities of the Ionian confederacy emerges in
the Catalogue, Miletus only excepted, and Miletus with a special note of
‘barbarian’ habitation attached to it.[6] The Ionian name is, in the
Iliad, once applied to the Athenians[7] (presumably), but does not occur
at all in the Odyssey; where, on the other hand, Dorians, unknown in the
Iliad, are casually named as forming an element in the mixed population
of Crete.[8] The reputed birthplaces of Homer, then, on the eastern
coast of the Ægean, were, when he had reached his singing prime, still
occupied by Carians and Mæonians; and we must accordingly look for his
origin in the West. There is no escape from this conclusion except by
the subterfuge of imagining the geography of the Epics to be
artificially archaic. They related to a past time, it might be said,
they should then reproduce the conditions of the past. But this is a
notion essentially modern. No primitive poet ever troubled himself about
such scruples of congruity. Nor if he did, could the requisite detailed
information by possibility be at his command, while his painful care to
avoid what we call anachronisms would cause nothing but perplexity to
his unsophisticated audience. Homer’s map of Greece must accordingly be
accepted as a true picture of what came under his personal observation.
It is, indeed, as Mr. Freeman says, ‘so different from the map of Greece
at any later time that it is inconceivable that it can have been
invented at any later time.’[9] Since, however, it affords the Greek
race no Asiatic standing ground, it follows of necessity that Homer was
a European.

Footnote 4:

  _Die Homerische Odyssee in der ursprünglichen Sprachforme
  wiedergestellt_, 1883.

Footnote 5:

  _English Historical Review_, January, 1886.

Footnote 6:

  _Iliad_, ii. 868.

Footnote 7:

  _Ib._ xiii. 685.

Footnote 8:

  _Od._ xix. 177.

Footnote 9:

  _Historical Geography_, p. 25.

This same consideration helps to determine the age in which he lived.
Homeric geography is entirely pre-Dorian. Total unconsciousness of any
such event as the Dorian invasion reigns both in the Iliad and Odyssey.
Not a hint betrays acquaintance with the fact that the polity described
in them had, in the meantime, been overturned by external violence. A
silence so remarkable can be explained only by the simple supposition
that when they were composed, the revolution in question had not yet
occurred. Other circumstances confirm this view. Practical explorations
have shown pre-Hellenic Greece to have been the seat of a rich,
enterprising, and cultivated nation. They have hence removed objections
on the score of savagery, inevitably to be encountered, formerly urged
against pushing the age of Homer very far back into the past. The life
carried on at Mycenæ, in fact, twelve or thirteen centuries before the
Christian era, was in many respects more refined than that depicted in
the poems. It was known to their author only after it had lost something
of its pristine splendour. But the Mycenæan civilisation of his
experience, if a trifle decayed, was complete and dominant; and this it
never was subsequently to the Dorian conquest. To have collected,
however, into an imaginary organic whole the fragments into which it had
been shattered by that catastrophe, would assuredly have been a task
beyond his powers. Nothing remains, then, but to admit that he lived in
the pre-Dorian Greece which he portrayed. Moreover, the state of
seething unrest ensuing upon the overthrow of the Mycenæan order must
have been absolutely inconsistent with the development of a great school
of poetry. If Homer, then, was a European—as appears certain—the
inference is irresistible that he flourished before the society to which
he belonged was thrown by foreign invaders into irredeemable
disarray—that is, at some section of the Mycenæan epoch.

There are many convincing reasons for holding that section to have been
a late one. One of the principal is the familiar use of iron in the
poems, although none has been met with in the old shaft-tombs within the
citadel of Mycenæ, and only small quantities in the less distinguished
graves below. It is, to be sure, conceivable that a substance introduced
as a vulgar novelty devoid of traditional or ancestral associations
might have been employed for the ordinary purposes of everyday life long
before it was allowed to form part of sepulchral equipments; a similar
motive prescribing its virtual exclusion from the Homeric Olympus.
Still, the discrepancy can hardly be explained away without the
concession of some lapse of time as well.

The Homeric and Mycenæan modes of burial, too, were different. Cremation
is practised throughout the Epics; the Mycenæan dead were preserved
intact. ‘The contrast,’ Dr. Leaf remarks,[10] ‘is a striking one; but it
is easy to lay too much stress upon it. It may well be that the
conditions of sepulture on a campaign were perforce different from those
usual in times of peace at home. The mummifying of the body and the
carrying of it to the ancestral burying-place in the royal citadel were
not operations such as could be easily effected amidst the hurry of
marches or the privations of a siege; least of all after the slaughter
of a pitched battle. It is therefore quite conceivable that two methods
of sepulture may of necessity have been in use at the same time. And for
this assumption the Iliad itself gives us positive grounds. One warrior
who falls is taken home to be buried; for to a dead son of Zeus means of
carriage and preservation can be supplied which are not for common men.
Sarpedon is cleansed by Apollo, and borne by Death and Sleep to his
distant home in Lycia, not that his body may be burnt, but that his
brethren and kinsfolk may _preserve_ it ‘with a tomb and gravestone, for
such is the due of the dead.’

Footnote 10:

  Introduction to _Schliemann’s Excavations_, p. 26.

          He said; obedient to his father’s words,
          Down to the battle-field Apollo sped
          From Ida’s height; and from amid the spears
          Withdrawn, he bore Sarpedon far away,
          And lav’d his body in the flowing stream;
          Then with divine ambrosia all his limbs
          Anointing, cloth’d him in immortal robes;
          To two swift bearers gave him then in charge,
          To Sleep and Death, twin brothers; in their arms
          They bore him safe to Lycia’s widespread plains.[11]

Footnote 11:

  _Iliad_, xvi. 676-88 (Lord Derby’s translation).

The Mycenæan custom of embalming corpses was not, then, strange to
Homer; and the Homeric custom of burning them has _perhaps_—for the
evidence is indecisive—left traces in the more recent graves of the
Mycenæan people. What is certain is that simple interment was everywhere
primitively in use, and that the pyre was a subsequent innovation, at
first only partially adopted, and perhaps nowhere exclusively in vogue.

The plastic art of Mycenæ seems to have been on the decline when the
‘sovran poet’ arose. This can be inferred from the wondering admiration
displayed in his verses for what must once have been its ordinary
performances, as well as from the marked superiority assigned in them to
foreign over native artists. They include besides no allusion to the
signet-rings so plentiful at Mycenæ, no notice, in any connexion, of the
art of gem-engraving, nor of the indispensable luxury—to ladies of high
degree—of toilet-mirrors. Active intercourse with Egypt, again, had
evidently ceased long prior to the Homeric age. The Nile is, in the
poems, not even known by name, but only as the ‘river of Egypt;’ and the
country is reached, not in the ordinary course of navigation, but
through recklessness or ill-luck, by adventurers or castaways.

We can now gather the following indications regarding the date of the
Homeric poems. They must have originated during the interval between the
Trojan War—which, in some shape, may be accepted as an historical
event—and the Dorian invasion of the Peloponnesus. They probably
originated not very long before the latter event, when the Mycenæan
monarchy was of itself tottering towards a fall precipitated by the
frequently repeated incursions of ruder tribes from the north. The
generally accepted date for the final event is eighty years after the
taking of Troy, or 1104 B.C. But this rests on no authentic
circumstance, and may very well be a century or more in error. A
preferable chronological arrangement would place Homer’s flourishing in
the eleventh century, and the overthrow of Mycenæ near its close.
Difficulties of sundry kinds can thus be, in a measure, evaded or
conciliated, without encroaching overmuch on the voiceless centuries
available for the unrecorded readjustment of the disturbed elements of
Greek polity.

As to the mode of origin of the two great poems which have come down to
us from so remote an age, much might be said; but a few words must here
suffice. It is a topic on which the utmost diversity of opinion has
prevailed since F. A. Wolf published, in 1795, his famous ‘Prolegomena,’
and as to which unity of views seems now for ever unattainable. For
demonstrative evidence is naturally out of the question, and estimates
of opposing probabilities are apt to be strongly tinctured with
‘personality.’ Prepossessions of all kinds warp the judgment, even in
purely literary matters, and, in this case especially, have led to the
learned advocacy of extreme opinions. Thus, partisans of destructive
criticism have carried the analysis of the Homeric poems to the verge of
annihilation; while ultra-conservatives insist upon a seamless whole,
and regard the Iliad and the Odyssey as the work of Homer, in the same
sense and with the same implicit confidence that they hold the Æneid and
the Eclogues to be Virgilian, or ‘Paradise Lost’ and ‘Samson Agonistes’
to be Miltonic productions. Between these widely diverging paths,
however, there is a middle way laid down by common sense, which it is
tolerably safe to follow. A few simple considerations may help us to
find it.

We must remember, in the first place, that the Homeric poems were
composed, not to be privately read, but to be publicly recited. They
remained unwritten during at least a couple of centuries, flung on the
waves of unaided human memory. Oral tradition alone preserved them; and
not the punctilious oral tradition of a sacerdotal caste like the
Brahmins, but that of a bold and innovating class of ‘rhapsodes,’
themselves aspiring to some share in the Muse’s immediate favours, and
prompt to flatter the local vanities and immemorial susceptibilities of
their varied audiences. Within very wide limits, they were free to
‘improve’ what long training had enabled them to appropriate. Their
licence infringed no literary property; there was no authorised text to
be corrupted; one man’s version was as good as another’s. It is not,
then, surprising that the primitive order of the Epics became here and
there disarranged, or that interpolated and substituted passages usurped
positions from which they could not afterwards easily be expelled.
Expository efforts have, indeed, sometimes succeeded only in adding
fresh knots to the already tangled skein. Pisistratus, however, did good
service by for the first time _editing_ the Homeric poems.[12] Scattered
manuscripts of them had doubtless existed long previously; but it was
their collection and collation at Athens, and the disposal in a
determinate succession of the still disjointed materials they afforded,
which placed the Greek people in the earliest full possession of their
epical inheritance.

Footnote 12:

  German critics doubt the fact. See Niese, _Die Entwickelung der
  Homerischen Poesie_, p. 5.

As the general result of a century of Homeric controversy, instinctive
appreciation may be said broadly to have got the better of verbal
criticism. Not but that the latter has done valuable work; but it is now
pretty plainly seen to have been, in some quarters, carried considerably
too far. The triumphs enjoyed by German advocates of the
‘Kleinliedertheorie’—of the disjunction, that is to say, of the Epics
into numerous separate lays—are generally recognised to have been merely
temporary. A large body of opinion was, at the outset, captivated by
their arguments; it has of late tended to swing back towards some
approximation to the old orthodoxy. There is, indeed, much difficulty in
conceiving the profound and essential unity apparent to unprejudiced
readers of the Iliad and Odyssey to be illusory; nor should it be
forgotten that the evoking of a cosmos from a chaos implies a single
regulative intelligence. And a cosmos each poem might very well be
called; while the ‘embryon atoms’ from which they sprang, of legends,
stories, myths, and traditions, constituted scarcely less than an

                                    Ocean without bound,
          Without dimension; where length, breadth, and highth,
          And time, and place, are lost.

The Odyssey and the Iliad, however, stand in this respect by no means on
the same footing. In the former, fundamental unity is obvious; the
development of the plot is logical and continuous; there are no
considerable redundancies, no superfluous adventures, no oblivious
interludes; the sense of progress towards a purposed end pervades the
whole. Careful scrutiny, it is true, detects, in the details of the
narrative, some few trifling discrepancies; but attempts to remove them
by tampering with the general plan of its structure lead at once to
intolerable anomalies. So much cannot be said for the Iliad. Here the
component strata are manifestly dislocated, and some intruded masses can
be clearly identified. Thus the Tenth Book at once detaches itself both
in substance and style from the remaining cantos. It narrates an
adventure wholly disconnected from the main action unfolded in them, and
narrates it with a coolness and easy fluency very unlike the rush and
glow of genuine Iliadic verse. Few, accordingly, are the critics who
venture to claim the episode, brilliant and interesting though it be, as
an integral part of the original poem. Yet even when it has been set
aside, things do not go altogether straight. The basis of the story is
furnished by the wrath of Achilles and its direful consequences; but
while the hero sulks in his tent, a good deal of miscellaneous and
largely irrespective fighting proceeds, during which he sinks out of
sight, and is only transiently kept in mind. Zeus himself is allowed to
forget his solemn promise to Thetis of avenging, through the defeat of
the Greeks, the injury done to her son by Agamemnon; and the Olympian
machinery generally works in an ill-regulated and haphazard fashion.
Moreover, the embassy of conciliation in the Ninth Book is ignored later
on; while the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Books, devoted mainly to
the obsequies of Patroclus and Hector, have by some critics been deemed
superfluous, by others inconsistent with an exordium announcing—as Pope
has it—

              The wrath that hurled to Pluto’s gloomy reign
              The souls of mighty chiefs untimely slain,
              Whose limbs unburied by the naked shore,
              Devouring dogs and hungry vultures tore.

Through the weight of these objections, Mr. Grote felt compelled to
dissever the Iliad into a primitive part, which he called the Achilleid,
and a mass of accessional poetry, most likely of diverse origin and
date. And a similar view still prevails. Only that the Achilleid has
been cut down, by further retrenchments, to the compass of a somewhat
prolix Lay, treating, as its express subject, of the ‘Wrath’ of
Achilles. Dr. Leaf indeed accentuates the separation by upholding the
probable origin, on opposite sides of the Ægean, of the nuclear and
adventitious portions of the Epic.

The force of some of the arguments urging to this analysis cannot be
denied, yet there are others, perhaps of a higher order of importance,
which indicate the former predominance of a partially destroyed entirety
of design through by far the larger portion of this wonderful
prehistoric work. Speaking broadly, an identical spirit pervades the
whole. The Tenth Book, and a few notoriously interpolated passages, such
as the feeble and futile Theomachy, make the sole exceptions to this
rule of ethical homogeneity. Elsewhere, from beginning to end, we meet
the same spontaneous fervour of expression, the same magnificent energy
kept in hand like a spirited steed; an unfailing sense of the splendour
of heroic achievement, and a glowing joy in human existence, tempered by
the heart-thrilling remembrance of its pathetic mystery of sorrow. This
prevalent uniformity in manner and spirit is certainly unfavourable to
the hypothesis of divided authorship.

The marvellous beauty and power of those sections of the poem believed
to be adventitious is also a circumstance to be considered. They include
many of its most famous scenes—the parting of Hector and Andromache, the
arming of Athene, the meeting of Glaucus and Diomed, and the whole vivid
interlude of Diomed’s prowess, the orations in the tent of Achilles, the
chariot-race, the reception of Priam as his suppliant by the fierce
slayer of his son. To them exclusively, above all, belongs the personal
presentation of Helen; outside their limits, she has no place in the

These same accretions are not merely magnificent in themselves, and rich
in shining incidents, but they add incalculably to the general effect of
the Epic. They contribute, in fact, a great part of its dramatic force
and the whole of its moral purport. Without them it would be a bald and
unfinished performance—the abortive realisation of a sublime conception.
The arming of Agamemnon, for instance, and his feats of private valour,
could never have been designed as the immediate sequel to the Promise of
Zeus; while they constitute a most fitting climax to the series of the
baffled Greek efforts for victory. They are admirably prepared for by
the stories of the duel between Menelaus and Paris, of the broken pact,
of the prowess of Diomed, of the nocturnal embassy to Achilles.
Moreover, the irresistible might of Pelides is brought with tenfold
impressiveness on the scene after the fighting powers of each of the
other Achæan chiefs have been fully displayed, and proved fruitless.
Above all, the Achillean drama itself would lose its profound
significance by the retrenchment of the Ninth and two closing Books. For
it was the implacability of the ‘swift-footed’ hero that was justly
punished by the calamity of the death of Patroclus; and he showed
himself implacable only when he haughtily rejected a formal offer of
ample reparation.[13] At that point he became culpable; and might only
win revenge at the cost of the acutest anguish of which his nature was
capable. The Ninth Book, in short, constitutes the ethical crisis of the
Iliad; and the moralising at second-hand, to the innermost core of its
structure, of a work purporting to be already complete, is certainly a
unique, if not an impossible phenomenon.

Footnote 13:

  Mr. A. Lang urges this point with great effect in an article on ‘Homer
  and the Higher Criticism’ (_National Review_, Feb. 1892), published
  after the present Chapter had been sent to press.

Nor is it easily credible that the ransom of the body of Hector made no
part of its fundamental plan. Greek feelings of propriety would have
been outraged—and outraged in the most distasteful way—by disregard of
the dying petition of so spotless and disinterested a champion, albeit
of a lost cause, and by the abandonment of his body as carrion to
unclean beasts and birds. And Achilles, without the elevating traits of
his courtesies in the Games, and his pity for Priam, would have remained
colossal only in brutality, a blind instrument of fury, an example of
the triumph of ignoble instincts. But such a presentation of his
character could never have been purposed by the author of the First
Iliad. Not of this base stamp was the hero whom Thetis rose from the sea
to comfort. For even in the first rush of his tremendous passion, he
still saw the radiant eyes and listened to the voice of Athene; he did
not wholly desert celestial wisdom; and celestial wisdom could never
have suffered the balance of his stormy soul to be finally overthrown.
But just the needed compensatory touches are supplied by his noble
bearing in the Patroclean celebration, and far more, by his chivalrous
compassion for the hapless old king of Troy. They could not have been
omitted by a poet of supreme genius—could not, since the imagination has
its logical necessities, among which may be reckoned that of
_equilibration_. There is accordingly no possibility of founding a truly
great poem, wholly, or mainly, on the crude brutalities of actual
warfare. Humanity revolts from them in the long run; and humanity
prescribes its laws to art. The slaughtering rage of Achilles demands a
corresponding height of generosity and depth of pity; it would else be
atrocious. His wrath, in fact, postulates his tenderness; and hence the
great difficulty in believing that the singer of the First Book failed
to insert the Ninth, or stopped short at the Twenty-second Book of the

The upshot of our little discussion, then, is to assign both to the
Iliad and Odyssey a European origin, in the pre-Dorian time, when Mycenæ
was the political centre of the Achæan world. Provisionally, they may be
said to date from the eleventh century B.C. Moreover, the Odyssey in its
essential integrity, and the Iliad in large part, are each the work of
one master-mind. The Iliad, none the less, can no longer be said to
present a poem ‘of one projection’; it shows seams, and junctures, and
discrepancies; its mass has, perhaps, been broken up and awkwardly
pieced together again; it is a building, in fact, which has suffered
extensive restoration.

The further question remains as to the united or divided authorship of
these antique monuments, regarded as separate wholes. Are they
twin-productions, or did they spring up independently, favoured by the
same prevailing climate, from a soil similarly prepared? The answer may
be left to the dispassionate judgment of any ordinary, uncritical
reader. Supposing his mind, _per impossibile_, a blank on the point, it
would certainly not occur to him to attribute the two poems to a single
individual. They are probably as unlike in style as, under the
circumstances, it was possible for them to be. A great deal, indeed,
belongs to them in common. They were rooted in the same traditions; they
arose under the same sky and in the same ideal atmosphere; the
inexhaustible storehouse of their legendary raw material was the same.
Strictly analogous conditions of politics and society are depicted in
them; they were addressed to similarly constituted audiences; their
verses were constructed on the same rhythmical model. Moreover, the
author of one was familiar with the grand example set him by the other.
Yet the temper and spirit of each are profoundly different. In the
Iliad, a magnificent ardour prevails; the singer is aflame with his
theme; his words glow; vivid impressions crowd upon his mind; it takes
all the power of his genius to restrain their riotous audacity and
marshal them into orderly succession. The author of the Odyssey, on the
other hand, is in no danger of being swept away by the impetuosity of
his thoughts. He is always collected and at leisure; he has even
_esprit_, which implies a low mental temperature; he can stand by with a
smile, and look on, while his characters unfold themselves; his passion
never blazes; it is smouldering and sustained, like that of his

Numerous small discrepancies, besides, seem to betray a personal
diversity of origin. So Iris, the frequent, indeed the all but
invariable messenger of the gods in the Iliad, drops into oblivion in
the Odyssey, and is replaced by Hermes; Charis is the wife of Hephæstus
in the Iliad, Aphrodite in the Odyssey; Neleus has twelve sons in the
Iliad, three in the Odyssey; Pylos is a district in the Iliad, a town in
the Odyssey; the oracle of the Dodonæan Zeus is located in Thessaly in
the Iliad, in Epirus in the Odyssey, and so on.[14] The Odyssey,
moreover, is obviously junior to the Iliad. It gives evidence of an
appreciable development of the arts of life relatively to their state in
the rival poem; the processes of verbal contraction have advanced in the
interval; the ethical standard has become more refined; while formulaic
and other expressions common to both are unmistakably ‘in place,’ as
geologists say, in the Iliad, ‘erratic,’ or ‘transported,’ in the

Footnote 14:

  See an article on the ‘Doctrine of the Chorizontes,’ in the _Edinburgh
  Review_, vol. 133.

A difference in the place of origin, perhaps, helps to accentuate the
effect due to a difference of time. The thread of tradition regarding
these extraordinary works is indeed hopelessly broken. Their prehistoric
existence is divided from their historical visibility by the chasm
opened when the civilisation of which they were the choicest flowers was
subverted by the irrepressible Dorians. The Iliad, however, contains
strong internal evidence of owning Thessaly as its native region. The
vast pre-eminence of the local hero, the Olympian seat of the gods, the
partiality displayed for the horse, intimacy with Thessalian traditions
and topography, all suggest the relationship. The name of Thessaly, it
is true, does not occur either in the Iliad or in the Odyssey; nor had
the semi-barbarous Thessalians, when they were composed, as yet crossed
the mountains from Thesprotia to trample down the Achæan culture of the
land of Achilles. It thus became, after Homer’s time, the scene of a
revolution analogous in every respect to that which overwhelmed the

The Homer of the Odyssey, who was not improbably of Peloponnesian birth,
must have travelled widely. He had undeniably some personal acquaintance
with Ithaca, his topographical indications, apart from the gross blunder
of planting the little island west, instead of east of Cephalonia,
corresponding on the whole quite closely with reality. And he knew
something besides of most parts of the mainland of Greece, of Crete,
Delos, Chios, and the Ionian coast of Asia Minor. The experience of the
Iliadic bard was doubtless somewhat, though not greatly, more limited.
Its range extended, at any rate, from ‘Pelasgic Argos’ to the Troad,
familiarity with which is shown in all sections of the Trojan epic. The
cosmopolitan character of both poets is only indeed what might have been
expected. The privileged members of an Achæan community must have
enjoyed wide opportunities of observation. For Mycenæan culture was
strongly eclectic. Elements from many quarters were amalgamated in it,
Asiatic influences, however, predominating. The men of genius who acted
as the interpreters of its typical ideas would hence have been unfit for
their task unless they had personally tried and proved all such elements
and influences. They were presumably to some extent adventurers by sea
and land. But, further than this, their individuality remains shrouded
in the impenetrable veil of their silence.


                              CHAPTER II.

                           HOMERIC ASTRONOMY.

THE Homeric ideas regarding the heavenly bodies were of the simplest
description. They stood, in fact, very much on the same level with those
entertained by the North American Indians, when first brought into
European contact. What knowledge there was in them was of that ‘broken’
kind which (in Bacon’s phrase) is made up of wonder. Fragments of
observation had not even begun to be pieced in one with the other, and
so fitted, ill or well, into a whole. In other words, there was no
faintest dawning of a celestial science.

But surely, it may be urged, a poet is not bound to be an astronomer.
Why should it be assumed that the author (or authors) of the Iliad and
Odyssey possessed information co-extensive on all points with that of
his fellow-countrymen? His profession was not science, but song. The
argument, however, implies a reflecting backward of the present upon the
past. Among unsophisticated peoples, specialists, unless in the matter
of drugs or spells, or some few practical processes, do not exist. The
scanty stock of gathered knowledge is held, it might be said, in common.
The property of one is the property of all.

More especially of the poet. His power over his hearers depends upon his
presenting vividly what they already perceive dimly. It was part of the
poetical faculty of the Ithacan bard Phemius that he ‘knew the works of
gods and men.’[15] His special function was to render them famous by his
song. What he had heard concerning them he repeated; adding, of his own,
the marshalling skill, the vital touch, by which they were perpetuated.
He was no inventor: the actual life of men, with its transfiguring
traditions and baffled aspirations, was the material he had to work
with. But the life of men was very different then from what it is now.
It was lived in closer contact with Nature; it was simpler, more
typical, consequently more susceptible of artistic treatment.

Footnote 15:

  _Odyssey_, i. 338.

It was accordingly looked at and portrayed as a whole; and it is this
very _wholeness_ which is one of the principal charms of primitive
poetry—an irrecoverable charm; for civilisation renders existence a
labyrinth of which it too often rejects the clue. In olden times,
however, its ways were comparatively straight, and its range limited. It
was accordingly capable of being embraced with approximate entirety.
Hence the encyclopædic character of the early epics. _Humani nihil
alienum._ Whatever men thought, and knew, and did, in that morning of
the world when they spontaneously arose, found a place in them.

Now, some scheme of the heavens must always accompany and guide human
existence. There is literally no choice for man but to observe the
movements, real or apparent, of celestial objects, and to regulate his
actions by the measure of time they mete out to him. Nor had he at first
any other means of directing his wanderings upon the earth save by
regarding theirs in the sky. They are thus to him standards of reference
and measurement as regards both the fundamental conditions of his
being—time and space.

This intimate connexion, and, still more, the idealising influence of
the remote and populous skies, has not been lost upon the poets in any
age. It might even be possible to construct a tolerably accurate
outline-sketch of the history of astronomy in Europe without travelling
outside the limits of their works. But our present concern is with

To begin with his mode of reckoning time. This was by years, months,
days, and hours.[16] The week of seven days was unknown to him; but in
its place we find[17] the triplicate division of the month used by
Hesiod and the later Attics, implying a month of thirty, and a year of
360 days, corrected, doubtless, by some rude process of intercalation.
These ten-day intervals were perhaps borrowed at an early stage of
Achæan civilisation from Egypt, where they correspond to the Chaldean
‘decans’—thirty-six minor astral divinities presiding over as many
sections of the Zodiac.[18] But no knowledge of the Signs accompanied
the transfer. A similar apportionment of the hours of night into three
watches (as amongst the Jews before the Captivity), and of the hours of
day into three periods or stages, prevails in both the Iliad and
Odyssey. The seasons of the year, too, were three—spring, summer, and
winter—like those of the ancient Egyptians and of our Anglo-Saxon
forefathers;[19] for the Homeric _Opora_ was not, properly speaking, an
autumnal season, but merely an aggravation of summer heat and drought,
heralded by the rising of Sirius towards the close of July. It, in fact,
strictly matched our ‘dog-days,’ the _dies caniculares_ of the Romans.
The first direct mention of autumn is in a treatise of the time of
Alcibiades ascribed to Hippocrates.[20] This rising of the dog-star is
the only indication in the Homeric poems of the use of a stellar
calendar such as we meet full-grown in Hesiod’s Works and Days. The same
event was the harbinger of the Nile-flood to the Egyptians, serving to
mark the opening of their year as well as to correct the estimates of
its length.

Footnote 16:

  _Odyssey_, x. 469; xi. 294.

Footnote 17:

  _Ib._ xix. 307.

Footnote 18:

  Brugsch, _Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenländischen Gesellschaft_,
  Bd. ix. p. 513.

Footnote 19:

  Lewis, _Astronomy of the Ancients_, p. 11. Tacitus says of the
  Germans, ‘Autumni perinde nomen ac bona ignorantur’ (_Germania_, cap.

Footnote 20:

  Smith’s _Dictionary of Antiquities_, article ‘Astronomy.’

The annual risings of stars had formerly, in the absence of more
accurate means of observation, an importance they no longer possess.
Mariners and husbandmen, accustomed to watch, because at the mercy of
the heavens, could hardly fail no less to be struck with the successive
effacements by, and re-emergences from, the solar beams, of certain
well-known stars, as the sun pursued his yearly course amongst them,
than to note the epochs of such events. Four stages in these periodical
fluctuations of visibility were especially marked by primitive
observers. The first perceptible appearance of a star in the dawn was
known as its ‘heliacal rising.’ This brief glimpse extended gradually as
the star increased its seeming distance from the sun, the interval of
precedence in rising lengthening by nearly four minutes each morning. At
the end of close upon six months occurred its ‘acronycal rising,’ or
last visible ascent from the eastern horizon after sunset. Its
conspicuousness was then at the maximum, the whole of the dark hours
being available for its shining. To these two epochs of rising succeeded
and corresponded two epochs of setting—the ‘cosmical’ and the
‘heliacal.’ A star set cosmically when, for the first time each year, it
reached the horizon long enough before break of day to be still
distinguishable; it set heliacally on the last evening when its rays
still detached themselves from the background of illuminated western
sky, before getting finally immersed in twilight. The round began again
when the star had arrived sufficiently far on the other side of the sun
to show in the morning—in other words, to rise heliacally.

Wide plains and clear skies gave opportunities for closely and
continually observing these successive moments in the revolving
relations of sun and stars, which were soon found to afford a very
accurate index to the changes of the seasons. By them, for the most
part, Hesiod’s prescriptions for navigation and agriculture are timed;
and although Homer, in conformity with the nature of his subject, is
less precise, he was still fully aware of the association.

His sun is a god—Helios—as yet unidentified with Apollo, who wears his
solar attributes unconsciously. Helios is also known as Hyperion, ‘he
who walks on high,’ and Elector, ‘the shining one.’ Voluntarily he
pursues his daily course in the sky, and voluntarily he sinks to rest in
the ocean-stream—subject, however, at times to a higher compulsion; for,
just after the rescue of the body of Patroclus, Heré favours her Achæan
clients by precipitating at a critical juncture the descent of a still
unwearied and unwilling luminary.[21] On another occasion, however,
Helios memorably asserts his independence, when, incensed at the
slaughter of his sacred cattle by the self-doomed companions of Ulysses,
he threatens to ‘descend into Hades, and shine among the dead.’[22] And
Zeus, in promising the required satisfaction, virtually admits his power
to abdicate his office as illuminator of gods and men.

Footnote 21:

  _Iliad_, xviii, 239.

Footnote 22:

  _Odyssey_, xii. 383.

Once only, the solstice is alluded to in Homeric verse. The swineherd
Eumæus, in describing the situation of his native place, the Island of
Syriê, states that it is over against Ortygia (Delos), ‘where are the
turning-places of the sun.’[23] The phrase was probably meant to
indicate that Delos lay just so much south of east from Ithaca as the
sun lies at rising on the shortest day of winter. But it must be
confessed that the direction was not thus very accurately laid down, the
comprised angle being 15⅓°, instead of 23½°.[24] To those early students
of nature, the travelling to and fro of the points of sunrise and sunset
furnished the most obvious clue to the yearly solar revolution; so that
an expression, to us somewhat recondite, conveyed a direct and
unmistakable meaning to hearers whose narrow acquaintance with the
phenomena of the heavens was vivified by immediate personal experience
of them. And in point of fact, the idea in question is precisely that
conveyed by the word ‘tropic.’

Footnote 23:

  _Ib._ xv. 404.

Footnote 24:

  Sir W. Geddes believes that the solstitial place of the setting sun,
  as viewed from the Ionic coast, is that used to define the position of
  Ortygia.—_Problem of the Homeric Poems_, p. 294.

Selene first takes rank as a divine personage in the pseudo-Homeric
Hymns. No moon-goddess is recognised in the Iliad or Odyssey. Nor does
the orbed ruler of ‘ambrosial night,’ regarded as a mere light-giver or
time-measurer, receive all the attention that might have been expected.
A full moon is, however, represented with the other ‘heavenly signs’ on
the shield of Achilles, and figures somewhat superfluously in the
magnificent passage where the Trojan watch-fires are compared to the
stars in a cloudless sky:

             As when in heaven the stars about the moon
             Look beautiful, when all the winds are laid,
             And every height comes out, and jutting peak
             And valley, and the immeasurable heavens
             Break open to their highest, and all the stars
             Shine, and the shepherd gladdens in his heart:
             So many a fire between the ships and stream
             Of Xanthus blazed before the towers of Troy,
             A thousand on the plain; and close by each
             Sat fifty in the blaze of burning fire;
             And eating hoary grain and pulse, the steeds,
             Fixt by their cars, waited the golden dawn.[25]

Footnote 25:

  _Iliad_, viii. 551-61 (Tennyson’s translation).

Here, as elsewhere, the simile no sooner presents itself than the poet’s
imagination seizes upon and develops it without overmuch regard to the
illustrative fitness of its details. The multitudinous effect of a
thousand fires blazing together on the plain inevitably suggested the
stars. But with the stars came the complete nocturnal scene in its
profound and breathless tranquillity. The ‘rejoicing shepherd,’
meantime, who was part of it, would have been ill-pleased with the
darkness required for the innumerable stellar display first thought of.
And since, to the untutored sense, landscape is delightful only so far
as it gives promise of utility, brilliant moonlight was added, for his
satisfaction and the safety of his flock, as well as for the perfecting
of that scenic beauty felt to be deficient where human needs were left
uncared for. Just in proportion, however, as rocks, and peaks, and
wooded glens appeared distinct, the lesser lights of heaven, and with
them the fundamental idea of the comparison, must have become effaced;
and the poet, accordingly, as if with a misgiving that the fervour of
his fancy had led him to stray from the rigid line of his purpose,
volunteered the assurance that ‘all the stars were visible’—as, to his
mind’s eye, they doubtless were.

Of the ‘vivid planets’ thrown in by Pope there is no more trace in the
original, than of the ‘glowing pole.’ Nor could there be; since Homer
was totally ignorant that such a class of bodies existed. This curious
fact affords (if it were needed) conclusive proof of the high antiquity
of the Homeric poems. Not the faintest suspicion manifests itself in
them that Hesperus, ‘fairest of all stars set in heaven,’ is but another
aspect of Phosphorus, herald of light upon the earth, ‘the star that
saffron-mantled Dawn cometh after, and spreadeth over the salt sea.’[26]
The identification is said by Diogenes Laertius to have been first made
by Pythagoras; and it may at any rate be assumed with some confidence
that this elementary piece of astronomical knowledge came to the Greeks
from the East, with others of a like nature, in the course of the
seventh or sixth century B.C. Astonishing as it seems that they should
not have made the discovery for themselves, there is no evidence that
they did so. Hesiod appears equally unconscious with Homer of the
distinction between ‘fixed’ and ‘wandering’ stars. According to his
genealogical information, Phosphorus, like the rest of the stellar
multitude, sprang from the union of Astræus with the Dawn,[27] but no
hint is given of any generic difference between them.

Footnote 26:

  _Iliad_, xxiii. 226-27.

Footnote 27:

  _Theogony_, 381.

There is a single passage in the Iliad, and a parallel one in the
Odyssey, in which the constellations are formally enumerated by name.
Hephæstus, we are told, made for the son of Thetis a shield great and
strong, whereon, by his exceeding skill, a multitude of objects were

‘There wrought he the earth, and the heavens, and the sea, and the
unwearying sun, and the moon waxing to the full, and the signs every one
wherewith the heavens are crowned, Pleiads, and Hyads, and Orion’s
might, and the Bear that men call also the Wain, her that turneth in her
place, and watcheth Orion, and alone hath no part in the baths of

Footnote 28:

  _Iliad_, xviii. 483-89.

The corresponding lines in the Odyssey occur in the course of describing
the hero’s voyage from the isle of Calypso to the land of the Phæacians.
Alone, on the raft he had constructed of Ogygian pine-wood, he sat
during seventeen days, ‘and cunningly guided the craft with the helm;
nor did sleep fall upon his eyelids, as he viewed the Pleiads and
Boötes, that setteth late, and the Bear, which they likewise call the
Wain, which turneth ever in one place, and keepeth watch upon Orion, and
alone hath no part in the baths of Ocean.’[29]

Footnote 29:

  _Odyssey_, v. 271-75.

The sailing-directions of the goddess were to keep the Bear always on
the left—that is, to steer due east.

It is clear that one of these passages is an adaptation from the other;
nor is there reason for hesitation in deciding which was the model.
Independently of extrinsic evidence, the verses in the Iliad have the
strong spontaneous ring of originality, while the Odyssean lines betray
excision and interpolation. The ‘Hyads and Orion’s might’ are suppressed
for the sake of introducing Boötes. Variety was doubtless aimed at in
the change; and the conjecture is at least a plausible one, that the
added constellation may have been known to the poet of the Odyssey
(admitting the hypothesis of a divided authorship), though not to the
poet of the Iliad—known, that is, in the sense that the stars comprising
the figure of the celestial Husbandman had not yet, at the time and
place of origin of the Iliad, become separated from the anonymous throng
circling in the ‘murk of night.’

The constellation Boötes—called ‘late-setting,’ probably from the
perpendicular position in which it descends below the horizon—was
invented to drive the Wain, as Arctophylax to guard the Bear, the same
group in each case going by a double name. For the brightest of the
stars thus designated we still preserve the appellation Arcturus (from
_arktos_, bear, _oûros_, guardian), first used by Hesiod, who fixed upon
its acronycal rising, sixty days after the winter solstice, as the
signal for pruning the vines.[30] It is not unlikely that the star
received its name long before the constellation was thought of, forming
the nucleus of a subsequently formed group. This was undoubtedly the
course of events elsewhere; the Great and Little Dogs, for instance, the
Twins, and the Eagle (the last with two minute companions) having been
individualised as stars previous to their recognition as asterisms.

Footnote 30:

  _Works and Days_, 564-70.

There is reason to believe that the stars enumerated in the Iliad and
Odyssey constituted the whole of those known by name to the early
Greeks. This view is strongly favoured by the identity of the Homeric
and Hesiodic stars. It is difficult to believe that, had there been room
for choice, the same list _precisely_ would have been picked out for
presentation in poems so widely diverse in scope and origin as the Iliad
and Odyssey on the one side, and the Works and Days on the other. As
regards the polar constellations, we have positive proof that none
besides Ursa Major had been distinguished. For the statement repeated in
both the Homeric epics, that the Bear _alone_ was without part in the
baths of Ocean, implies, not that the poet veritably ignored the
unnumbered stars revolving within the circle traced out round the pole
by the seven of the Plough, but that they still remained a nameless
crowd, unassociated with any terrestrial object, and therefore
attracting no popular observation.

The Greeks, according to a well-attested tradition, made acquaintance
with the Lesser Bear through Phœnician communication, of which Thales
was the medium. Hence the designation of the group as _Phoinike_. Aratus
(who versified the prose of Eudoxus) has accordingly two Bears, lying
(in sailors’ phrase) ‘heads and points’ on the sphere; while he
expressly states that the Greeks still (about 270 B.C.) continued to
steer by _Helike_ (the Twister, Ursa Major), while the expert Phœnicians
directed their course by the less mobile _Kynosoura_ (Ursa Minor). The
absence of any mention of a Pole-star seems at first sight surprising.
Even the Iroquois Indians directed their wanderings from of old by the
one celestial luminary of which the position remained sensibly
invariable.[31] Yet not the gods themselves, in Homer’s time, were aware
of such a guide. It must be remembered, however, that the axis of the
earth’s rotation pointed, 2800 years ago, towards a considerably
different part of the heavens from that now met by its imaginary
prolongation. The precession of the equinoxes has been at work in the
interval, slowly but unremittingly shifting the situation of this point
among the stars. Some 600 years before the Great Pyramid was built, it
was marked by the close vicinity of the brightest star in the Dragon.
But this in the course of ages was left behind by the onward-travelling
pole, and further ages elapsed before the star at the tip of the Little
Bear’s tail approached its present position. Thus the entire millennium
before the Christian era may count for an interregnum as regards
Pole-stars. Alpha Draconis had ceased to exercise that office;
Alruccabah had not yet assumed it.

Footnote 31:

  Lafitau, _Mœurs des Sauvages Américains_, p. 240.

The most ancient of all the constellations is probably that which Homer
distinguishes as never-setting (it then lay much nearer to the pole than
it now does). In his time, as in ours, it went by two appellations—the
Bear and the Wain. Homer’s Bear, however, included the same seven bright
stars constituting the Wain, and no more; whereas our Great Bear
stretches over a sky-space of which the Wain is only a small part, three
of the striding monster’s far-apart paws being marked by the three pairs
of stars known to the Arabs as the ‘gazelle’s springs.’ How this
extension came about, we can only conjecture; but there is evidence that
it was fairly well established when Aratus wrote his description of the
constellations. Aratus, however, copied Eudoxus, and Eudoxus used
observations made—doubtless by Accad or Chaldean astrologers—above 2000
B.C.[32] We infer, then, that the Babylonian Bear was no other than the
modern Ursa Major.[33]

Footnote 32:

  According to Mr. Proctor’s calculation. See R. Brown, _Eridanus: River
  and Constellation_, p. 3.

Footnote 33:

  See Houghton, _Trans. Soc. Bibl. Arch._ vol. v. p. 333.

But the primitive asterism—the Seven Rishis of the old Hindus, the
Septem Triones of the Latins, the Arktos of Homer—included no more than
seven stars. And this is important as regards the origin of the name.
For it is impossible to suppose a likeness to any animal suggested by
the more restricted group. Scarcely the acquiescent fancy of Polonius
could find it ‘backed like a weasel,’ or ‘very like a whale.’ Yet a
weasel or a whale would match the figure equally well with, or better
than, a bear. Probably the growing sense of incongruity between the name
and the object it signified may have induced the attempt to soften it
down by gathering a number of additional stars into a group presenting a
distant resemblance to a four-legged monster.

The name of the Bear, this initial difficulty notwithstanding, is
prehistoric and quasi-universal. It was traditional amongst the
American-Indian tribes, who, however, sensible of the absurdity of
attributing a conspicuous protruding tail to an animal almost destitute
of such an appendage, turned the three stars composing it into three
pursuing hunters. No such difficulty, however, presented itself to the
Aztecs. They recognised in the seven ‘Arctic’ stars the image of a
Scorpion,[34] and named them accordingly. No Bear seems to have
bestridden their sky.

Footnote 34:

  Bollaert, _Memoirs Anthrop. Society_, vol. i. p. 216.

The same constellation figures, under a divinified aspect, with the
title _Otawa_, in the great Finnish epic, the ‘Kalevala.’ Now, although
there is no certainty as to the original meaning of this word, which has
no longer a current application to any terrestrial object, it is
impossible not to be struck with its resemblance to the Iroquois term
_Okowari_, signifying ‘bear,’ both zoologically and astronomically.[35]
The inference seems justified that _Otawa_ held the same two meanings,
and that the Finns knew the great northern constellation by the name of
the old Teutonic king of beasts.

Footnote 35:

  Lafitau, _op. cit._ p. 236.

It was (as we have seen) similarly designated on the banks of the
Euphrates; and a celestial she-bear, doubtfully referred to in the
Rig-Veda, becomes the starting-point of an explanatory legend in the
Râmâyana.[36] Thus, circling the globe from the valley of the Ganges to
the great lakes of the New World, we find ourselves confronted with the
same sign in the northern skies, the relic of some primeval association
of ideas, long since extinct.

Footnote 36:

  Gubernatis, _Zoological Mythology_, vol. ii. p. 109.

Extinct even in Homer’s time. For the myth of Callisto (first recorded
in a lost work by Hesiod) was a subsequent invention—an effect, not a
cause—a mere embroidery of Hellenic fancy over a linguistic fact, the
true origin of which was lost in the mists of antiquity.

There is, on the other hand, no difficulty in understanding how the
Seven Stars obtained their second title of the Wain, or Plough, or Bier.
Here we have a plain case of imitative name-giving—a suggestion by
resemblance almost as direct as that which established in our skies a
Triangle and a Northern Crown. Curiously enough, the individual
appellations still current for the stars of the Plough, include a
reminiscence of each system of nomenclature—the legendary and the
imitative. The brightest of the seven, _α_ Ursæ Majoris, the Pointer
nearest the Pole, is designated _Dubhe_, signifying, in Arabic, ‘bear’;
while the title _Benetnasch_—equivalent to _Benât-en-Nasch_, ‘daughters
of the bier’—of the furthest star in the plough-handle, perpetuates the
lugubrious fancy, native in Arabia, by which the group figures as a
corpse attended by three mourners.

Turning to the second great constellation mentioned in both Homeric
epics, we again meet traces of remote and unconscious tradition: yet
less remote, probably, than that concerned with the Bear—certainly less
inscrutable; for recent inquiries into the lore and language of ancient
Babylon have thrown much light on the relationships of the Orion fable.

There seems no reason to question the validity of Mr. Robert Brown’s
interpretation of the word by the Accadian _Ur-ana_, ‘light of
heaven.’[37] But a proper name is significant only where it originates.
Moreover, it is considered certain that the same brilliant star-group
known to Homer no less than to us as Orion, was termed by
Chaldeo-Assyrian peoples ‘Tammuz,’[38] a synonym of Adonis. Nor is it
difficult to divine how the association came to be established. For,
about 2000 B.C., when the Euphratean constellations assumed their
definitive forms, the belt of Orion began to be visible before dawn in
the month of June, called ‘Tammuz,’ because the death of Adonis was then
celebrated. It is even conceivable that the heliacal rising of the
asterism may originally have given the signal for that celebration. We
can at any rate scarcely doubt that it received the name of ‘Tammuz’
because its annual emergence from the solar beams coincided with the
period of mystical mourning for the vernal sun.

Footnote 37:

  _Myth of Kirke_, p. 146.

Footnote 38:

  Lenormant, _Origines de l’Histoire_, t. 1. p. 247.

Orion, too, has solar connexions. In the Fifth Odyssey (121-24), Calypso
relates to Hermes how the love for him of Aurora excited the jealousy of
the gods, extinguished only when he fell a victim to it, slain by the
shafts of Artemis in Ortygia. Obviously, a sun-and-dawn myth slightly
modified from the common type. The post-Homeric stories, too, of his
relations with Œnopion of Chios, and of his death by the bite of a
scorpion (emblematical of darkness, like the boar’s tusk in the Adonis
legend), confirm his position as a luminous hero.[39] Altogether, the
evidence is strongly in favour of considering Orion as a variant of
Adonis, imported into Greece from the East at an early date, and there
associated with the identical group of stars which commemorated to the
Accads of old the fate of Dumuzi (_i.e._ Tammuz), the ‘Only Son of

Footnote 39:

  R. Brown, _Archælogia_, vol. xlvii. p. 352; _Great Dionysiak Myth_,
  chap. x. § v.

It is remarkable that Homer knows nothing of stellar mythology. He
nowhere attempts to account for the names of the stars. He has no
stories at his fingers’ ends of translations to the sky as a ready means
of exit from terrestrial difficulties. The Orion of his acquaintance—the
beloved of the Dawn, the mighty hunter, surpassing in beauty of person
even the divinely-born Aloidæ—died and descended to Hades like other
mortals, and was there seen by Ulysses, a gigantic shadow ‘driving the
wild beasts together over the mead of asphodel, the very beasts which he
himself had slain on the lonely hills, with a strong mace all of bronze
in his hand, that is ever unbroken.’[40] His stellar connexion is
treated as a fact apart. The poet does not appear to feel any need of
bringing it into harmony with the Odyssean vision.

Footnote 40:

  _Odyssey_, xi. 572-75.

The brightest star in the heavens is termed by Homer the ‘dog of Orion.’
The name _Seirios_ (significant of sparkling), makes its _début_ in the
verses of Hesiod. To the singer of the Iliad the dog-star is a sign of
fear, its rising giving presage to ‘wretched mortals’ of the
intolerable, feverish blaze of late summer (_opora_). The deadly gleam
of its rays hence served the more appropriately to exemplify the lustre
of havoc-dealing weapons. Diomed, Hector, Achilles, ‘all furnish’d, all
in arms,’ are compared in turn, by way of prelude to an ‘_aristeia_,’ or
culminating epoch of distinction in battle, to the same brilliant but
baleful object. Glimmering fitfully across clouds, it not inaptly
typifies the evanescent light of the Trojan hero’s fortunes, no less
than the flashing of his armour, as he moves restlessly to and fro.[41]
Of Achilles it is said:

Footnote 41:

  _Iliad_, xi. 62-66.

    Him the old man Priam first beheld, as he sped across the plain,
    blazing as the star that cometh forth at harvest-time, and plain
    seen his rays shine forth amid the host of stars in the darkness
    of night, the star whose name men call Orion’s Dog. Brightest of
    all is he, yet for an evil sign is he set, and bringeth much
    fever upon hapless men. Even so on Achilles’ breast the bronze
    gleamed as he ran.[42]

Footnote 42:

      _Iliad_, xxii. 25-32.

In the corresponding passage relating to Diomed (v. 4-7), the _naïve_
literalness with which the ‘baths of Ocean’ are thought of is conveyed
by the hint that the star shone at rising with increased brilliancy
through having newly washed in them.

Abnormal celestial appearances are scarcely noticed in the Homeric
poems. Certain portentous darknesses, reinforcing the solemnity of
crises of battle, or impending doom,[43] are much too vaguely defined to
be treated as indexes to natural phenomena of any kind. Nevertheless,
Professor Stockwell finds that, by a curious coincidence, Ajax’s Prayer
to Father Zeus for death—if death was decreed—in the light, might very
well have been uttered during a total eclipse of the sun, the lunar
shadow having passed centrally over the Hellespont at 2h. 21 min. P.M.
on August 28, 1184 B.C.[44] Comets, however, have left not even the
suspicion of a trace in these early songs; nor do they embody any
tradition of a star shower, or of a display of Northern Lights. The rain
of blood, by which Zeus presaged and celebrated the death of
Sarpedon,[45] might, it is true, be thought to embody a reminiscence of
a crimson aurora, frequently, in early times, chronicled under that
form; but the portent indicated is more probably an actual shower of
rain tinged red by a microscopic alga. An unmistakable meteor, however,
furnishes one of the glowing similes of the Iliad. By its help the
irresistible swiftness and unexpectedness of Athene’s descent from
Olympus to the Scamandrian plain are illustrated.

Footnote 43:

  _Iliad_, xv. 668; xvii. 366; _Odyssey_, xx. 356.

Footnote 44:

  _Astronomical Journal_, Nos. 220, 221.

Footnote 45:

  _Iliad_, xvi. 459; also xi. 53.

    Even as the son of Kronos the crooked counsellor sendeth a star,
    a portent for mariners or a wide host of men, bright shining,
    and therefrom are scattered sparks in multitude; even in such
    guise sped Pallas Athene to earth, and leapt into their

Footnote 46:

  _Iliad_, iv. 75-79.

In the Homeric verses the Milky Way—the ‘path of souls’ of
prairie-roving Indians, the mediæval ‘way of pilgrimage’[47]—finds no
place. Yet its conspicuousness, as seen across our misty air, gives an
imperfect idea of the lustre with which it spans the translucent vault
which drew the wondering gaze of the Achæan bard.

Footnote 47:

  To Compostella. The popular German name for the Milky Way is still
  _Jakobsstrasse_, while the three stars of Orion’s belt are designated,
  in the same connexion, _Jakobsstab_, staff of St James.

The point of most significance about Homer’s scanty astronomical notions
is that they were of home growth. They are precisely such as would arise
among a people in an incipient stage of civilisation, simple, direct,
and childlike in their mode of regarding natural phenomena, yet
incapable of founding upon them any close or connected reasoning. Of
Oriental mysticism there is not a vestige. No occult influences rain
from the sky. Not so much as a square inch of foundation is laid for the
astrological superstructure. It is true that Sirius is a ‘baleful star’;
but it is in the sense of being a harbinger of hot weather. Possibly, or
probably, it is regarded as a concomitant cause, no less than as a sign
of the August droughts; indeed the _post hoc_ and the _propter hoc_
were, in those ages, not easily separable; the effect, however, in any
case, was purely physical, and so unfit to become the starting-point of
a superstition.

The Homeric names of the stars, too, betray common reminiscences rather
than foreign intercourse. They are all either native, or naturalised on
Greek soil. The transplanted fable of Orion has taken root and
flourished there. The cosmopolitan Bear is known by her familiar Greek
name. Boötes is a Greek husbandman, variously identified with Arcas, son
of Callisto, or with Icarus, the luckless mandatory of Dionysus. The
Pleiades and the Hyades are intelligibly designated in Greek. The former
word is usually derived from _pleîn_, to sail; the heliacal rising of
the ‘tangled’ stars in the middle of May having served, from the time of
Hesiod, to mark the opening of the season safe for navigation, and their
cosmical setting, at the end of October, its close. But this etymology
was most likely an after-thought. Long before rules for navigating the
Ægean came to be formulated, the ‘sailing-stars’ must have been
designated by name amongst the Achæan tribes. Besides, Homer is ignorant
of any such association. Now in Arabic the Pleiades are called _Eth
Thuraiyâ_, from _therwa_, copious, abundant. The meaning conveyed is
that of many gathered into a small space; and it is quite similar to
that of the Biblical _kîmah_, a near connexion of the Assyrian _kimtu_,
family.[48] Analogy, then, almost irresistibly points to the
interpretation of Pleiades by the Greek _pleiones_, many, or _pleîos_,
full; giving to the term, in either case, the obvious signification of a

Footnote 48:

  R. Brown, _Phainomena of Aratus_, p. 9; Delitzsch, _The Hebrew
  Language_, p. 69.

Of the Hyades, similarly, the ‘rainy’ association seems somewhat
far-fetched. They rise and set respectively about four days later than
the Pleiades; so that, as prognostics of the seasons, it would be
difficult to draw a permanent distinction between the two groups; yet
one was traditionally held to bring fair, the other foul weather. There
can be little doubt that an etymological confusion lay at the bottom of
this inconsistency. ‘To rain,’ in Greek is _huein_; but _hus_ (cognate
with ‘sow’) means a ‘pig.’ Moreover, in old Latin, the Hyades were
called _Suculæ_ (‘little pigs’); although the misapprehension which he
supposed to be betrayed by the term was rebuked by Cicero.[49] Possibly
the misapprehension was the other way. It is quite likely that ‘Suculæ’
preserved the original meaning of ‘Hyades,’ and that the pluvious
derivation was invented at a later time, when the conception of the
seven stars in the head of the Bull as a ‘litter of pigs’ had come to
appear incongruous and inelegant. It has, nevertheless, just that
character of _naïveté_ which stamps it as authentic. Witness the popular
names of the sister-group—the widely-diffused ‘hen and chickens,’ Sancho
Panza’s ‘las siete cabrillas,’ met and discoursed with during his famous
aërial voyage on the back of Clavileño, the Sicilian ‘seven
dovelets,’—all designating the Pleiades. Still more to the purpose is
the Anglo-Saxon ‘boar-throng,’ which, by a haphazard identification, has
been translated as Orion, but which Grimm, on better grounds, suggests
may really apply to the Hyades.[50] It is scarcely credible that any
other constellation can be indicated by a term so manifestly reproducing
the ‘Suculæ’ of Latin and Sabine husbandmen.

Footnote 49:

  _De Naturâ Deorum_, lib. ii. cap. 43.

Footnote 50:

  _Teutonic Mythology_ (Stallybrass), vol. ii. p. 729.

The Homeric scheme of the heavens, then (such as it is), was produced at
home. No stellar lore had as yet been imported from abroad. An original
community of ideas is just traceable in the names of some of the stars;
that is all. The epoch of instruction by more learned neighbours was
still to come. The Signs of the Zodiac were certainly unknown to Homer,
yet their shining array had been marshalled from the banks of the
Euphrates at least 2000 years before the commencement of the Christian
era. Their introduction into Greece is attributed to Cleostratus of
Tenedos, near, or shortly after, the end of the sixth century B.C. By
that time, too, acquaintance had been made with the ‘Phœnician’
constellation of the Lesser Bear, and with the wanderings of the
planets. Astronomical communications, in fact, began to pour into Hellas
from Egypt, Babylonia, and Phœnicia about the seventh century B.C. Now,
if there were any reasonable doubt that ‘blind Melesigenes’ lived at a
period anterior to this, it would be removed by the consideration of
what he lets fall about the heavenly bodies. For, though he might have
ignored formal astronomy, he could not have remained unconscious of such
striking and popular facts as the identity of Hesperus and Phosphorus,
the Sidonian pilots’ direction of their course by the ‘Cynosure,’ or the
mapping-out of the sun’s path among the stars by a series of luminous
figures of beasts and men.

Thus the hypothesis of a late origin for the Iliad and Odyssey is
negatived by the astronomical ignorance betrayed in them. It has,
however, gradations; whence some hints as to the relative age of the two
epics may be derived. The differences between them in this respect are,
it is true, small, and they both stand approximately on the same
astronomical level with the poems of Hesiod. Yet an attentive study of
what they have to tell us about the stars affords some grounds for
placing the Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Works and Days in a descending
series as to time.

In the first place, the division of the month into three periods of ten
days each is unknown in the Iliad, is barely hinted at in the Odyssey,
but is brought into detailed notice in the Hesiodic calendar. Further,
the ‘turning-points of the sun’ are unmentioned in the Iliad, but serve
in the Odyssey, by their position on the horizon, to indicate direction;
while the winter solstice figures as a well-marked epoch in the Works
and Days. Hesiod, moreover, designates the dog-star (not expressly
mentioned in the Odyssey) by a name of which the author of the Iliad was
certainly ignorant. Besides which an additional constellation (Boötes)
to those named in the Iliad appears in the Odyssey and the Works and
Days; while the title ‘Hyperion,’ applied substantively to the sun in
the Odyssey, is used only adjectivally in the Iliad. Finally, stellar
mythology begins with Hesiod; Homer (whether the Iliadic or the
Odyssean) takes the names of the stars as he finds them, without seeking
to connect them with any sublunary occurrences.

To be sure, differences of place and purpose might account for some of
these discrepancies, yet their cumulative effect in fixing relative
epochs is considerable; and, even apart from chronology, it is something
to look towards the skies with the ‘most high poet,’ and to retrace,
with the aid of our own better knowledge, the simple meanings their
glorious aspect held for him.


                              CHAPTER III.

                           THE DOG IN HOMER.

TWO sets of strongly contrasted, nay, one might beforehand have thought
mutually exclusive qualities, go to make up the canine character. In all
ages, and amongst all nations, the dog has become a byword for its
uncleanly habits, disgusting voracity, its quarrelsome and aggressive
selfishness. The cynic, or ‘dog-like’ philosopher, is a type of what is
unamiable in human nature. Growling, snarling, whining, barking,
snapping and biting, crouching and fawning, constitute a vocabulary
descriptive of canine deportment conveying none but repulsive and odious
associations. Our language pursues the animal through its different
varieties and stages of existence in order to find varying epithets of
contumely and reproach. The universal and almost prehistoric term of
abuse formed by the simple patronymic—so to speak—has lost little of its
pristine favour, and none of its pristine force; while amongst ourselves
‘hound,’ ‘puppy,’ ‘cur,’ ‘whelp,’ and ‘cub,’ come in as harmonics of the
fundamental note of insult.

On the other hand, some millenniums of experience have constituted the
dog a type of incorruptible fidelity, patient abnegation, devoted
attachment reaching unto and beyond the grave. Many animals have been
made the slaves and victims of man; some have been found capable of
becoming his willing allies; none, save the dog, affords to his master a
true and intelligent companionship. Other members of the brute creation
are subdued by domestication; the dog is, it might be said, transfigured
by it. A new nature awakes in him. A higher ideal presents itself to
him. His dormant affections are kindled; his latent intelligence
develops. The overwhelming fascination of humanity submerges his native
ignoble instincts, evokes virtues which man himself admires rather than
practises, engages a pathetic confidence, inspires an indomitable love.
Literature teems with instances of canine constancy and self-devotion.
The long life-in-death of ‘Grey Friars Bobby’ forms no prodigy in the
history of his race. From the dog of Colophon to the dog of Bairnsdale,
man’s four-footed friend has been found capable of the supreme sacrifice
which one living creature can make for another. Even in the dim dawnings
of civilisation this animal was chosen as the symbol of watchful
attendance and untiring subordination. The bright star Sirius, owing to
its close waiting on the ‘giant’ of the skies, was from the earliest
time known as the ‘dog of Orion.’ A brace of hounds typified to the
ardent imagination of the Vedic poets the inseparable association with
the sun of the morning and evening twilight. Æschylus elevates and
enlarges the idea of divine companionship in the eagle by calling it the
‘winged dog of Zeus.’[51] Clytemnestra, in her hypocritical
protestations before the elders of Argos, could find no more striking
image of fidelity than that of a house-dog left by its master to guard
his hearth and possessions.[52]

Footnote 51:

  _Agamemnon_, 133; and _Prometheus_, 1057.

Footnote 52:

  _Agamemnon_, 520.

Two opposing currents of sentiment regarding the animal have thus from
the first set strongly in—one of repulsion verging towards abhorrence,
the other of sympathy touched by the yearning pity which a superior
being cannot choose but feel towards an inferior laying at his feet the
priceless gift of love. But since his higher qualities develop, as it
would seem, exclusively under the stimulation of human influence, it
might have been anticipated, and it is actually the case, that in those
countries where the dog is neglected, he is also despised, as by an
inevitable reaction it must follow that where he is despised, he will
also be neglected. It is accordingly among peoples whose pursuits repel
his co-operation that the sinister view prevails, while in hunting and
pastoral regions his credit grows as his faculties are cultivated, and
from the minister and delegate, he creeps by insensible gradations into
the place of canine beatitude as the friend of man. The attitude of
repulsion is, as is well known, general amongst Mahometan populations,
and may be described—although with notable exceptions, such as of the
ancient Egyptians and Assyrians, the modern Parsees and Japanese—as the
Oriental position towards the species; while a benevolent sentiment is,
on the whole, characteristic of Western nations.

Now each of these opposite views is strongly and characteristically
represented in the Homeric poems; represented not as the mere reflection
of a popular instinct, but with a certain ardour of personal feeling
which now and again seems for a moment to draw back the veil of epic
impersonality from before the living face of the poet. To the bigoted
believers in an indivisible Homer the fact is, no doubt, of most
perplexing import, and we leave them to account for it as best they may;
but to impartial inquirers it affords at once a clue and an
illumination. For the Epic of Troy is not more sharply characterised by
canine antipathy than the Song of Ulysses by canine sympathy; while, to
enhance the contrast, dislike to the dog is most remarkably associated
with a vivid and untiring enthusiasm for the horse; and deep feeling for
the dog with comparative indifference to the equine race. More
effectually than the most elaborate arguments of the Separatists, this
innate disparity of sentiment appears to shiver the long contested unity
of Homeric authorship.

To descend, however, to particulars. Homeric dogs may be divided into
four categories. (1) Dogs used in the chace; (2) shepherds’ dogs; (3)
watch-dogs and house-dogs; (4) scavenger dogs. In the Iliad, the first
two classes occur incidentally only, either by way of illustration or in
the course of some episodical narrative, such as that of the Calydonian
boar-hunt in the Ninth Book. The plastic circumference of the Shield of
Achilles includes a cameo of dog-life; but it is noticeable that the
position there assigned to the animal is of a somewhat ignominious
character, and is indicated with a perceptible touch of contempt. The
scene is depicted in the following lines:—

        Of straight-horn’d cattle too a herd was grav’n;
        Of gold and tin the heifers all were wrought;
        They to the pasture from the cattle-yard,
        With gentle lowings, by a babbling stream,
        Where quiv’ring reed-beds rustled, slowly moved.
        Four golden shepherds walk’d beside the herd,
        By nine swift dogs attended; then amid
        The foremost heifers sprang two lions fierce
        Upon the lordly bull; he, bellowing loud,
        Was dragg’d along, by dogs and youths pursu’d.
        The tough bull’s hide they tore, and gorging lapp’d
        Th’ intestines and dark blood; with vain attempt
        The herdsmen following closely, to th’ attack
        Cheer’d their swift dogs; these shunn’d the lions’ jaws,
        And close around them baying, held aloof.[53]

Footnote 53:

  _Iliad_, xviii. 573-86 (Lord Derby’s translation). For illustrations
  drawn from the dog’s instinctive fear of the lion, see also v. 476;
  xvii. 65-67.

It can scarcely be maintained that a lover of the species would have
selected the incident for typical representation in his great

The direct Iliadic references to dogs, on the other hand, show clearly
that they were domesticated in Troy, that they lived in the tents of the
Achæan chiefs, (probably with a guarding office), and that they roamed
the camp, devouring offal, and hideously contending with vultures and
other feathered rivals for the human remains left unburied on the field
of battle. The circumstance that in this revolting capacity they were
predominantly present to the mind of the poet unveils the secret of his
profound aversion. Not as the humble and faithful minister of man,
hearkening to his voice, hanging on his looks, holding his life at a
pin’s fee in comparison with his service, the author of the Iliad
conceived of the dog; but as a filthy and bloodthirsty beast of prey,
the foul outrager of the sanctities of death, the ravenous and
undiscriminating violator of the precious casket of the human soul. In
the tragic appeal of Priam to Hector as he awaits the onslaught of
Achilles beneath the walls of Troy, this aversion touches its darkest
depth, and obtains an almost savage completeness of expression.
Anticipating the imminent catastrophe of his house and kingdom, the
despairing old man thus portrays his own approaching doom—

            Me last, when by some foeman’s stroke or thrust
            The spirit from these feeble limbs is driv’n,
            Insatiate dogs shall tear at my own door;
            The dogs my care has rear’d, my table fed.
            The guardians of my gates shall lap my blood,
            And crave and madden, crouching in the porch.[54]

Footnote 54:

  Book xxii. 66-71. (Author.)

Is it credible that the same mind which was capable of conjuring up this
abhorrent vision should have conceived the pathetic picture of the
faithful hound in the Odyssey? Nor can there be found, in the wide range
of the great Ilian epic, a single passage inconsistent in spirit with
the lines cited above. Throughout its cantos, in which the usefulness of
the animal is nevertheless amply recognised, and his peculiarities
sketched with graphic power and truthfulness, runs, like a dark thread,
the remembrance of his hateful office as the inflictor of the last and
most atrocious insult upon ‘miserable humanity.’[55] One of the leading
‘motives’ of the poem is, indeed, the fate of the body after death. The
overmastering importance attached to its honourable interment forms the
hinge upon which a considerable portion of the action turns. The dread
of its desecration continually haunts the imagination of the poet, and
broods alike over the ramparts of Ilium and the tents of Greece. From
the first lines almost to the last the loathsome processes of canine
sepulture stand out as the direst result of defeat—the crowning terror
of death. Among the disastrous effects of the wrath of Achilles
foreshadowed in the opening invocation, the visible and tangible horror
is afforded by ‘devouring dogs and hungry vultures’ exercising their
revolting function on the corpses of the slain; before the dying eyes of
Hector rises, like a nightmare, the horrible anticipation of becoming
the prey of ‘Achæan hounds,’[56] while his fierce adversary refuses to
impair the gloomy perfection of his vengeance by remitting that supreme
penalty;[57] next to the honours of his funeral-pyre, the chiefest
consolation offered to the Shade of Patroclus is the promise to make the
body of his slayer food for curs;[58] in her despair, Hecuba shrieks
that she brought forth her son to ‘glut swift-footed dogs,’[59] and bids
Priam not seek to avert the abhorred doom. These instances, which it
would be easy to multiply, are unmodified by a solitary expression of
tenderness towards canine nature, or a single example of canine
affection towards man.

Footnote 55:

  Book xxii. 76.

Footnote 56:

  _Iliad_, xxii. 339.

Footnote 57:

  _Ib._ 348.

Footnote 58:

  _Ib._ xxiii. 183.

Footnote 59:

  _Ib._ xxiv. 211.

It is true that a different view has been advocated by Sir William
Geddes, who, in his valuable work, ‘The Problem of the Homeric Poems,’
first dwelt in detail on the contrasted treatment of the horse and dog
in those early epics. He did not, however, stop there. A theory,
designed to solve the secular puzzle of Homeric authorship, had
presented itself to him, and demanded for its support a somewhat complex
marshalling of facts. His contention was briefly this:—that the Odyssey,
with the ten books of the Iliad[60] amputated by Mr. Grote’s critical
knife from the trunk of a supposed primitive Achilleid, are the work of
one and the same author, an Ionian of Asia Minor, to whom the venerable
name of Homer properly belongs; while the fourteen books constituting
the nucleus and main substance of our Iliad are abandoned to an unknown
Thessalian bard. He has not, indeed, succeeded in engaging on his side
the general opinion of the learned, yet it cannot be denied that his
ingenious and patient analysis of the Homeric texts has served to
develop some highly suggestive minor points. The validity of his main
argument obviously depends, in the first place, upon the discovery of
striking correspondences between the Odyssey and the non-Achillean
cantos of the Iliad; in the second, upon the exposure of irreconcilable
discrepancies between the Odyssey and the Grotean Achilleid. But the
attempt is really hopeless to transplant the canine sympathy manifest in
the Odyssey to any part of the Iliad, or to localise in any particular
section of the Iliad the equine sympathies displayed throughout the
many-coloured tissue of its composition.

Footnote 60:

  These are Books ii. to vii. inclusive, ix. x. xxiii. and xxiv. The
  _Achilleid_ thus consists of Books i. viii. and xi.-xxii.

Everywhere alike enthusiasm for the horse is evoked, vividly and
spontaneously, on all suitable occasions. Ardent admiration is uniformly
bestowed upon his powers and faculties. He is nowhere passed by with
indifference. The verses glow with a kind of rapture of enjoyment that
describe his strength and beauty, his eager spirit and fine nervous
organisation, his intelligent and disinterested participation in human
struggles and triumphs. In the region of the Iliad claimed for the
Odyssean Homer, it suffices to point to the episode of the capture by
Diomed and Sthenelus of the divinely-descended steeds of Æneas;[61] to
the careful provision of ambrosial forage for the horses of Heré along
the shores of Simoeis;[62] to the resplendent simile of Book vi.;[63] to
the gleeful zeal with which Odysseus and Diomed secure, as the fruit and
crown of their nocturnal expedition, the milk-white coursers of
Rhesus;[64] to the living fervour imported into the chariot-race at the
funeral games of Patroclus; to the tender pathos with which Achilles
describes the grief of his immortal horses for their well-loved
charioteer.[65] The enumeration of similar examples from non-Achillean
cantos might be carried much further, but where is the use of ‘breaking
in an open door’? The evidence is overwhelming as to homogeneity of
sentiment, in this important respect, through the entire Iliad. If more
than one author was concerned in its production, the coadjutors were at
least unanimous in their glowing admiration for the heroic animal of

Footnote 61:

  _Iliad_, v. 267.

Footnote 62:

  _Ib._ 775-77.

Footnote 63:

  This is certainly original in book vi. It comes in as an awkward
  interpolation at xv. 263.

Footnote 64:

  _Iliad_, x. 474-569.

Footnote 65:

  _Ib._ xxiii. 280-84.

Nor can the search, in the same ten cantos, for indications of a
sympathetic feeling towards the dog consonant to that displayed in the
Odyssey, be pronounced successful. Certainly much stress cannot be laid,
for the purpose, upon the striking passage in the Twenty-third Book,
descriptive of the cremation of Patroclus; yet it makes the nearest
discoverable approach to the desired significance. It runs as follows in
Lord Derby’s translation:

           A hundred feet each way they built the pyre,
           And on the summit, sorrowing, laid the dead.
           Then many a sheep and many a slow-pac’d ox
           They flay’d and dress’d around the fun’ral pyre;
           Of all the beasts Achilles took the fat,
           And covered o’er the dead from head to foot,
           And heap’d the slaughter’d carcases around;
           Then jars of honey plac’d, and fragrant oils,
           Resting upon the couch; next, groaning loud,
           Four pow’rful horses on the pyre he threw;
           Then, of nine[66] dogs that at their master’s board
           Had fed, he slaughter’d two upon his pyre;
           Last, with the sword, by evil counsel sway’d,
           Twelve noble youths he slew, the sons of Troy.
           The fire’s devouring might he then applied,
           And, groaning, on his lov’d companion call’d.[67]

Footnote 66:

  The number _nine_ is curiously associated with the canine species. The
  herdsmen’s pack on the Shield of Achilles consists of _nine_; _nine_
  were the dogs of Patroclus; and we learn from Mr. Richardson (_Dogs:
  their Origin and Varieties_, p. 37), that Fingal kept _nine_ great
  dogs, and _nine_ smaller game-starting dogs.

Footnote 67:

  _Iliad_, xxiii. 164-78.

These sanguinary rites have been thought to afford proof that canine
companionship was necessary to the happiness of a Greek hero in the
other world. For, amongst rude peoples, from the Scythians of
Herodotus[68] to the Indians of Patagonia, such sacrifices have been a
common mode of testifying respect to the dead. And it may readily be
admitted that their originally inspiring idea was that of continued
association after death with the objects most valued in life. But such
an idea appears to have been very remotely, if at all, present to the
mind of our poet. The Ghost of Patroclus, at any rate, though
sufficiently communicative, expresses no desire for canine, equine,
bovine, or ovine society, although specimens of all four species were
immolated in its honour. The purpose of Achilles in instituting the
ghastly solemnity was, as he himself expressed it,

Footnote 68:

  Book iv. 71, 72.

               That with provision meet the dead may pass
               Down to the realms of night.[69]

Footnote 69:

  Geddes, _Problem_, &c., p. 227.

But the motives that crowded upon his fierce soul were probably in truth
as multitudinous as the waves of passion which rolled over it. He
desired to appease the parted spirit of his friend with a sacrifice
matching his own pride and the extent of his bereavement. Still more, he
sought to glut his vengeance, and allay, if possible, the intolerable
pangs of his grief. He perhaps dimly imaged to himself a pompous funeral
throng accompanying the beloved soul even to the gates of Hades,
provision for the way being supplied by the flesh of sheep and oxen, an
escort by horses and dogs, while an air of gloomy triumph was imparted
to the shadowy procession by the hostile presence of outraged and
indignant human shades. A similar ceremony was put in practice, by
comparison recently, in Lithuania. When the still pagan Grand Duke
Gedimin died in 1341, his body was laid on a pyre and burned with two
hounds, two falcons, his horse saddled and still living, and a favourite
servant.[70] But here the disembodied company was altogether friendly,
and may have been thought of as willingly paying a last tribute of
homage to their lord.

Footnote 70:

  Hehn and Stallybrass, _Wanderings of Plants and Animals_, p. 417.

The information is in any case worth having that Patroclus, like Priam,
kept a number of ‘table-dogs,’ whose presence doubtless contributed in
some degree to the stateliness of his surroundings. It is, however,
given casually, without a word of comment, as if the bard instinctively
shrank from dwelling on the intimate personal relations of the animal to
man. The son of Menœtius had a gentle soul, and we cannot doubt,
although no hint of such affection is communicated, that he loved his
dogs, and was loved by them. Of the horses accustomed to his
guidance—the immortal pair of Achilles—we indeed hear how they stood,
day after day, with drooping heads and silken manes sweeping the ground,
in sorrow for his and their lost friend; but no dog is permitted to
whine his sense of bereavement beside the body of Patroclus; no dog
misses the vanished caress of his master’s hand; no dog crouches beside
Achilles in his solitude, or offers to his unsurpassed grief the dumb
and wistful consolation of his sympathy. The privilege of sharing the
sorrows, as of winning the applause of humanity, is, in the Iliad,
reserved exclusively for the equine race.

Turning to the Odyssey, we find ourselves in a changed world. Ships have
here become the ‘chariots of the sea’;[71] navigation usurps the honour
and interest of charioteering; a favourable breeze imparts the cheering
sense of companionship felt by a practised rider with his trusty steed.
The scenery on shore leaves this sentiment undisturbed. Rocky Ithaca,
Telemachus informs Menelaus,[72] contains neither wide tracks for
chariot-driving, nor deep meadows for horse-pasture; it is a
goat-feeding land, though more beautiful, to his mind, in its ruggedness
than even the ‘spacious plain’ of Sparta, with its rich fields of
lotus-grass, its sedgy flats, its waving tracts of ‘white barley,’
wheat, and spelt. A suitable habitat is thus, in his native island,
wanting for the horse, who is accordingly relegated to an obscure corner
of the stage, while the foreground of animal life is occupied by his
less imposing rival in the regard of man. The dog is, in fact, the
characteristic and conspicuous animal of the Odyssey, as the horse is of
the Iliad. Xanthus and Balius, the wind-begotten steeds bestowed by
Poseidon upon the sire of Achilles, who own the sorrowful human gift of
tears, and the superhuman gift of prophetic speech, are replaced[73] by
the more homely, but not less pathetic, figure of Argus, the dog of
Odysseus, whose fidelity through a score of years we feel to be no
poetical fiction, but simply a poetical enhancement of a familiar fact.
Canine society is, indeed, placed by the author of the Odyssey on a
higher level than it occupies, perhaps, in any other work of the
imagination. When Telemachus, starting into sudden manhood under the
tutelage of Athene, goes forth to lay his wrongs before the first
Assembly convened in Ithaca since his father’s ‘hollow ships’ sailed for
Troy, we are told that he carried in his hand a brazen spear, and that
the goddess poured out upon him a divine radiance of beauty such that
the people marvelled as they gazed on him. But the most singular and
significant part of the description lies in the statement (thrice
repeated on similar occasions[74]) that he went ‘not alone; two
swift-footed dogs followed him.’ Alone indeed he was, as far as human
companionship was concerned—a helpless youth, isolated and indignant in
the midst of a riotous and overbearing crew, intent not less upon
wasting his substance than upon wooing his unwidowed mother. Comrade or
attendant he had none, but instead of both, a pair of four-footed
sympathisers, evidently regarded as adding dignity to his appearance in
public, as well as imparting the strengthening consciousness of social
support. The conjunction, as Mr. Mahaffy well remarks, shows an intense
appreciation of dog-nature.

Footnote 71:

  _Odyssey_, iv. 708; cf. Geddes, _Problem, &c._, p. 215.

Footnote 72:

  _Odyssey_, iv. 605.

Footnote 73:

  Mahaffy, _Social Life in Greece_, pp. 57, 63.

Footnote 74:

  _Odyssey_, ii. 11; xvii. 62; xx. 145.

In the cottage of Eumæus the swineherd, Odysseus, disguised as a beggar,
weary with long wanderings, a stranger in peril of his life in his own
islet-kingdom, finds his first hospitable refuge. Here again we are met
by graphic and frequent sketches of canine manners and character. In the
office of guarding and governing the 960 porkers composing his herd,
Eumæus had the aid of four dogs reared by himself. They were large and
fierce, ‘like wild beasts’;[75] but the savage instincts even of these
half-reclaimed creatures are discovered to be directed towards duty, to
be subdued by affection, nay, to be elevated by a touch of supersensual
awe. If they erred, it was by excess of zeal in the cause of law and
order. For when Odysseus (it must be remembered, in extremely
disreputable guise) approached the thorn-hedged enclosure, they set upon
him together, barking furiously, and threatening to tear him to pieces
on the spot. He had not, however, edged his way between Scylla and
Charybdis to perish thus ingloriously. With unfailing presence of mind
he instantly took up an attitude of non-resistance, stood still and laid
aside his staff. This passivity doubtless produced some hesitation on
the part of his assailants, for when the swineherd hurried out to the
rescue, he was still unhurt. No small amount of compulsion, both moral
and physical—exerted by means of objurgatory remonstrance, coupled with
plentiful stone-pelting—was, however, required to calm the ardour of
such impetuous allies.

Footnote 75:

  _Odyssey_, xiv. 21.

Nevertheless, their ferocity is represented as far from
undiscriminating. It is, in fact, strictly limited by their official
responsibilities. They know how to suit their address to their company,
from an Olympian denizen to a homeless tramp, and get unexpected
opportunities of displaying these social accomplishments. For the rustic
dwelling of Eumæus becomes a rendezvous for the principal personages of
the story, and the demeanour of the four dogs is a leading incident,
carefully recorded, connected with the arrival of each. We have just
seen what an obstreperous reception they gave to the disguised king of
Ithaca. Telemachus, on the other hand, they rushed to welcome, fawning
and wagging their tails _without barking_,[76] as that quick-witted
vagrant, whose arrival had preceded his, was the first to observe. But
when Athene visited the farm for the purpose of bringing about the
recognition of the father by the son, which was the first step towards
retribution upon their common enemies, while Telemachus remained
unconscious of her presence—’for not to all do the gods manifest
themselves openly’—it is said, with a very remarkable coupling of man
and beast, that ‘Odysseus and the dogs saw her’;[77] and the mysterious
sense of the supernatural attributed in much folk-lore to the canine
species found vent in whimperings of fear and panic-stricken withdrawal.

Footnote 76:

  _Odyssey_, xvi. 4-10.

Footnote 77:

  _Odyssey_, xvi. 162.

We are next transported to the scene of the revellings of the Suitors,
and the fortitude of Penelope. The sight of the once familiar turreted
enclosure of his palace, and the sound of the well-remembered voice and
lyre of the minstrel Phemius, proclaiming the progress of the
festivities, all but overturned the equanimity of the counterfeit
mendicant. His practised powers of dissimulation, however, came to his
aid; and grasping the hand of his unsuspecting retainer, he brought,
with a cunningly devised speech, his tell-tale emotion into harmony with
his assumed character. They advanced to the threshold, and there, on a
dung-heap, half devoured with insect parasites, lay a dog—the dog Argus.
But we must allow the poet to tell the story in his own way.

          Thus as they spake, a dog that lay apart,
          Lifted his head, and pricked his list’ning ears,
          Argus, whom erst Odysseus patient bred,
          But use of him had none; for ere that day,
          He sailed for sacred Troy; and other men
          Had trained and led him forth o’er field and fell,
          To chase wild goats, hares, and the pricket deer.
          But now, his master gone, in foul neglect,
          On dung of ox and mule he made his couch;
          Fattening manure, heaped at the palace-gate,
          Till spread to enrich Odysseus’ wide domain;
          Thus stretched, with vermin swarming, Argus lay.
          But when he saw Odysseus close approach,
          He knew, and wagged his tail, and dropped his ears,
          Yet could not rise to fawn upon his lord,
          Who paused, and stood, and brushed aside a tear,
          Hiding his grief. Then thus with crafty speech:
          ‘Eumæus, sure ‘tis wonder in such plight
          To see this dog, of goodly form and limbs;
          But tell me did his fleetness match his shape,
          Or was he such as, reared for pride and show,
          Inactive at their masters’ tables feed?’
          Eumæus heard, and quickly made reply:
          ‘To one who perished in a distant land
          This dog belongs. But couldst thou see him now
          Such as Odysseus left him, bound for Troy,
          Thou well might’st wonder at his strength and speed.
          ‘Mid the deep thickets of the forest glades,
          No game escaped his swift pursuing feet,
          Nor hound could match his prowess in the chace.
          But now his days are evil, since his lord
          Is dead, and careless women heed him not.
          For when the master’s hand no longer rules,
          Servants no longer work in order due.
          Full half the virtue leaves the man condemned
          By wide-eyed Zeus to drag the servile chain.’
          Thus as he spake, he crossed the stately hall,
          And took his place amidst the suitors’ train.
          But Argus died; for dark doom ravished him,
          Greeting Odysseus after twenty years.[78]

Footnote 78:

  _Odyssey_, xvii. 290-327 (Author’s translation).

Surely—even thus inadequately rendered—the most poignantly pathetic
narrative of dog-life in literature! The hero, returning after a
generation of absence, in a disguise impenetrable to son, servants, nay
to the wife of his bosom, is recognised by one solitary living creature,
a dog. And to this faithful animal, unforgetting in his forlorn
decrepitude, whose affectionate gestures form his only welcome to the
home now occupied by unscrupulous foes, ready to take his life at the
first hint of his identity, he is obliged to refuse a stroke of his
hand, or so much as a glance of his eye, to soothe the fatal spasm of
his joy. A case that might well draw a tear, even from the much-enduring
son of Laertes.

It has not escaped the acumen of Sir William Geddes[79] that the
compliment of an individual name is, in the Iliad, paid exclusively
amongst the brute creation to horses; in the Odyssey (setting aside the
mythical coursers of the Dawn, Book xxiii. 246) to a single dog. Now
this may at first sight seem to be a trifling point; but a very little
consideration will suffice to show its significance. To the author of
the Odyssey, at least, the imposition, or even the disclosure of a name,
was a matter clothed with a certain solemn importance. He lets us know
how and why his hero came to be called ‘Odysseus,’ and furnishes us, to
the best of his ability, with an etymological interpretation of that
ill-omened title.[80] How distinctively human a thing it is to have a
name we are made to feel when Alcinous conjures his mysterious guest to
reveal the designation by which he is known to his parents,
fellow-citizens, and countrymen, ‘since no man, good or bad, is
anonymous’![81] And the reply is couched in an earnest and exalted
strain, conveying at once the extent of the trust reposed, and the
momentousness of the revelation granted—

Footnote 79:

  _Problem of the Homeric Poems_, p. 218.

Footnote 80:

  _Odyssey_, xix. 409.

Footnote 81:

  _Ib._ viii. 552.

             Ulysses, from Laertes sprung, am I,
             Vers’d in the wiles of men, and fam’d afar.[82]

Footnote 82:

  _Ib._ ix. 19, 20.

The same scene, thrown into a grotesque form, is repeated in the cave of
Polyphemus, where the upshot of the adventure depends wholly upon the
prudence of the storm-tossed chieftain in responding to the monster’s
vinous enthusiasm with the mock disclosure of a _no-name_.

These illustrations help to make it plain that, in assigning to brutes
individual appellations, we bestow upon them something essentially
human, which they have not, and cannot have of themselves, but which
marks their share in human interests, and their claim on human sympathy.
So accurately is this true, that a table showing the relative frequency
of individual nomenclature for different animals in various countries
would assuredly, on the strength of that fact alone, set forth their
relative position in the estimation of man.

The dog Argus belonged presumably to the famous Molossian breed, the
first specimen of which was fabled to have been cast in bronze by
Hephæstus,[83] and presented by Jupiter to Cephalus, the eponymous ruler
of the island of Cephallenia. These animals were not more remarkable for
fierceness than for fidelity. To the race were assigned creatures of
such evil mythological reputation as the voracious hound of Hades, and
the barking pack of Scylla; a Molossian sent to Alexander was stated to
have brought down a lion; while, on the other hand, the canine detective
of Montargis had a rival in the army of Pyrrhus, whose funeral pile was
signalised by a desperate act of canine self-immolation; and the dog of
Eupolis (likewise a Molossian), after having torn to pieces a thieving
servant, died of grief and voluntary starvation on the grave of the
Æginetan poet.[84] These qualities are presented and perpetuated in the
four dogs of Eumæus and the neglected hound of Odysseus.

Footnote 83:

  From this legend the poet not improbably derived the idea of the gold
  and silver watch-dogs, framed by Hephæstus for Alcinous. _Odyssey_,
  vii. 91-94.

Footnote 84:

  Ælian, _De Natura Animalium_, vii. 10; x. 41.

The Homeric poems ignore the varieties of the species—

                    Mastiff, greyhound, mongrel grim,
                    Hound or spaniel, brach or lym,
                    Or bobtail tike, or trundle-tail.

A dog is simply a dog, as a horse is a horse. But individual horses are
in the Iliad distinguished by differences of colour, while no
colour-epithet is anywhere applied to a dog. It is probable, however,
that in the shepherd-dogs of Albania an almost perfect reproduction of
the animals dear to the poet is still to be found. For in that wild and
mountainous region the Chaonian or Molossian race is said to survive
undegenerate, and, judging by the reports of travellers, its modern
representatives preserve the same vigilance in duty and alacrity in
attack which distinguished the formidable band of the Odyssean
swineherd. An English explorer, who had some serious encounters with
them, has described these fierce pastoral guardians as ‘varying in
colour from dark-brown to bright dun, their long fur being very soft,
thick, and glossy. In size they are equal to an English mastiff. They
have a long nose, delicate ears finely pointed, magnificent tail, legs
of a moderate length, with a body nicely rounded and compact.’[85] It is
added that they still possess the strength, swiftness, sagacity, and
fidelity anciently ascribed to them, showing their pedigree to be
probably unimpaired.

Footnote 85:

  Hughes, _Travels in Albania_, vol. i. p. 483.

The Suliot dog, or German boar-hound, comes from the same region, and
has also strong claims to the honours of Molossian descent. Some of the
breed were employed by the Turkish soldiery in the earlier part of this
century, to guard their outposts against Austrian attacks; and one
captured specimen, presented to the King of Naples, was reputed to be
the largest dog in existence.[86] Measuring nearly four feet from the
shoulder to the ground, he in fact rivalled the dimensions of a Shetland
pony. Others were secured as regimental pets, and used to make a grand
show in Brussels, marching with their respective corps to the blare of
martial music. They were fierce-natured animals, rough-coated, and
coarsely formed; mostly tan-coloured, but with blackish markings on the
back, shoulders, and round the ears. Tan-coloured, too, was probably the
immortal Argus; and we can further picture him, on the assumption that
the modern races west of Pindus reproduce many features of his aspect,
as a wolf-like hound, with a bushy tail, small, sensitive ears, and a
glance at once eager, intelligent, and wistful. Drooping ears in dogs
are, it may be remarked, a result of domestication; and varieties
distinguished by them were unknown in Europe until Alexander the Great
introduced from Asia some specimens of the mastiff kind. Consequently,
Shakespeare’s description of the pack of Theseus—

Footnote 86:

  C. Hamilton Smith, _Naturalist’s Library_, vol. v. p. 151.

               With ears that sweep away the morning dew,

is one among many examples of his genial disregard for archæological
detail. Argus, then, resembled ‘White-breasted Bran,’ the dog of Fingal,
in his possession of ‘an ear like a leaf.’

It is not too much to say that the opposed sentiments concerning the
relations of men with animals displayed in the Iliad and Odyssey suffice
in themselves to establish their diversity of origin. For they render it
psychologically impossible that they could have been the work of one
individual. The varying _prominence_ assigned respectively to the horse
and the dog might, it is true, be plausibly accounted for by the
diversified conditions of the two epics; but no shifting of scene can
explain a _reversal_ of sympathies. Such sentiments form part of the
ingrained structure of the mind. They take root before consciousness is
awake, or memory active; they live through the decades of a man’s life;
are transported with him from shore to shore; survive the enthusiasm of
friendship and the illusions of ambition; they can no more be eradicated
from the tenor of his thoughts than the type of his features can be
changed from Tartar to Caucasian, or the colour of his eyes from black
to blue.

After all, the difficulty of separating the origin of these stupendous
productions is considerably diminished by the reflection that they are
but the surviving members of an extensive group of poems, all originally
attributed without discrimination to a single author. Not the Iliad and
Odyssey alone, but the ‘Cypria,’ the ‘Æthiopis,’ the ‘Lesser Iliad,’ and
other voluminous metrical compositions, were, in the old, uncritical,
individual sense, ‘Homeric.’ So apt is Fame to make

                                        A testament
                As worldlings do, giving the sum of more
                To that which had too much.

The depreciatory tone of the query, ‘What’s in a name?’ should not lead
us to undervalue that indispensable requisite to sustained and
specialised existence. A name is, indeed, a power in itself. It serves,
at the least, as a peg to hang a personality upon, and not the most
‘powerful rhyme’ can sustain a reputation apart from its humble aid. But
the bard of Odysseus has long ceased to possess one. His only
appellation must remain for all time that of his hero in the Cyclops’
cave. The jealous Muses have blotted him out from memory. We can only be
sure that he was a man who, like the protagonist of his immortal poem,
had known, and seen, and suffered many things, who had tears for the
past, and hopes for the future, had roamed far and near with a ‘hungry
heart,’ and had listened long and intently to the ‘many voices’ of the
moaning sea; who had tried his fellow-men, and found them, not all, nor
everywhere wanting; who had faith in the justice of Heaven and the
constancy of woman; who had experienced and had not disdained to cherish
in his heart the life-long fidelity of a dog.


                              CHAPTER IV.

                            HOMERIC HORSES.

THE greater part of the Continent of Europe, including Britain, not
then, perhaps, insulated by a ‘silver streak,’ was prehistorically
overrun with shaggy ponies, large-headed and heavily-built, but shown by
their short, pointed ears and brush-tails to have been genuine _horses_,
exempt from leanings towards the asinine branch of the family. This,
indeed, would be a hazardous statement to make upon the sole evidence of
the fragmentary piles of these animals’ bones preserved in caves and
mounds; since even a complete skeleton could tell the most experienced
anatomist nothing as to the shape of their ears or the growth of hair
upon their tails. We happen, however, to be in possession of their
portraits. For the men of that time had artistic instincts, and drew
with force and freedom whatever seemed to them worthy of imitation; and
among their few subjects the contemporary wild horse was fortunately
included. With his outward aspect, then, we are, through the medium of
these diluvial _graffiti_, on bone-surfaces and stags’ antlers,
thoroughly familiar.

It was that of a sturdy brute, thirteen or fourteen hands high, not ill
represented, on a reduced scale, by the Shetland ponies of our own time,
but untamed, and, it might have been thought, untameable. The race had
not then found its true vocation. Man was enabled, by his superior
intelligence, to make it his prey, but had not yet reached the higher
point of enlisting its matchless qualities in his service. Horses were,
accordingly, neither ridden nor driven, but hunted and eaten. Piles of
bones still attest the hippophagous habits of the ‘stone-men.’ At
Solutré, near Mâcon, a veritable equine Golgotha has been excavated;
similar accumulations were found in the recesses of Monte Pellegrino in
Sicily; and Sir Richard Owen made the curious remark that, evidently
through gastronomic selection, the osseous remains of colts and fillies
vastly predominated, in the débris from the cave of Bruniquel, over
those of full-grown horses.[87]

Footnote 87:

  _Phil. Trans._ 1869, p. 535.

The descent of our existing horses from the cave-animals is doubtful,
Eastern importations having at any rate greatly improved and modified
the breed. Wild horses, indeed, still at the end of the sixteenth
century roamed the slopes of the Vosges, and were hunted as game in
Poland and Lithuania;[88] but they may have been _muzins_, or runaways,
like the mustangs on the American prairies. Nowadays, certainly, the
animal is found in a state of aboriginal freedom nowhere save on the
steppes of Central Asia, in the primitive home of the race. There, in
all likelihood, the noblest of brute-forms was brought to perfection;
there it was dominated by man; and thence equestrian arts, with their
manifold results for civilisation, were propagated among the nations of
the world. They were taught to the Egyptians, it would seem, by their
shepherd conquerors, but were not learned by the Arabs until a couple of
millenniums later, the Arab contingent in Xerxes’ army having been a
‘camel-corps.’ The Persians, indeed, early picked up the habit of riding
from the example of their Tartar neighbours; yet that it was no original
Aryan accomplishment, the absence of a common Aryan word to express the
idea sufficiently shows. The relations of our primitive ancestors with
the animal had, at the most, reached what might be called the second, or
Scythian stage, when droves of half-wild horses took the place of
cattle, and mares’ milk was an important article of food. The aboriginal
cavalry of the desert belonged, on the other hand, to the wide kinship
of Attila’s Huns, who, separated from their steeds, were as helpless as
swans on shore. The war-chariot, however, was an Assyrian invention,
dating back at least to the seventeenth century B.C. It quickly reached
Egypt on one side, India on the other, and was adopted, some time before
the Dorian invasion, by the Achæans of the Peloponnesus. Mycenæan
grave-stones of about the twelfth century are engraven with battle and
hunting scenes, the actors in which are borne along in vehicles of
essentially the same construction with those brought before us in the
Iliad. They show scarcely any variation from the simple model developed
on the banks of the Tigris; yet there was no direct imitation. Homer was
profoundly unconscious of Ninevite splendours. He had no inkling of the
existence of a great Mesopotamian monarchy far away to the East, beyond
the rising-places of the sun, where one branch of his dichotomised
Ethiopians dwelt in peace. Nevertheless, the life that he knew, and that
was glorified by him, was touched with many influences from this unknown
land. If some of them filtered through Egypt on their way, acquaintance
with the art of charioteering certainly took a less circuitous route.
For the third horse of the original Assyrian team was never introduced
into Egypt, and was early discarded in Assyria itself. He figures
continually, however, in Homeric engagements, running, loosely attached,
beside the regularly yoked pair, one of whom he was destined to replace
in case of emergency. The presence, then, of this ‘silly,’ or roped
horse,[89] παρήορος ἵππος, demonstrates both the high antiquity, and the
Anatolian negotiation, of the loan which included him.

Footnote 88:

  Hehn and Stallybrass, _Wanderings of Plants and Animals_, pp. 38-39.

Footnote 89:

  The word ‘silly’ thus applied is evidently cognate with the German
  _Seile_ = Greek σειρὰ, a rope, from the root _swar_, to tie. So in the
  _Ancient Mariner_, the ‘_silly_ buckets on the deck’ are the buckets
  attached to a rope. Similarly, the third horse was sometimes called by
  the Greeks σειραφόρος, ‘drawing by a rope.’

The fertile plains of Babylonia probably furnished the equine supplies
of Egypt and Asia Minor during some centuries before the Nisæan
stock,[90] cultivated in Media, acquired its Hellenic reputation. So far
as can be judged from ancient vase-paintings, the horses of Achilles and
Hector were of pure Oriental type. They owned the same points of
breeding—the small heads, slender yet muscular legs, and high-arching
necks, the same eager eye and proud bearing, characterising the steeds
that shared the triumphs of Asurbanipal and Shalmaneser. The same
quasi-heroic position, too, belonged to the horse in the camp before
Troy and at Nineveh. He shared, in both scenes of action, only the
nobler pursuits of man, and was exempt from the drudgery of servile
work. The beasts of burden, alike of the Iliad and of the sculptures of
Khorsabad and Kouyunjik, were mules and oxen, not horses. Equine
co-operation was reserved for war and the chace—for war alone, indeed,
by the Homeric Greeks, who appear always to have hunted on foot. This
was inevitable. Modes of conveyance, were they drawn by Sleipnir or
Areion, would have been an encumbrance in pursuing game through the
thickets of Parnassus, or over the broken skirts of Mount Ida.

Footnote 90:

  Blakesley’s _Herodotus_, iii. 106.

Only the chief Greek and Trojan leaders rode in chariots. Their
possession was a mark of distinction, and conferred the power of swift
locomotion, but was otherwise of no military use. Their owners alighted
from them for the serious business of fighting, although glad, if
worsted or disabled, to fall back upon the utmost speed of their horses
to carry them out of reach of their foes. This fashion of warfare,
however, had completely disappeared from Greece proper before the
historic era. Only in Cyprus, chariots are heard of among the
paraphernalia of battle in 498 B.C.[91] None figured at Marathon or
Mantineia; brigades of mounted men had taken their place. Cavalry, on
the other hand, had no share in the engagements before Troy.

Footnote 91:

  _Herodotus_, v. 113.

The definiteness of intention with which Homeric epithets were bestowed
is strikingly evident in the distribution of those relating to
equestrian pursuits. That they have no place worth mentioning in the
Odyssey, readers of our last chapter will be prepared to hear; nor are
they sprinkled at random through the Iliad. Thus, while the Trojans
collectively are frequently called ‘horse-tamers,’ _hippodamoi_—a
designation still appropriate to the dwellers round Hissarlik—the Greeks
collectively are never so described.[92] They could not have been, in
fact, without some degree of incongruity. For many of them, being of
insular origin and maritime habits, knew as much about hippogriffs as
about horses, unless it were the white-crested ones ruled by Poseidon.
And the poet’s close instinctive regard to such distinctions appears in
the remarkable circumstance that Odysseus and Ajax Telamon, islanders
both, are the only heroes of the first rank who invariably combat on

Footnote 92:

  Mure, _Literature of Ancient Greece_, vol. ii. p. 87.

The individual Greek warriors singled out for praise as ‘horse-tamers’
are only two—Thrasymedes and Diomed. The choice had, in each case,
readily discernible motives. Thrasymedes was a son of Nestor; and
Nestor, through his father Peleus, was sprung from Poseidon, the creator
and patron of the horse. This mythical association resulted from a
natural sequence of ideas. The absence of the horse from the ‘glist’ring
zodiac’ is one of many proofs of his strangeness to Eastern mythology;
but the neglect was compensated in the West. His position in Greek
folk-lore, according to Dr. Milchhöfer,[93] indicates a primitive
confusion of thought between winds and waves as cause and effect, or
rather, perhaps, tells of the transference to the sea of the
cloud-fancies of an inland people. However this be, horse-headed
monsters are extremely prevalent on the archaic engraved stones found
numerously in the Peloponnesus and the islands of the Ægean; and these
monsters—winged, and with birds’ legs—represent, it would seem, the
original harpy-form in which early Greek imagination embodied the

Footnote 93:

  _Die Anfänge der Kunst in Griechenland_, pp. 58-61.

               Boreas and Cæcias and Argestes loud—
               Eurus and Zephyr with their lateral noise,
               Sirocco and Libecchio.

The horse-headed Demeter, too, was one of the Erinyes, under-world
dæmonic beings of windy origin, merging indeed into the Harpies. The
Homeric Harpy Podarge, mother of the immortal steeds of Achilles, was,
moreover, of scarcely disguised equine nature; while the colts of
Ericthonius had Boreas for their sire.

          These, o’er the teeming cornfields as they flew,
          Skimm’d o’er the standing ears, nor broke the haulm,
          And, o’er wide Ocean’s bosom as they flew,
          Skimm’d o’er the topmost spray of th’ hoary sea.[94]

Footnote 94:

  _Iliad_, xx. 226-29 (Lord Derby’s translation).

So Æneas related to Achilles; not perhaps without some touch of

The figure of speech by which the swiftest of known animals was likened
to a rushing tempest, lay ready at hand; and a figure of speech is apt
to be treated as a statement of fact by men who have not yet learned to
make fine distinctions. Upon this particular one as a basis, a good deal
of fable was built. The northern legends, for instance, of the Wild
Huntsman, and of the rides of the blusterous Odin upon an eight-legged
charger equally at home on land and on sea; besides the story of the
strong horse Svadilfaxi, personifying the North Wind, who helped his
master, the icy Scandinavian winter, to build the castle of the Asar.
The same obvious similitude was carried out, by southern imaginations,
in the subjection of the horse to the established ruler of winds and
waves, who is even qualified by the characteristically equine epithet
‘dark-maned’ (κυανοχαίτης.)[95] The attribution, however, to Poseidon of
a more or less equine nature may have been immediately suggested by the
resemblance, palpable to unsophisticated folk, of his crested billows to
the impetuous advance of galloping steeds, whose flowing manes and
curving lineaments of changeful movement seemed to reproduce the tossing
spray and thunderous charge of the ‘earth-shaking’ element.

Footnote 95:

  Cf. Geddes, _Problem of the Homeric Poems_, p. 207.

In the Thirteenth Iliad, the closeness of this relationship is naïvely
brought into view. The occasion was a pressing one. Nothing less was
contemplated than the affording of surreptitious divine aid to the
hard-pressed Achæan host; and the ‘shining eyes’ of Zeus, whose
interdict was still in full force, might at any moment revert from the
Thracians and Hippomolgi to the less virtuous Greeks and Trojans.
Everything, then, depended upon promptitude, and Poseidon accordingly,
in the absence of his consort Amphitrite, did not disdain to act as his
own groom. Himself he harnessed to his brazen car the ‘bronze-hoofed’
coursers stabled beneath the sea at Ægæ; himself wielded the golden
scourge with which he urged their rapid passage, amid the damp homage of
dutiful but dripping sea-monsters, to a submarine recess between Tenedos
and Imbros:

               And the sea’s face was parted with a smile,
               And rapidly the horses sped the while.[96]

There he himself provided ambrosial forage for their support during his
absence on the battle-field, taking the precaution, before his
departure, of attaching infrangible golden shackles to the agile feet
that might else have been tempted to stray. Yet all this pains was taken
for the mere sake of what must be called ‘swagger.’ Poseidon, calmly
seated on the Samothracian height, was already within full view of the
plain and towers of Ilium, when

                                      Sudden at last
           He rose, and swiftly down the steep he passed,
           The mountain trembled with each step he took,
           The forest with the quaking mountain shook.
           Three strides he made, and with the fourth he stood
           At Ægæ, where is founded ‘neath the flood
           His hall of glorious gold that cannot fade.[97]

And the journey westward was deliberately made for the purpose of
fetching an equipage which proved rather an embarrassment than an
assistance to him. ‘But for the honour of the thing,’ as an Irishman
remarked of his jaunt in a bottomless sedan-chair, he ‘might just as
well have walked.’

Footnote 96:

  _Iliad_, xiii. 29, 30. (Translation by R. Garnett, _Universal Review_,
  vol. v.)

Footnote 97:

  _Ib._ xiii. 17-22.

Not without reason, then, was equestrian skill associated with
Poseidonian lineage. Nestor himself was an enthusiastic horse-lover; yet
the Pylian breed was none of the best; and he anxiously warned his son
Antilochus, preparatory to the starting of the chariot-race
commemorative of Patroclus, that he must supply by finesse for the
slowness of his team. Poseidon himself, he reminded him, had been his
instructor; and no less, it may be presumed, of his brother Thrasymedes,
whose feats in this direction, however, are summed up in the laudatory
expression bestowed on him in common with Diomed.

The connoisseurship of this latter, on the contrary, is perpetually in
evidence. As king of ‘horse-feeding Argos,’ he knew and prized what was
best in horseflesh, and counted no risk too great for the purpose of
securing it. His brilliant success accordingly, in the capture of famous
steeds, rendered the original inferiority of his own a matter of
indifference. It served, indeed, only to quicken his zeal to replace
them by force or fraud with better. And it fell out most opportunely
that, just at the conjuncture when the protection of Athene rendered him
irresistible, Æneas, temporarily allied with the Lycian archer Pandarus,
undertook the hopeless task of staying his victorious career. The
Dardanian hero was driving a matchless team, ‘the best under the dawn or
the sun’; and he found leisure, notwithstanding the celerity of their
onset, to extol their qualities to his companion, while Diomed recited
the to him familiar tale of their pedigree to his charioteer, Sthenelus.
They were of the race of those with which the ransom of Ganymede had
been paid by Zeus to Tros, King of Phrygia, his father, and were hence
known distinctively as _Trojan_ horses. Their possession was regarded as
of inestimable importance.

That was the day of glory of the son of Tydeus, whom ‘Pallas Athene did
not permit to tremble.’ Destiny waited on his desires. His spear sent
Pandarus to the shades; Æneas was barely rescued by the maternal
intervention of Aphrodite, who came off by no means scatheless from the
adventure. Above all, the Dardanian ‘messengers of terror’ were led in
triumph across to the Achæan camp. They did not remain there idle. On
the following day, Nestor was invited to admire their paces, as they
carried him and their new master beyond the reach of Hector’s fury, the
fortune of war having by that time effectively changed sides. Their
subsequent victory in the Patroclean chariot-race was a foregone
conclusion. For their Olympian connexions would have made their defeat
by clover-cropping animals of ordinary lineage appear a gross anomaly;
and the horses of Achilles, as being immortal and invincible, were
expressly excluded from the competition.

The night-adventure of Diomed and Odysseus, narrated in the Tenth Iliad,
is unmistakably an after-thought and interlude. To what precedes it is
in part irrelevant; with what follows it is wholly unconnected; nor is
it logically complete in itself. The interpolation is, none the less, of
respectable antiquity, going back certainly to the eighth century B.C.;
it has high merits of its own, and could ill be spared from the body of
what it is convenient to call Homeric poetry. Its admission, to be sure,
crowds into one night performances enough to occupy several, but this
superfluity of business scarcely troubles any genially disposed reader;
nor need he grudge Odysseus the three suppers—one of them perhaps better
described as a breakfast—amply earned by his indefatigable services in
the epic cause, and counterbalanced by many subsequent privations. The
point, however, to be specially noted by us here, is that in the
‘Doloneia’—as the tenth book is designated—equestrian interests, its
extraneous origin notwithstanding, are paramount.

The opening situation is that magnificently described at the close of
the eighth book, when the ‘dark-ribbed ships’ by the Hellespont seemed
to cower before the menacing camp-fires of the victorious Trojans.
Indeed, most of those who lay in their shadow would gladly have grasped,
before it was too late, at the means of escape they offered. Agamemnon’s
fluctuating mind, too, might easily have been brought to that inglorious
decision; but for the moment, he relieved his restless anxiety by
hastily summoning to a nocturnal council a few of the most prominent
Achæan chiefs. The somewhat inadequate result of their deliberations was
the despatch of a scouting party to the Trojan quarters, Diomed and
Odysseus being inevitably chosen for the discharge of the perilous
office—inevitably, since in the legend of Troy, these two are again and
again coupled in the performance of venturesome, if not questionable,
exploits.[98] They had sallied forth unarmed on the sudden summons of
the ‘king of men,’ but collected from the sympathetic bystanders a
scratch-lot of weapons; and Meriones lent to Odysseus for the emergency
a peculiar head-piece of leather lined with felt, and strengthened with
rows of boars’ teeth,[99] the like of which, judging from the profusion
of sliced tusks met with in Mycenæan graves, was probably familiar of
old in the Peloponnesus.

Footnote 98:

  Preller, _Griechische Mythologie_, Bd. ii. p. 405, 3te Auflage.

Footnote 99:

  _Iliad_, x. 261-71.

It was pitch dark as the adventurers traversed the marshy land about the
Simoeis; but the rise, with heavy wing-flappings, of a startled heron on
their right, dispelled their misgivings, and evoked their pious
rejoicings at the assurance it afforded of Athene’s protection. Their
next encounter was with Hector’s emissary, the luckless Dolon, a poor
creature beyond doubt, vain, feather-headed, unstable, pusillanimous,
yet piteous to us even now in the sanguine loquacity that merged into a
death-shriek as the fierce blade of Diomed severed the tendons of his
throat. He had served his purpose, and was contemptuously, nay
treacherously, dismissed from life. But the temptation suggested by him
was irresistible. Instincts of cupidity, keen in both heroes, had been
fully roused by his account of the splendid and unguarded equipment of
the newly-arrived leader of a Thracian contingent to the Trojan army. As
he told them:

  King Rhesus, Eionëus’ son, commands them, who hath steeds,
  More white than snow, huge, and well shaped; their fiery pace exceeds
  The winds in swiftness; these I saw, his chariot is with gold
  And pallid silver richly framed, and wondrous to behold;
  His great and golden armour is not fit a man should wear,
  But for immortal shoulders framed.[100]

Footnote 100:

  _Iliad_, x. 435-41 (Chapman’s trans.).

Now Odysseus and Diomed both loved plunder; each in his own way was of a
reckless and dare-devil disposition; and one at any rate was a
passionate admirer of equine beauty. They accordingly did not hesitate
to follow up Dolon’s indications, which proved quite accurate. The
followers of Rhesus were weary from their recent journey; Diomed had no
difficulty in slaying a dozen of them in ranks as they slept, and so
reaching the king, whose premonitory nightmare of destruction was
abruptly dissolved by its realisation. The coveted horses tethered
alongside having been meanwhile secured by Odysseus, swiftly conveyed
the exultant raiders back to the Achæan ships.

But in what manner? On their backs or drawn behind them in the
glittering Thracian chariot? Opinions are divided. Euripides assumed
that the latter formed part of the booty,[101] yet the Homeric
expressions rather imply that it was left _in statu quo_. They are not,
on the other hand, easily reconciled with the supposition of an escape
on horseback from the scene of carnage. This, none the less, was almost
certainly what the poet meant to convey, and his unfamiliarity with the
art of riding was doubtless the cause of his conveying it badly.[102]
Homeric heroes, as a rule infringed only by this one exception, never
mounted their steeds; they used them solely in light draught. Equitation
was indeed known of as a branch in which special skill might be
acquired; but for the ignoble purpose of popular, perhaps venal,
display. Thus the performance of leaping from one to the other of four
galloping horses, brought in to illustrate the agility with which Ajax
strode from deck to deck of the menaced Thessalian ships,[103] excites
indeed astonishment, but astonishment of the inferior kind raised by the
feats of a clown or a circus-rider. The passage has found a curious
commentary in a faded painting on a wall of the ancient palace at
Tiryns, representing an acrobat springing on the back of a rushing
bull.[104] He is unmistakably a specimen of the class of performer to
which the nimble equestrian of the Iliad belonged.

Footnote 101:

  _Rhesos_, 797.

Footnote 102:

  Eyssenhardt, _Jahrbuch für Philologie_, Bd. cix. p. 598; Ameis’s
  _Iliad_, Heft iv. p. 38.

Footnote 103:

  _Iliad_, xv. 679.

Footnote 104:

  Schuchhardt and Sellers, _Schliemann’s Excavations_, p. 119.

The animated story of the Doloneia, however, originated most likely in a
primitive nature-parable, symbolising, in one of its innumerable forms,
the ever-renewed struggle of darkness with light. The prize carried off
by Diomed and Odysseus was, this being so, nothing less than the
equipage of the sun; yet the solar horses are, mythologically, scarcely
separable from the vehicle attached to them. Our bard, it is true, being
wholly intent upon the concrete aspect of the tale he had to tell, felt
no incongruity in the disjunction; and he certainly took no pains to
perpetuate the traditional shape of his materials. Unconsciously,
however, he has allowed some vestiges of solar relationships to survive
among the less fortunate actors in his little drama. They can be traced
in the wrath of Apollo at the exploit achieved, while he was off his
guard, through the assistance of the predatory Athene;[105] and perhaps
in the costume of Dolon, who clothed himself, we are told, for his
disastrous expedition in ‘the skin of a grey wolf.’ Now the wolf became
early entangled, in Aryan folk-lore, with luminous associations. At
first, possibly through contrast and antagonism, exemplified in the
hostile pursuit, by the Scandinavian animal, of the sun and moon; later,
through capricious identification. The lupine connexions of the Hellenic
Apollo may be thus explained. They were, at any rate, strongly
accentuated; and Dolon wore, in some sense, albeit ignobly, ‘the livery
of the burnished sun.’

Footnote 105:

  It is worth notice that in the Euripidean tragedy _Rhesos_, ‘Phœbos’
  is the watchword for that night.

Manifestly solar, on the other hand, are the snowy horses from across
the Hellespont. Nestor, who, characteristically enough, first caught the
sound of their galloping approach to the Greek outposts, demanded of
their captors in amazement:

 How have you made this horse your prize? Pierced you the dangerous
 Where such gems stand? Or did some god your high attempts accost,
 And honoured you with this reward? Why, they be like the rays
 The sun effuseth.[106]

Footnote 106:

  _Iliad_, x. 545-47 (Chapman’s trans.).

The Thracian pair, moreover, are the only _white_ horses mentioned in
the Iliad. All the rest were chestnut, bay, or brown. One of those reft
from Æneas by Diomed, was sorrel, with a white crescent on the
forehead;[107] Achilles, or Patroclus for him, drove a chestnut and a
piebald; a pair of rufous bays drew the chariot of Asius. No black horse
appears on the scene; nor can we be sure that the ‘dark-maned,’ mythical
Areion was really understood to be of sable tint. Admiration for white
horses was not spontaneous among the Greeks. It sprang up in the East as
a consequence of their figurative association with the sun. The Iranian
fable of the solar chariot drawn by spotless coursers, carried
everywhere with it, in its diffusion west, south, and north, an
imaginative impression of the sacredness of such animals.[108] They were
chosen out for the Magian sacrifices;[109] they were tended in
Scandinavian temple-enclosures, and their neighings oracularly
interpreted;[110] a white horse was dubiously reported by Strabo to be
periodically immolated by the Veneti in commemoration of Diomed’s
fabulous sovereignty over the Adriatic;[111] and it became a recognised
mythological principle that superhuman beings should be, like the Wild
Huntsman of the Black Forest, _Schimmelreiter_. ‘White as snow’ were the
steeds of the Great Twin Brethren; white as snow the ‘horse with the
terrible rider’ in Raphael’s presentation of the Vision that vindicated
the sanctity of the Jewish Temple; Odin thundered over the mountain-tops
on a pallid courser; and it was deemed scandalous presumption in
Camillus to have his triumphal chariot drawn to the Capitol after the
fall of Veii by a milk-white team, fit only for the transport of an
immortal god.

Footnote 107:

  _Ib._ xxiii. 454.

Footnote 108:

  Hehn and Stallybrass, _Wanderings of Plants and Animals_, pp. 53-54.

Footnote 109:

  _Herodotus_, vii. 114.

Footnote 110:

  Weinhold, _Altnordisches Leben_, p. 49.

Footnote 111:

  _Geography_, lib. v. cap. i. sect. 9.

Such, too, were the horses of Rhesus; and their evanescent appearance in
Homeric narrative tallies with their unsubstantial nature. They sink
into complete oblivion after the scene of their nocturnal abduction.
Their quondam master could lay claim to scarcely a more solid core of
existence. Euripides’ account of his parentage is that he was the son of
the River Strymon and of the muse Terpsichore; which, being interpreted,
means that he personified a local stream.[112] He obtained, however,
posthumous reputation and honours, as a prophet at Amphipolis, as a
rider and hunter at Rhodope.

Footnote 112:

  Preller, _Griech. Myth._ Bd. ii. p. 428.

The relations of men and horses are, in every part of the Iliad,
systematically regulated and consistently maintained. There is nothing
casual about them. Thus, Paris’s lack of a conveyance serves to
emphasise his inferiority in the field. He was a craven at close
quarters, though formidable as a bow-man, despatching his arrows from
the safe shelter of the ranks. For the adventurous sallies rendered
possible only by the aid of fleet steeds, he had neither taste nor

Hector, on the contrary, was distinguished above all other Homeric
warriors by driving four horses abreast—above all Homeric gods and
goddesses even, since Poseidon himself, Ares, Heré, and Eos, were
content each with a pair. In their case, however, the seeming deficiency
was a point of real superiority. For no more than two horses can have
been in effective employment in drawing Hector’s chariot, the remaining
two being held in reserve against accidents. But Olympian coursers were
presumably exempt from mortal casualties, and there was hence no need to
provide for the emergency of their disablement. Critics, nevertheless,
of the ultra-strict school, taking offence at the unexpected
introduction of a four-in-hand, have proclaimed the entire enshrining
passage spurious. Perhaps on insufficient grounds; yet as to this there
may be two opinions; there can be only one as to its being stirring and

The formal introduction of the only horses on the Trojan side dignified
with proper names, makes an impressive exordium to the lay of Trojan
victory after Diomed’s audacious resistance had been turned to flight by
the thunder-bolt of Zeus. Hector’s fiery incitements were addressed no
less earnestly to his equine servants than to his Lycian and Dardanian

    Then cherished he his famous horse: O Xanthus now, said he,
    And thou Podargus, Æthon, too, and Lampus, dear to me,
    Make me some worthy recompense for so much choice of meat
    Given you by fair Andromache; bread of the purest wheat,
    And with it for your drink mixed wine, to make ye wished cheer,
    Still serving you before myself, her husband young and dear.[113]

He went on to represent to them the glorious fruits and triumphs of
victory, but gave no hint of a penalty for defeat. The absence of any
such savage threat as Antilochus hurled at his slow-paced steeds in the
chariot-race marks his innate gentleness of soul. He urged only the
nobler motives for exertion appropriate to conscious intelligence. Trust
in equine sympathy is, indeed, widespread in legend and romance. Even
the cruel Mezentius, wounded and doomed, made a final appeal to the
pride and valour of his faithful Rhœbus; to say nothing of ‘Auld
Maitland’s’ son’s call upon his ‘Gray,’ of the stirrup-rhetoric of
Reynaud de Montauban, of Marko, the Cid of Servia, of the Eddic Skirnir
starting for Jotunheim, or other imperilled owners of renowned steeds.

Footnote 113:

  _Iliad_, viii. 184-190 (Chapman’s trans.).

These, now and then, are enabled to respond; but speaking horses should
be reserved for emergencies. They occur, for instance, with undue
profusion in modern Greek folk-songs. Not every notorious klepht lurking
in the thickets of Pindus, but only some hero towering to the clouds of
fancy, should, rightly considered, possess an animal so exceptionally
endowed. The lesson is patent in the Iliad. Homer’s instinctive
self-restraint and supreme mastery over the secrets of artistic effect
are nowhere more conspicuous than in his treatment of the horses of

‘Thessalian steeds and Lacedæmonian women’ were declared by an oracle to
be the best Greek representatives of their respective kinds. In Thessaly
was the legendary birthplace of the horse; there lived the Lapiths—if
Virgil is to be believed—the first horse-breakers:

           Fræna Pelethronii Lapithæ, gyrosque dedere
           Impositi dorso, atque equitem docuere sub armis
           Insultare solo, et gressus glomerare superbos.[114]

There, too, the Centaurs were at home; the Thessalian cavalry became
historically famous; the Thessalian marriage ceremony long included the
presentation to the bride by the bridegroom, of a fully caparisoned
horse;[115] and the noble equine type of the Parthenon marbles is still
reproduced along the fertile banks of the Peneus.[116] Thence, too, of
old to Troy

                                 Fair Pheretiades
   The bravest mares did bring by much; Eumelus managed these,
   Swift of their feet as birds of wings, both of one hair did shine,
   Both of an age, both of a height, as measured by a line,
   Whom silver-bowed Apollo bred in the Pierian mead,
   Both slick and dainty, yet were both in war of wondrous dread.[117]

Footnote 114:

  _Georg._ iii. 115-17.

Footnote 115:

  Geddes, _Problem of the Homeric Poems_, p. 247.

Footnote 116:

  Dodwell, _Tour in Greece_, vol. i. p. 339.

Footnote 117:

  _Iliad_, ii. 764-67 (Chapman’s trans.).

Only, indeed, a fraud on the part of Athene prevented the mares of
Eumelus from winning the chariot-race against the heaven-descended
‘Trojan’ horses of Diomed; and the Muse, solemnly invoked as arbitress
of equine excellence, declared them the goodliest of all ‘the steeds
that followed the sons of Atreus to war,’ save, of course, the
incomparable Pelidean pair.

Xanthus and Balius were the wedding-gift of Poseidon to Peleus. The
sea-god himself had been a suitor for the hand of the bride, the
silver-footed Thetis; but, on its becoming known that the son to be born
of her marriage was destined to surpass the strength of his father,
something of an Olympian panic prevailed, and a mortal bridegroom was,
by the common determination of the alarmed Immortals, forced upon the
reluctant goddess. Of this unequal and unhappy marriage, the far-famed
Achilles was the ill-starred offspring.

So intense is the Homeric realisation of the hero’s superhuman powers,
that they scarcely excite surprise. And his belongings are on the scale
of his qualities. None but himself could wield his spear; his armour was
forged in Olympus; his shield was a panorama of human life; his horses
would obey only his guidance, or that of his delegates. Not for common
handling, indeed, were the ‘wind-swift’ coursers born of Zephyr and the
Harpy on the verge of the dim Ocean-stream. Themselves deathless and
invulnerable, they were destined, nevertheless, to share the pangs of
‘brief mortality.’

            Sunt lachrymæ rerum, et mentem mortalia tangunt.

For they had a yoke-fellow of a different strain from their own,
captured by Achilles at the sack of the Cilician Thebes, and killed by
Sarpedon in the course of his duel with Patroclus. And they had to
endure worse than the loss of Pedasus. Patroclus, whose gentle touch and
voice they had long ago learned to love, fell in the same fight, and
they stood paralysed with grief, and unheeding alike the blows and the
blandishments of their authorised driver, Automedon.

    They neither to the Hellespont would bear him, nor the fight,
    But still as any tombstone lays his never-stirréd weight
    On some good man or woman’s grave, for rites of funeral,
    So unremovéd stood these steeds, their heads to earth let fall,
    And warm tears gushing from their eyes with passionate desire
    Of their kind manager; their manes, that flourished with the fire
    Of endless youth allotted them, fell through the yoky sphere,
    Ruthfully ruffled and defiled.[118]

Footnote 118:

  _Iliad_, xvii. 432-40 (Chapman’s trans.).

A northern companion-picture is furnished by Grani mourning the death of
Sigurd, whom he had borne to the lair of Fafnir, and through the flames
to woo Brynhild, and now survived only to be immolated on his pyre. The
tears, however, of the weeping horses in the Ramayana and Mahabharata
flow rather through fear than through sorrow.

The final appearance of the Pelidean steeds upon the scene of the Iliad
reaches a tragic height, probably unequalled in the whole cycle of
poetical delineations from the lower animal-world. Achilles, roused at
last to battle, and gleaming in his new-wrought armour, cried with a
terrible voice as he leaped into his car—

   Xanthus and Balius, far-famed brood of Podargê’s strain,
   Take heed that in other sort to the Danæan host again,
   Ye bring your chariot-lord, when ourselves from the battle refrain,
   And not, as ye left Patroclus, leave us yonder slain.[119]

The sting of the reproach, and the favour of Heré, together effected a
prodigy, and Xanthus spoke thus to his angry lord:

 Yea, mighty Achilles, safe this day will we bear back thee;
 Yet nigh is the day of thy doom. Not guilty thereof be we,
 But a mighty God, and the overmastering Doom shall be cause.
 For not by our slowness of foot, neither slackness of will it was
 That the Trojans availed from Patroclus’ shoulders thine armour to
 Nay, but a God most mighty, whom fair-tressed Lêto bare,
 Slew him in forefront of fight, giving Hector the glory meed.
 But for us, we twain as the blast of the West-wind fleetly could speed,
 Which they name for the lightest-winged of the winds; but for thee
 Even thee, is it doomed that by might of a God and a man shalt thou

Footnote 119:

  _Iliad_, xix. 400-403 (Way’s trans.).

Footnote 120:

  _Ib._ xix. 408-17 (Way’s trans.).

But here the Erinyes, guardians of the natural order, interposed, and
Xanthus’s brief burst of eloquence was brought to a close. The arrested
prophecy, however, was only too intelligible; it could not deter, but it
exasperated; and provoked the ensuing fiery rejoinder—a ‘passionate
outcry of a soul in pain,’ if ever there was one—

 Xanthus, why bodest thou death unto me? Thou needest not so.
 Myself well know my weird, in death to be here laid low,
 Far-off from my dear loved sire, from the mother that bare me afar;
 Yet cease will I not till I give to the Trojans surfeit of war.
 He spake, and with shouts sped onward the thunder-foot steeds of his

Footnote 121:

  _Iliad_, xix. 420-24 (Way’s trans.).

The aged Peleus was, indeed, destined to leave unredeemed his vow of
flinging to the stream of the Spercheus the yellow locks of his
safely-returned son; they were laid instead on the pyre of Patroclus.
Nor was their wearer ever to revisit the forest fastnesses of Pelion,
where he had learned from Chiron to draw the bow and cull healing herbs;
yet of the short time allotted to him for vengeance not a moment should
be lost.

Although Homer tells us nothing as to the eventual fate of Xanthus and
Balius, supplementary legends fill up the blank left by his silence. It
appears hence that they were divinely restrained from carrying out their
purpose of retiring, after the death of Achilles, to their birthplace by
the Ocean-stream, and awaited instead the arrival of Neoptolemus at
Troy.[122] For he was their appointed charioteer on the Elysian plains,
which they may scour to this day, for anything that is known to the
contrary, in friendly emulation with Pegasus, the hippogriff, and

                               rutilæ manifestus Arion
                   Igne jubæ:

with the last above all, whose ‘insatiate ardour’ of speed saved
Adrastus from Theban pursuit, and brought him in the original mythical
winner in the Nemæan games; whose sympathy, moreover, with human
miseries broke down, as in their own case, the barriers of nature, and
accomplished the portent of speech and tears. Their quasi-immortality is
shared by Bayard, heard to neigh, it is said, every Mid-summer-night,
along the leafy aisles of the Forest of Ardennes;[123] and by Sharats,
who still crops the moss of the cavern where sleeps his long-accustomed
rider, Marko, waiting, like other hibernating heroes, for the dawn of
better days.

Footnote 122:

  Quintus Smyrnæus, iii. 743.

Footnote 123:

  Grimm and Stallybrass, _Teutonic Mythology_, p. 666.

Prophetic horses of the Xanthus type have been heard of in many lands.
They are a commonplace of Esthonian folk-lore; Dulcefal, the charger of
Hreggvid, king of Gardariki in Old Russia, could infallibly forecast the
issue of a campaign; the coursers of the Indian Râvana had a just
presentiment of his fate;[124] and Cæsar’s indomitable horse was
reported—credibly or otherwise—to have wept during three days before the
stroke of Brutus fell. Even the remains of the dead animals were of high
importance in Teutonic divination. Their flesh was pre-eminently
witches’ food; horses’ hoofs made witches’ drinking-cups; the pipers at
witches’ revels played on horses’ heads, which were besides an
indispensable adjunct to many diabolical ceremonies.[125]

Footnote 124:

  Gubernatis, _Zoological Mythology_, vol. i. p. 349.

Homer describes the Trojans as flinging live horses into the
Scamander;[126] and the Persians in the time of Herodotus occasionally
resorted to the same barbarous means of propitiating rivers. In honour
of the sun—perhaps the legitimate claimant to such honours—horses were
immolated on the summit of Taygetus, and a team of four, with chariot
attached, was yearly sunk by the Rhodians into the sea. The Argives
worshipped Poseidon with similar rites,[127] certainly not learned from
the Phœnicians, to whom they were unknown. They were unknown as well to
the Homeric Greeks; for the slaughter on the funeral-pyre of Patroclus
belonged to a different order of ideas. Here the prompting motive was
that ingrained desire to supply the needs, moral and physical, of the
dead, which led to so many blood-stained obsequies. Horses and dogs
fell, in an especial manner, victims to its prevalence; and have
consequently a prominent place on early Greek tomb-reliefs representing
the future state.[128]

Footnote 125:

  Grimm and Stallybrass, _op. cit._ pp. 47, 659, 1050.

Footnote 126:

  _Iliad_, xxi. 132.

Footnote 127:

  Pausanias, lib. iii. cap. 20, viii. 7.

Footnote 128:

  Gardner, _Journal of Hellenic Studies_, vol. v. p. 130.

Homer’s description of the Troad as ‘rich in horses’ has been very
scantily justified by the results of underground exploration. Few of the
animal’s bones were found at Hissarlik, none at the neighbouring
Hanai-Tepe.[129] Yet every Trojan at the present day is a born
rider.[130] Locomotion on horseback is universal, at all ages, and for
both sexes. Priam himself could scarcely now be accommodated with a
mule-cart. He should leave the Pergamus, if at all, mounted in some
fashion on the back of a steed.

Footnote 129:

  Calvert, in Schliemann’s _Ilios_, p. 711.

Footnote 130:

  Virchow, _Abhandlungen Berlin. Acad._ 1879, p. 62.

The author of the Iliad, however, was no equestrian. His knowledge of
horses was otherwise acquired. But how intimate and accurate that
knowledge was, one example may suffice to show. A thunderstorm, sent by
Zeus in tardy fulfilment of his promise to Thetis, caused a panic among
the Greeks; the bravest yielded to the contagion of fear; there was a
_sauve qui peut_ to the ships. In the wild rout,

           Gerenian Nestor, aged prop of Greece,
           Alone remained, and he against his will,
           His horse sore wounded by an arrow shot
           By godlike Paris, fair-hair’d Helen’s lord:
           Just on the crown, where close behind the head
           First springs the mane, the deadliest spot of all,
           The arrow struck him; madden’d with the pain
           He rear’d, then plunging forward, with the shaft
           Fix’d in his brain, and rolling in the dust,
           The other steeds in dire confusion threw.[131]

Footnote 131:

  _Iliad_, viii. 80-86 (Lord Derby’s trans.).

The most vulnerable point is here pointed out with anatomical
correctness.[132] Exactly where the mane begins, the bony shield of the
skull comes to an end, and the route to the brain, especially to a dart
coming, like that of Paris, from behind, lies comparatively open. The
sudden upspringing of the death-smitten creature, followed by his
struggle on the ground, is also perfectly true to nature, and suggests
personal observation of the occurrence described.

Footnote 132:

  Buchholz, _Homer. Realien_, Bd. i. Abth. ii. p. 175.

Observation, both close and sympathetic, assuredly dictated the
brilliant lines in which Paris, issuing from the Scæan gate, is compared
to a courser breaking loose from confinement to disport himself in the

            As some proud steed, at well-fill’d manger fed,
            His halter broken, neighing, scours the plain,
            And revels in the widely-flowing stream
            To bathe his sides; then tossing high his head,
            While o’er his shoulders streams his ample mane,
            Light borne on active limbs, in conscious pride,
            To the wide pastures of the mares he flies.[133]

The simile, less happily appropriated to Hector, is repeated in a
subsequent part of the poem;[134] and it was by Virgil transferred
bodily to the Eleventh Æneid, where it serves to adorn Turnus, the
wearer of many borrowed Iliadic plumes. They, however, it must be
admitted, make a splendid show in their new setting.

Footnote 133:

  _Iliad_, vi. 506-11 (Lord Derby’s trans.).

Footnote 134:

  _Ib._ xv. 263.

The makers of the Iliad, whether few or many, were at least unanimous in
their fervid admiration for the horse. The verses glow with a kind of
rapture of enjoyment that describe his strength, beauty, and swiftness,
his eager spirit and fine nervous organisation, his docility to trusted
guidance, his intelligent participation in human contentions and
pursuits. No animal has elsewhere achieved true epic personality;[135]
no animal has been raised to so high a dignity in art. The whole Iliad
might be called an ‘Aristeia’ or eulogistic celebration of the species.

Footnote 135:

  Cf. Milchhöfer, _Die Anfänge der Kunst_, p. 57.


                               CHAPTER V.

                            HOMERIC ZOOLOGY.

THE establishment of a clear distinction between men and beasts might
seem a slight effort of defining intellect, yet it has not been quite
easily made. In children the instinct of assimilation long survives the
experience of difference. A little boy of six, asked by the present
writer what profession he thought of adopting, replied with alacrity
that he ‘would like to be a bird,’ and it was only on being reminded of
the diet of grubs associated with that state of life, that he began to
waver as to its desirability. The same incapacity for drawing a
boundary-line between the realm of their own imperfect consciousness and
the mysterious encompassing region of animal life, is visible in the
grown-up children of the wilds. Hence the zoological speculations of
primitive man inevitably take the form of a sort of projection of human
faculties into animal natures. Now human faculties, released from the
control of actuality, spontaneously expand. In a vague and vaporous way,
they transcend the low level of hard fact, and become pleasantly
diffused in the ‘ampler ether’ of the unknown. Beasts thus transfigured
are incapable, it may be said, of simple rationality. The powers
transferred to them grow like Jack’s Beanstalk, beyond the range of

Universal folk-lore, in all its tangled ramifications, bears witness to
the truth of this remark. Tutelary animals, of the Puss in Boots type,
abound and expatiate there. They are all-contriving and infallible.
Their favour leads to fortune and power. They hold the clue to the
labyrinth of human destinies. Through their protection the oppressed are
rescued, the ragged are clothed in golden raiments, the outwardly
despicable win princely honours, and have their names inscribed in the
‘Almanach de Gotha’ of fairy-land. No wonder that such beneficent
potentates, albeit feathered or furry, should have been claimed as
ancestors and hereditary protectors by human beings full of untutored
yearnings for the unattainable. To our ideas, indeed, there seems little
comfort or credit to be got out of counting kinship with a beaver, a
bear, or an opossum; but things looked differently when the world was
young; nor has it yet everywhere grown old. In Australia, black bipeds
still own themselves the cousins and clients of kangaroos. American
Indians pay homage to ‘manitous’ personally, as well as to ‘totems’
tribally associated with them; and twilight tales are perhaps to this
hour whispered in Ireland, about a certain ‘Master of the Rats,’ whose
hostility it is eminently undesirable though lamentably easy to incur.

Even among Greeks and Romans of the classical age, to say nothing of
Aztecs and Alemanni, belief lurked in the preternatural wisdom of
certain animals. Their formal worship, most fully elaborated in Egypt,
but diffused over ‘Tellus’ orbed ground,’ sprang from the same stock of
ideas. To a remarkable extent, the Greeks were exempt from its degrading
associations. Their partial survival on Greek soil, as in the veneration
at Phigaleia, of the horse-headed Demeter, represented, without doubt,
an under-current of aboriginal tradition, reaching back to the Pelasgic

Now it might have been anticipated that the earliest literature would
have been the most deeply permeated by these primitive reminiscences.
But this is very far from being the case. Their influence is scarcely
perceptible in the two great epics of Troy and Ithaca; and indeed the
modes of thought from which they originated were completely alien to the
ethical sentiments pervading those marvellous first-fruits of Greek
genius. Neither poem includes the smallest remnant of zoolatry. The
Homeric divinities are absolutely anthropomorphic. They are men and
women, exempt from the limitations, unscathed by the ills of humanity,
and radiant with the infinite sunshine of immortal happiness. Of
infra-human relationships they exhibit no trace. They are far less
concerned with the animal kingdom than they grew to be in classical
times. Typical beasts or birds have not yet become attached to them. The
eagle, though once in the Iliad called the ‘swift messenger’ of Zeus, is
altogether detached from his throne and his thunder-bolt; Heré has not
developed her preference for the peacock—a bird introduced much later
from the East; Athene is without the companionship of her owl; no doves
flutter about the fair head of the ‘golden Aphrodite’; Artemis needs no
dogs to bring down her game. The Olympian menagerie, in short, has not
been constituted. On the ‘many-folded’ mountain of the gods, no beasts
are maintained save the half-dozen horses strictly necessary for the
purposes of divine locomotion.

Very significant, too, is Homer’s ignorance of the semi-bestial,
semi-divine beings who figure in subsequent Greek mythology. ‘Great Pan’
has no place in his verse; Satyrs and Tritons are equally unrecognised
by him; his Nereids are ‘silver-footed sea-nymphs,’ with no fishy

Mixed natures of any kind seem, in truth, to have been little to his
taste. Even if he could have apprehended the symbolical meanings
underlying them in dim Oriental imaginations, he could scarcely have
reconciled himself to the sacrifice of beauty which they involved. Men,
horses, bulls, lions, were all separately admirable in his eyes; but to
blend, he felt instinctively, was not to heighten their perfections.
Thus, the hybrid nature of the Centaurs, if present to his mind, was
left undefined as something ‘abominable, inutterable.’ The Harpies,
realised by Hesiod as half-human fowls, remained with him barely
personified tornadoes. Neither Pegasus nor the Minotaur, neither the
bird-women of Stymphalis, nor the Griffons of the Rhipæan mountains,
found mention in his song, and he admitted—and that in a
family-legend—but one true specimen of the dragon-kind in the ‘Chimæra
dire’ slain by Bellerophon. The monstrosity of Scylla is left purposely
vague. She is a fancy-compound defying classification. She lived, too,
in the outer world of the Odyssey, where ‘things strange and rare’
flourished in quiet disregard of laws binding elsewhere.

In the same region of wonderland occur the oxen of the Sun—the only
sacred animals recognised by our poet. They had their pasturing-ground
in the island of Thrinakie, whither Helios retired to divert himself
with their frolics after each hard day of steady Mediterranean shining;
and so keen was his indignation at their slaughter by the famished
comrades of Odysseus, that a cosmical strike would have ensued but for
the promise of Zeus to inflict condign punishment upon the delinquents.
From the shipwreck by which this promise was fulfilled, Odysseus, alone
exempt from guilt in the matter, was the solitary survivor.

The Homeric treatment of animals, compared with the extravagances
prevalent in other primitive literature, is eminently sane and rational.
Not through indifference to their perfections. A peculiar intensity of
sympathy with brute-nature is, on the contrary, one of the
distinguishing characteristics of the Homeric poems. But that sympathy
is based upon the appreciation of real, not upon the transference of
imaginary qualities. Beasts are, on the whole, kept strictly in their
proper places. The only genuine example of their sublimation into higher
ones is afforded by the horses of Achilles, and this during a transport
of epic excitement. Otherwise, the fabulous element admitted concerning
animals—and it is just in their regard that fable commonly runs riot—is
surprisingly small.

In its room, we find such a wealth of acute and accurate observation, as
no poet, before or since, has had the capacity to accumulate, or the
power to employ for purposes of illustration. It is unmistakably private
property. Details appropriated at second-hand could never have fitted in
so aptly with the needs of imaginative creation. Moreover, the
conventional types of animal character were of later establishment.
There was at that early time no recognised common stock of popular or
proverbial wisdom on the subject to draw upon. The lion had not yet been
raised to regal dignity; the fox was undistinguished for craft, as the
goose for folly. Beasts and birds had their careers in literature before
them. Their reputations were still to make. They carried about with them
no formal certificates of character. The poet was accordingly unfettered
in his dealings with them by preconceived notions; whence the delightful
freshness of Homer’s zoological vignettes. The dew of morning, so to
speak, is upon them. They are limned direct from his own vivid
impressions of pastoral, maritime, and hunting scenes.

As to the locality of those scenes, some hints, but scarcely more than
hints, can be derived. For in the course of nearly three thousand years,
the circumstances of animal distribution have been affected by changes
too considerable and too indeterminate to admit of confident argument
from the state of things now to the state of things then; while the
notices of the poet, incidental by their very nature, are of the utmost
value for what they tell, but warrant only very hesitating inferences
from what they leave untold. Thus, it does not follow that because Homer
nowhere mentions the cuckoo, he was therefore unfamiliar with its note,
which, from Hesiod’s time until now, has not failed to proclaim the
advent of spring among the olive-groves of Bœotia, and must have been
heard no less by Paris or Anchises than by the modern archæological
traveller, along the oak-clad and willow-fringed valley of Scamander.
Nor is the faintest presumption of a divided authorship supplied by the
fact that the nightingale sings in the Odyssey, but not in the Iliad.
Nevertheless, analogous considerations should not be altogether
neglected in Homeric criticism. They may possibly help towards the
answering of questions both of time and place: of time, through
allusions to domesticated animals; of place, by a comparison of the
known range of wild species with the fauna of the two great epics. And,
first, as regards domesticated animals.

The list of these is a short one. The Greeks and Trojans of the Iliad
commanded the services of the horse in battle, of oxen and mules for
draught; dogs were their faithful allies in hunting and cattle driving,
and they kept flocks of sheep and goats. The ass appears only once, and
then indirectly, on the scene, when the lethargic obstinacy of his
behaviour serves to heighten the effect of Ajax’s stubbornness in fight.

    And as when a lazy ass going past a field hath the better of the
    boys with him, an ass that hath had many a cudgel broken about
    his sides, and he fareth into the deep crop, and wasteth it,
    while the boys smite him with their cudgels, and feeble is the
    force of them, but yet with might and main they drive him forth
    when he hath had his fill of fodder; even so did the
    high-hearted Trojans and allies, called from many lands, smite
    great Aias, son of Telamon, with darts on the centre of his
    shield, and ever followed after him.[136]

Footnote 136:

  _Iliad_, xi. 557-64.

The creature’s ‘little ways’ were then already notorious, although all
mention of him or them is omitted from the Odyssey, as well as from the
Hesiodic poems. His existence is indeed implied by the parentage of the
mule. But mules were brought to the Troad _ready-made_ from
Paphlagonia.[137] It was not until later that they were systematically
bred by the Greeks.

Footnote 137:

  Hehn and Stallybrass, _Wanderings of Plants and Animals_, pp. 110,

The Semitic origin of the word ‘ass’ rightly indicates the introduction
of the species into Europe from Semitic Western Asia. As to the date of
its arrival, all that can be told is that it was subsequent to the
beginning of the bronze epoch. The pile-dwellers of Switzerland and
North Italy were unacquainted with an animal fundamentally Oriental in
its habitudes. Its reluctance, for instance, to cross the smallest
streamlet attests the physical tradition of a desert home; and the white
ass of Bagdad represents to this day, the fullest capabilities of the
race.[138] Yet neither the ass nor the camel was included in the
primitive Aryan fauna. For they could not have been known, still less
domesticated, without being named, and the only widespread appellations
borne by them are derived from Semitic sources. Evidently the loan of
the words accompanied the transmission of the species. It is very
difficult, in the face of this circumstance—as Dr. Schrader has
pertinently observed[139]—to locate the Aryan cradle-land anywhere to
the east of the Bosphorus.

Footnote 138:

  Houghton, _Trans. Society of Biblical Archæology_, vol. v. p. 49.

Footnote 139:

  _Thier- und Pflanzen-Geographie_, p. 17.

Dr. Virchow was struck, on his visit to the Troad, in 1879, with the
similarity of the actual condition of the country to that described in
the Iliad.[140] The inhabitants seem, in fact, during the long interval,
to have halted in a transition-stage between pastoral and agricultural
life, by far the larger proportion of the land supplying pasturage for
ubiquitous multitudes of sheep, oxen, goats, horses, and asses. The
sheep, however, belong to a variety assuredly of post-Homeric
introduction, since the massive tails hampering their movements could
not well have escaped characterisation in some emphatic Homeric epithet.

Footnote 140:

  _Beiträge zur Landeskunde der Troas_; Berlin. _Abhandlungen_, 1879, p.

Both short and long-horned cattle, all of a dark-brown colour, may now
be seen grazing over the plain round Hissarlik, the latter probably
resembling more closely than the former those with which Homer was
acquainted. The oxen alike of the Iliad and Odyssey are ‘wine-coloured,’
‘straight-horned,’ ‘broad-browed,’ and ‘sinuous-footed’; it was above
all through the shuffle of their gait, indicated by the last adjective,
and due to the peculiar structure of the hip-joint in the whole species,
that the poet distinctively visualised them. ‘Lowing kine,’ and
‘bellowing bulls’ are occasionally heard of, chiefly—it is curious to
remark—in later, or suspected portions of the Iliad. Sheep and goats, on
the other hand, are often described as ‘bleating,’ and the cries of
birds are called up at opportune moments; but Homer’s horses neither
whinny nor neigh; his pigs refrain from grunting; his jackals do not
howl; the tremendous roar of the lion nowhere resounds through his
forests. Homeric wild beasts are, indeed, save in the vaguely-indicated
case of one indeterminate specimen,[141] wholly dumb.

Footnote 141:

  _Iliad_, x. 184.

Singularly enough, a peculiar sensitiveness to sound is displayed in the
description of the Shield of Achilles. Yet plastic art is essentially
silent. Even the perpetuated cry of the Laocoön detracts somewhat from
the inherent serenity of marble. The metal-wrought creations of
Hephæstus, however, not only live and move, but make themselves audible
to a degree uncommon elsewhere in the poems. Thus, in one scene, or
compartment, a _lowing_ herd issues to the pasturing-grounds, where two
lions seize from their midst, and devour, a _loudly-bellowing_ bull,
while nine _barking_, though frightened dogs are, by the herdsmen,
vainly urged to a rescue. In the vintage-episode of the same series,
delight in melodious beauty is almost as apparent as in the so-called
‘Homeric’ hymn to Hermes. The ‘Linus-song,’ ‘sweet even as desire,’ sung
to the youthful grape-gatherers, sounds through the ages scarcely less
sweet than

                                  The liquid voice
            Of pipes, that filled the clear air thrillingly,

when the Muses gathered round Apollo long ago in the ethereal halls of

Among the animals now variously serviceable to man by the shores of the
Hellespont, are the camel, the buffalo, and the cat, none of them known,
even by name, to the primitive Achæans. The household cat, as is well
known, remained, during a millennium or two, exclusively Egyptian; then
all at once, perhaps owing to the exigency created by the migration
westward of the rat, spread with great rapidity in the first centuries
of the Christian era, over the civilised world. Saint Gregory Nazianzen
set the first recorded European example of attachment to a cat. His pet
was kept at Constantinople about the year 360 A.D.[142] No archæological
vestiges of the species, accordingly, have been found in Asia Minor.
Cats haunt the ruins of Hissarlik, but in no case lie buried beneath

Footnote 142:

  Houghton, _Trans. Society Biblical Archæology_, vol. v. p. 63.

The bones mixed up among the prehistoric _débris_ belong chiefly, as
might have been expected, to sheep, goats, and oxen, those of swine,
dogs, and horses being relatively scarce.[143] Hares and deer are also
represented, and of birds, mainly the goose, with scanty traces of the
swan and of a small falcon. These remains are of different epochs, yet
all without exception belong to animals mentioned in the Iliad, whether
as wild or tame. The Homeric condition of the pig and goose respectively
presents some points of interest.

Footnote 143:

  Virchow, _loc. cit._ p. 63.

The pig was not one of the animals primitively domesticated in the East.
The absence of Vedic or Avestan mention of swine-culture makes it
practically certain that the species was known only in a wild state to
the early Aryan colonists of Iran and India. Nor had any more intimate
acquaintance with it been developed in Babylonia; although the Swiss
pile-dwellers, at first similarly behindhand, advanced, before the stone
age had terminated, to pig-keeping.[144] Dr. Schrader, indeed, bases
upon the occurrence only in European languages of the word porcus, the
conjecture that the subjugation of the ‘full-acorned boar’ was first
accomplished in Europe;[145] and if this were so, the operations of
swine-herding would naturally come in for a larger share of notice in
the Odyssey, as the more European of the two poems, than in the Iliad.
And in fact, the swineherd of Odysseus is an important personage, and
plays a leading part in the drama of his return—pigs, moreover, figuring
extensively among the agricultural riches of Ithaca, while there is no
sign that any were possessed by Priam or Anchises. Alone among the
Greeks of the Iliad, Achilles is stated to have placed before his guests
a ‘chine of well-fed hog’; and the very few Iliadic allusions to fatted
swine are all in immediate connexion with the same hero. If this be a
result of chance, it is a somewhat grotesque one.

Footnote 144:

  Rütimeyer, _Die Fauna der Pfahlbauten_, pp. 120-21.

Footnote 145:

  _Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryans_, p. 261.

The porcine proclivities of modern Greeks are especially strong.
Christian and Mahometan habitations were, in the days of Turkish
domination, easily distinguished by the sty-accommodation attached to
the former; while in certain villages of the Morea and the Cyclades, the
pigs no longer occupied a merely subordinate position, and odours not
Sabæan, wafted far on the breeze, announced to the still distant
traveller the nature of the harbourage in store for him.[146]

Footnote 146:

  Gell, _A Journey in the Morea_, p. 63.

The most antique of domesticated birds is the goose, and Homer was
acquainted with no other. Penelope kept a flock of twenty,[147] mainly,
it would seem, for purposes of diversion, since the loss of them through
the devastations of an eagle is treated from a purely sentimental point
of view. They were fed on wheat, the ‘height of good living,’ in Homeric
back-premises. The court-yard, too, of the palace of Menelaus sheltered
a cackling flock,[148] the progenitors of which Helen might have brought
with her from Egypt, where geese were prehistorically reared for the
table. That the bird occurs _only_ tame in the Odyssey, and _only_ wild
in the Iliad, constitutes a distinction between the poems which can
scarcely be without real significance. The species employed, in the
Second Iliad, to illustrate, by the tumult of their alighting on the
marshy banks of the Cayster, the clangorous march-past of the Achæan
forces, has been identified as _Anser cinereus_, numerous specimens of
which fly south, in severe winters, from the valley of the Danube to
Greece and Asia Minor.

Footnote 147:

  _Odyssey_, xix. 536.

Footnote 148:

  _Ib._ xv. 161.

The familiar cocks and hens of our poultry-yards are, in the West,
post-Homeric. Their native home is in India; but through human agency
they were early transported to Iran, where the cock, as the bird that
first greets the light, acquired in the eyes of Zoroastrian devotees, a
pre-eminently sacred character. His introduction into Greece was a
result of the expansion westward of the Persian empire. No cocks are met
with on Egyptian monuments; the Old Testament leaves them unnoticed; and
the earliest mention of them in Greek literature is by Theognis of
Megara, in the middle of the sixth century B.C.[149] Pigeons, on the
other hand, are quite at home in Homeric verse. They are of two kinds.
One is the rock-pigeon, called from its slate-coloured plumage _peleia_
(πελόs = dusky), and described as finding shelter in rocky clefts, and
evading pursuit by a rapid, undulating flight.[150] Its frequent
recurrence in similes can surprise no traveller who has observed the
extreme abundance of _Columba livia_ all round the coasts of the
Ægean.[151] The second Homeric species of _Columba_ is the ring-dove,
once referred to as the habitual victim of the hawk. Tame pigeons are
ignored, and were, indeed, first seen in Greece after the wreck of the
Persian fleet at Mount Athos in 492 B.C.[152] Yet dove-culture was
practised as far back as the oldest records lead us in Egypt and Persia.
The dove was marked out as a ‘death-bird’ by our earliest Aryan
ancestors, and figures in the Vedas as a messenger of Yama. But Homer,
unconcerned, as usual, with animal symbolism, makes no account, if he
had ever heard, of its sinister associations.

Footnote 149:

  Hehn and Stallybrass, _Wanderings of Plants and Animals_, pp. 241-43.

Footnote 150:

  Buchholz, _Realien_, Bd. i. Abth. ii. p. 120.

Footnote 151:

  Lindermayer, _Die Vögel Griechenlands_, p. 120.

Footnote 152:

  Hehn and Stallybrass, _op. cit._ p. 257.

Among Homeric wild animals, the first place incontestably belongs to the
lion, and the Iliad, in especial, gives extraordinary prominence to the
king of beasts. In savage grandeur he stalks, as it were, through the
varied scenery of its similitudes, indomitable, fiercely-despoiling,
contemptuous of lesser brute-forces. His impressive qualities receive no
gratuitous enhancement; he rouses no myth-making fancies; there is no
fabulous ‘quality of mercy’ about him, nor of magnanimity, nor of
forbearance; he is simply a ‘gaunt and sanguine beast,’ a vivid
embodiment of the energy of untamed and unsparing nature.

He is not brought immediately upon the scene of action; the Homeric
poems nowhere provide for him a local habitation; it is only in the
comparatively late Hymn to Aphrodite that a place is specifically
assigned to him among the feral products of Mount Ida. His portraiture,
nevertheless, in the similes of the Iliad is too minute and faithful to
leave any shadow of doubt of its being based upon intimate personal
acquaintance. The poet must have witnessed with his own eyes the change
from majestic indifference to bellicose frenzy described in the
following passage; he must have caught the greenish glare of the oblique
feline eyes, noted the preparatory tail-lashings, and mentally
photographed the crouching attitude, and the yawn of deadly
significance, that preceded the fierce beast’s spring.

    And on the other side, the son of Peleus rushed to meet him,
    like a lion, a ravaging lion whom men desire to slay, a whole
    tribe assembled; and first he goeth his way unheeding, but when
    some warrior-youth hath smitten him with a spear, then he
    gathereth himself open-mouthed, and foam cometh forth about his
    teeth, and his stout spirit groaneth in his heart, and with his
    tail he scourgeth either side his ribs and flanks and goadeth
    himself on to fight, and glaring is borne straight on them by
    his passion to try whether he shall slay some man of them, or
    whether himself shall perish in the forefront of the

Footnote 153:

  _Iliad_, xx. 164-73.

Take, again, the picture of the lioness defending her young, while

                 Within her the storm of her might doth rise,
 And the down-drawn skin of her brows over-gloometh the fire of her

Or this other, exemplifying, like the ‘hungry people’ simile in
‘Locksley Hall,’ the ‘imperious’ beast’s dread of fire:

    And as when hounds and countryfolk drive a tawny lion from the
    mid-fold of the kine, and suffer him not to carry away the
    fattest of the herd, all night they watch, and he in great
    desire for the flesh maketh his onset; but takes nothing
    thereby, for thick the darts fly from strong hands against him,
    and the burning brands, and these he dreads for all his fury,
    and in the dawn he departeth with vexed heart.[155]

Footnote 154:

  Way’s _Iliad_, xvii. 135-36. The feminine pronouns are here introduced
  to avoid incongruity. The Homeric vocabulary did not include a word
  equivalent to ‘lioness.’

Footnote 155:

  _Iliad_, xx. 164-75.

Scenes of leonine ravage among cattle are frequently presented. As here:

 And as when in the pride of his strength a lion mountain-reared
 Hath snatched from the pasturing kine a heifer, the best of the herd,
 And, gripping her neck with his strong teeth, bone from bone hath he
 And he rendeth her inwards and gorgeth her blood by his red tongue
 And around him gather the dogs and the shepherd-folk, and still
 Cry long and loud from afar, howbeit they have no will
 To face him in fight, for that pale dismay doth the hearts of them

We seem, in reading these lines—and there are many more like them—to be
confronted with a vivified Assyrian or Lycian bas-relief. In the antique
sculptures of the valley of the Xanthus, above all, the incident of the
slaying of an ox by a lion is of such constant recurrence[157] as almost
to suggest, in confirmation of a conjecture by Mr. Gladstone,[158] a
similarity of origin between them and the corresponding passages of the
Iliad. The lion, indeed, occupies throughout the epic a position which
can now with difficulty be conceived as having been assigned to him on
the strength of European experience alone. Still, it must not be
forgotten that the facts of the matter have radically changed within the
last three thousand years.

Footnote 156:

  Way’s _Iliad_, xvii. 61-67.

Footnote 157:

  Fellows’ _Travels in Asia Minor_, p. 348, ed. 1852.

Footnote 158:

  _Studies in Homer_, vol. i. p. 183.

In prehistoric times, the lion ranged all over Europe, from the Severn
to the Hellespont; for the _Felis spelæus_ of Britain[159] was
specifically identical with the grateful clients of Androclus and Sir
Iwain, no less than with the more savage than sagacious beasts now
haunting the Upper Nile valley, and the marshes of Guzerat and

Footnote 159:

  Boyd Dawkins and Sanford, _Pleistocene Mammalia_, p. 171.

Already, however, at the early epoch of the pile-built villages by the
lake of Constance, he had disappeared from Western Europe; yet he
lingered long in Greece. Of his presence in the Peloponnesus only
legendary traces remain, although he figures largely in Mycenæan art;
but in Thrace he can lay claim to an historically attested existence.
Herodotus[160] recounts with wonder how the baggage-camels of Xerxes’
army were attacked by lions on the march from Acanthus to Therma; and he
defines the region haunted by them as bounded towards the east by the
River Nestus, on the west by the Achelous. Some Chalcidicean coins, too,
are stamped with the favourite oriental device of a lion killing an ox;
and Xenophon _possibly_—for his expressions are dubious—includes the
lion among the wild fauna of Thrace. The statements, on the other hand,
of Polybius and Dio Chrysostom leave no doubt that he had finally
retreated from our continent before the beginning of the Christian

Footnote 160:

  Lib. vii. caps. 125, 126.

Footnote 161:

  Sir G. C. Lewis, _Notes and Queries_, vol. viii. ser. ii. p. 242.

A Thessalian Homer might, then, quite conceivably, have beheld an
occasional predatory lion descending the arbutus-clad slopes of Pelion
or Olympus; yet the continual allusions to leonine manners and customs
pervading the Iliad show an habitual acquaintance with the animal which
is certainly somewhat surprising. It corresponds, nevertheless, quite
closely with the perpetual recurrence of his form in the plastic
representations of Mycenæ.

The comparatively few Odyssean references to this animal can scarcely be
said to bear the stamp of visual directness unmistakably belonging to
those dispersed broadcast through the earlier epic. Yet it would
probably be a mistake to suppose them derived at second-hand. Without,
then, denying that the author of the Odyssey had actually ‘met the ravin
lion when he roared,’ we may express some wonder that he, like his
predecessor of the Iliad, left unrecorded the auditory part of the
resulting brain-impression. For the voice of the lion is assuredly the
most imposing sound of which animated nature seems capable. Casual
allusions to it in the Hymn to Aphrodite and in the (nominally) Hesiodic
‘Shield of Hercules,’ are, nevertheless, perhaps the earliest extant in
Greek literature.

The bear figures in the Iliad and Odyssey solely as a constellation,
except that a couple of verses interpolated into the latter accord him a
place among the embossed decorations of the belt of Hercules. The living
animal, however, is still reported to lurk in the ‘clov’n ravines’ of
‘many-fountain’d Ida,’ and, according to a local tradition, was only
banished from the Thessalian Olympus through the agency of Saint
Dionysius.[162] The panther or leopard, on the contrary, although
contemporaneously with the cave-lion an inmate of Britain, disappeared
from Europe at a dim and remote epoch, while plentifully met with in
Caria and Pamphylia during Cicero’s governorship of Cilicia. Even in the
present century, indeed, leopardskins formed part of the recognised
tribute of the Pasha of the Dardanelles. The life-like scene, then, in
which the animal emerges to view in the Iliad, bears a decidedly Asiatic
character. Mr. Conington’s version of the lines runs as follows:

        As panther springs from a deep thicket’s shade
        To meet the hunter, and her heart no fear
        Nor terror knows, though barking loud she hear,
        For though with weapon’s thrust or javelin’s throw
        He wound her first, yet e’en about the spear
        Writhing, her valour doth she not forego,
        Till for offence she close, or in the shock lie low.[163]

Footnote 162:

  Tozer, _Researches in the Highlands of Turkey_, vol. ii. p. 64.

Footnote 163:

  _Iliad_, xxi. 573-78.

Thoroughly Oriental, too, is the vision conjured up in the Third Iliad
of Paris challenging

             To mortal combat all the chiefs of Greece,[164]

armed with a bow and sword, poising ‘two brass-tipped javelins,’ a
panther skin flung round his magnificent form. Elate with the
consciousness of strength and beauty, unsuspicious of the betrayal in
store for him by his own weak and volatile spirit, the _gaietta pelle_
of the fierce beast might have encouraged, as it did in Dante, a
cheerful forecast of the issue; yet illusorily in each case. In the
Odyssey, the panther is only mentioned as one of the forms assumed by

Footnote 164:

  _Iliad_, iii. 20 (Lord Derby’s trans.).

The Homeric wild boar is of quite Erymanthian powers and proportions;
with more valour than discretion, he does not shrink from encountering
the lion himself—

               Being ireful, on the lion he will venture;

and the laying-low of a single specimen is reckoned no inadequate result
of a forest-campaign by dogs and men. Such an heroic brute, worthy to
have been the emissary of enraged Artemis, succumbed, no longer ago than
in 1850, to the joint efforts, during several toilsome days, of a band
of thirty hunters.[165] The ‘chafed boar’ in the Iliad either carries
everything before him, as Ajax scattered the Trojans fighting round the
body of Patroclus; or he dies, tracked to his lair, if die he must,
fearlessly facing his foes, incarnating rage with bristles erected,
blazing eyes, and gnashing tusks. Nor was the upshot for him inevitably
fatal. Idomeneus of Crete, we are told, awaiting the onset (which proved
but partially effective) of Æneas and Deiphobus,

    Stood at bay, like a boar on the hills that trusteth to his
    strength, and abides the great assailing throng of men, in a
    lonely place, and he bristles up his back, and his eyes shine
    with fire, while he whets his tusks, and is right eager to keep
    at bay both men and hounds.[166]

Footnote 165:

  Erhard, _Fauna der Cycladen_, p. 26.

Footnote 166:

  _Iliad_, xiii. 471-75.

The boar is a solitary animal. Like Hal o’ the Wynd, he fights for his
own right hand; and he was accordingly appropriated by Homer to image
the valour of individual chiefs, while the rank and file figure as
wolves and jackals, hunting in packs, pinched with hunger, bloodthirsty
and desperately eager, but formidable only collectively. Jackals still
abound in the Troad and throughout the Cyclades, and their hideous wails
and barkings enhance the desolation of the Nauplian and Negropontine
swamps.[167] Neither have wolves disappeared from those regions; and the
old dread of the animal which was at once the symbol of darkness and of
light, survives obscurely to this day in the vampire-superstitions of
Eastern Europe. The closeness of the connexion between vampires and
were-wolves is shown by a comparison of the modern Greek word
_vrykolaka_, vampire, with the Zend and Sanskrit _vehrka_, a wolf.[168]
Nor were the Greeks of classical times exempt from the persuasion that
men and wolves might temporarily, or even permanently, exchange
semblances. Many stories of the kind were related in Arcadia in
connexion with the worship of the Lycæan Zeus; and Pausanias, while
critically sceptical as regards some of these, was not too advanced a
thinker to accept, as fully credible, the penal transformation of
Lycaon, son of Pelasgus.[169] Such notions belonged, however, to a
rustic mythology of which Homer took small cognisance. His thoughts
travelled of themselves out from the sylvan gloom of primeval haunts
into the open sunshine of unadulterated nature.

                  In wood or wilderness, forest or den,

he met with no bogey-animals. For him neither beast nor bird had any
mysterious significance. He attributed to encounters with particular
species no influence, malefic or beneficial, upon human destiny. Of
themselves, they had, in his view, no concern with it, although ordinary
animal instincts might, under certain conditions, be so directed as to
be expressive to man of the will of the gods. In the Homeric scheme,
birds and serpents exclusively are so employed, without, however, any
departure from the order of nature. Thus, by night near the sedgy
Simoeis, a heron, _Ardea nycticorax_, disturbed by the approach of
Odysseus and Diomed, assured them, by casually flapping its way
eastward, that their expedition had the sanction of their
guardian-goddess.[170] The choice of the bird was plainly dictated by
zoological considerations alone; it had certainly no such recondite
motive as that suggested by Ælian,[171] who, with almost grotesque
ingenuity, argued that the owl, as the fowl of Athene’s special
predilection, could only have been deprived of the privilege of acting
as her instrument on the occasion through Homer’s consciousness of its
reputation as a bird of sinister augury—

                  Ignavus bubo, dirum mortalibus omen—

the truth being that both kinds of association—the mythological and the
superstitious—were equally remote from the poet’s mind.

Footnote 167:

  Von der Mühle, _Beiträge zur Ornithologie Griechenlands_, p. 123;
  Buchholz, _Homerische Realien_, Bd. i. Abth. ii. p. 202.

Footnote 168:

  Tozer, _Researches_, vol. ii. p. 82.

Footnote 169:

  _Descriptio Græciæ_, lib. vi. cap. 8; viii. cap. ii.

Footnote 170:

  _Iliad_, x. 274.

Footnote 171:

  _De Naturâ Animalium_, lib. x. fr. 37.

Similarly, the portent of

                An eagle and a serpent wreathed in fight

appeared such only by virtue of the critical nature of the conjuncture
at which it was displayed. Hector, relying upon what he took to be a
promise of divine help, aimed at nothing less than the capture, in the
rout of battle, of the Greek camp, and the conflagration of the Greek
ships. But every step in advance brought him nearer to the tent where
the irate epical hero lay inert, but ready to spring into action at the
last extremity; and it was fully recognised that the arming of Achilles
meant far more than the mere loss of the fruits of victory. The balance
of events, then, if the proposed _coup de main_ were persevered with,
hung upon a knife-edge of destiny; and pale fear might well invade the
eager, yet hesitating Trojan host when, just as the foremost warriors
were about to breach the Greek rampart, an eagle flying westward—that
is, towards the side of darkness and death—let fall among their ranks a
coiling and blood-stained snake.[172]

   And adown the blasts of the wind he darted with one wild scream;
   Then shuddered the Trojans, beholding the serpent’s writhing gleam
   In the midst of them lying, the portent of Zeus the Ægis-lord,
   And to Hector the valiant Polydamas spoke with a bodeful word.[173]

His vaticinations were defied. The Trojan leader met them with the
memorable protest:

  But thou, thou wouldst have us obey the long-winged fowl of the air!
  Go to, unto these have I not respect, and nought do I care
  Whether to rightward they go to the sun and the dayspring sky,
  Or whether to leftward away to the shadow-gloomed west they fly.
  But for us, let us hearken the counsel of Zeus most high, and obey,
  Who over the deathling race and the deathless beareth sway.
  One omen of all is best, that we fight for our fatherland!

Footnote 172:

  Shelley has adopted and developed the incident in the opening stanzas
  of the _Revolt of Islam_.

Footnote 173:

  _Iliad_, xii. 207-10 (Way’s trans.).

Magnificent, but, in the actual case, mistaken. The shabby counsel of
Polydamas really carried with it the safety of Troy.

The eagle is virtually the Homeric king of birds. He is in the Iliad
‘the most perfect,’ as well as ‘the strongest and swiftest of flying
things’; his appearances in both poems, often expressly ordained by
Zeus, are always momentous, and are, accordingly, eagerly watched and
solicitously interpreted; moreover, they never deceive; to disregard the
warning they convey is to rush spontaneously to destruction. It is only,
however, in the Twenty-fourth Iliad, usually regarded as subsequent, in
point of composition, to the cantos embodying the primitive legend of
the ‘Wrath of Achilles,’ that the eagle begins to be marked out as the
special envoy of Zeus. Later, the companionship became so close as to
justify Æschylus in implying that the bird was in lieu of a dog to the
‘father of gods and men.’ The position, on the other hand, assigned, in
one passage of the Odyssey, to the hawk as the ‘swift messenger’ of
Apollo, was not maintained. The Hellenic Phœbus eventually disclaimed
all relationship with the hawk-headed Horus of the Nile Valley. The
rapidity, however, of the hawk’s flight, and his agility in the pursuit
of his prey, furnish our poet, again and again, with terms of
comparison. Here is an example, taken from the description of the deadly
duel outside the Scæan gate.

            As when a falcon, bird of swiftest flight,
            From some high mountain top on tim’rous dove
            Swoops fiercely down; she, from beneath, in fear,
            Evades the stroke; he, dashing through the brake,
            Shrill-shrieking, pounces on his destin’d prey;
            So, wing’d with desp’rate hate, Achilles flew,
            So Hector, flying from his keen pursuit,
            Beneath the walls his active sinews plied.[174]

Footnote 174:

  _Iliad_, xxii. 139-44 (Lord Derby’s trans.).

In popular Russian parlance, too, ‘the hurricane in the field, and the
luminous hawk in the sky,’ are the favourite metaphors of
swiftness.[175] Only that Homer’s falcon has no direct relations with
light; and of those indirectly traceable in the one phrase connecting
him with Apollo, the poet himself was certainly not cognisant.

Footnote 175:

  Gubernatis, _Zoological Mythology_, vol. ii. p. 193.

Vultures always lurk behind the scenes, as it were, of the Homeric
battle-stage. The abandonment to their abhorrent offices of the bodies
of the slain formed one of the chief terrors of death in the field, and
presented a much-dreaded means of enhancing the penalties of defeat. The
carrion-feeding birds perpetually on the watch to descend from the
clouds upon the blood-stained plain of Ilium, are clearly
‘griffon-vultures,’ _Vultur fulvus_; but the ‘bearded vulture,’
_Gypaëtus barbatus_, the _Lämmergeier_ of the Germans, which, like the
eagle, pursues live prey, occasionally lends, in a figure, the swoop and
impetus of its flight to vivify some incident of extermination.[176]
Both species occur in modern Greece.[177]

Footnote 176:

  _Odyssey_, xxii. 302; _Iliad_, xvi. 428, xvii. 460.

Footnote 177:

  Buchholz, _Realien_, Bd. i. Abth. ii. p. 134.

One of the few bits of primitive folk-lore enshrined in the Iliad
relates to the wars of the cranes and pygmies. The passage is curious in
many ways. It contains the first notice of bird-migrations, implies the
constancy with which the ‘annual voyage’ of the ‘prudent crane’ was
steered during three thousand years,[178] and records the dim wonder
early excited by the sight and sound of that

                            Aery caravan, high over seas
                Flying, and over lands with mutual wing
                Easing their flight.

Footnote 178:

  Koerner, _Die Homerische Thierwelt_, pp. 62-65.

In the Iliadic lines, the clamour of the Trojan advance, in contrast to
the determined silence of their opponents, is somewhat disdainfully

 When afar through the heaven cometh pealing before them the cry of the
 As they flee from the wintertide storms and the measureless deluging
 Onward with screaming they fly to the streams of the ocean-flood,
 Bringing down on the folk of the Pigmies battle and murder and

Footnote 179:

  Way’s _Iliad_, iii. 3-7.

The simile is felicitously plagiarised by Virgil in his

                                   Quales sub nubibus atris
           Strymoniæ dant signa grues, atque æthera tranant
           Cum sonitu, fugiuntque Notos clamore secundo,[180]

but with the omission of the pygmy-element, probably as too childish for
the mature taste of his Roman audience. Its origin may perhaps be sought
in obscure rumours concerning the stunted races encountered by modern
travellers in Central Africa. The association of ideas, however, by
which they were connected in a hostile sense with ‘fowls o’ the air’ is
of trackless antiquity. It partially survives in the notion, current in
Finland, that birds of passage spend their winters in dwarf-land, ‘a
dweller among birds’ meaning, in polite Finnish phrase, a dwarf; and
bird-footed mannikins have a well-marked place in German
folk-stories;[181] but the root from which these withered leaves of
fable once derived vitality has long ago perished. Aristotle described
the ‘small infantry warr’d on by cranes’ as cave-dwellers near the
sources of the Nile;[182] Pliny turned them into a kind of
pantomime-cavalry, mounted on rams and goats, locating them among the
Himalayas, and conjuring up a fantastic vision of their periodical
descents to the seacoast, to destroy the eggs and young of their winged
enemies, against whom they could no otherwise hope to make head.[183]
For such disinterested ravage as was committed on their behalf by Herzog
Ernst, a mediæval knight-errant smitten with compassion for the
miserable straits to which they were reduced by the secular feud imposed
upon them, could scarcely be of more than millennial recurrence.[184]

Footnote 180:

  _Æneid_, x. 264-66.

Footnote 181:

  Grimm and Stallybrass, _Teutonic Mythology_, pp. 1420, 1450.

Footnote 182:

  _De Animal. Hist._ lib. vii. cap. ii.; lib. iii. cap. xii.

Footnote 183:

  _Hist. Nat._ lib. vii. cap. 2.

Footnote 184:

  _Zeitschrift für Deutsches Alterthum_, Bd. vii. p. 232.

The Homeric wild swan is _Cycnus musicus_, great numbers of which yearly
exchange the frozen marshes of the North for the ‘silver lakes and
rivers’ of Greece and Asia Minor. But the swan of the Epics sings no
‘sad dirge of her certain ending.’ Unmelodiously exultant, she flutters
with the rest of the fluttering denizens of the Lydian water-meadows, in
a scene full of animation.

    And as the many tribes of feathered birds, wild geese or cranes
    or long-necked swans, on the Asian mead by Kaÿstros’ stream, fly
    hither and thither joying in their plumage, and with loud cries
    settle ever onwards, and the mead resounds; even so poured forth
    the many tribes of warriors from ships and huts into the
    Scamandrian plain.[185]

Nor do the

                                 Smaller birds with song
                 Solace the woods

of Homeric landscapes; once only, the ‘solemn nightingale’ is permitted,
in the story of the waiting of Penelope, ‘to pour her soft lays.’ ‘Even
as when the daughter of Pandareus,’ the Ithacan queen tells the
disguised Odysseus, ‘the brown bright nightingale, sings sweet in the
first season of the spring, from her place in the thick leafage of the
trees; and with many a turn and thrill she pours forth her full-voiced
music bewailing her child, dear Itylus, whom on a time she slew with the
sword unwitting, Itylus the son of Zethus the prince; even as her song,
my troubled soul sways to and fro.’[186]

Footnote 185:

  _Iliad_, ii. 459-63.

Footnote 186:

  _Odyssey_, xix. 518-24.

Intense appreciation of the sentiment of sound is here unmistakable; yet
elsewhere in the Homeric poems we hear of the sharp cry of the swallow,
of the screams of contending vultures, the piercing shriek of the eagle,
the wild pæan of the hawk, the clamorous vociferations of his terrified
victims, but nothing of the tender notes of thrush, lark, or linnet,
though deliciously audible throughout Greece

             In spring time, when the sun with Taurus rides.

Even in the island of Calypso, where delights are imaginable at will,
the poplars and cypresses house only such harsh-voiced birds as owls,
hawks, and cormorants—perhaps in order to leave the uncontested palm for
sweet singing to the nymph herself. The power of song does not, indeed,
appear to be, in Homer’s view, ‘an excellent thing in woman.’ It is not
included among the gifts of Athene, or even among the graces of
Aphrodite. None of his noble or admirable heroines possess it. It is
reserved, as part of a baleful dower of fascination, for enchantresses
who lure men to oblivion or ruin—for Calypso, Circe, and the Sirens.

The Odyssey being essentially a sea-story, the prevalence in its fauna
of marine species is not surprising. Seals frequently present
themselves; coots and cormorants, laughing gulls and sea-mews, dive and
play amid the surges that beat upon its magic shores; ospreys call and
cry; a cuttle-fish is limned to the life; Scylla has been supposed to
represent a magnified and monstrous cephalopod. Dolphins are common to
the Iliad and Odyssey, and frequent the Ægean nowadays as of old.[187]
Their mythical associations in post-Homeric literature are, indeed,
forgotten; but the direction in which they travel, collected into
shoals, helps the fishermen of Syra and Melos to a rude forecast of the
set of impending winds.

Footnote 187:

  Erhard, _Fauna der Cycladen_, p. 27.

The only significant zoological novelty, then, in the Odyssey may be
said to lie in its recognition of the goose as a domesticated bird. The
prominence given by it to swine-keeping, only incidentally mentioned in
the Iliad, is also noteworthy. A dissimilarity, on the other hand, in
the ethical sentiment towards animals displayed in the two poems—above
all, as regards the horse and dog—cannot fail to strike a dispassionate
reader; but this has been sufficiently dwelt upon in a separate chapter.
The remark need only here be added that the conception of the dog Argos
seems no less thoroughly European than that of the horses of Rhesus is
Asiatic. Both, it is true, may have had a local origin on the same side
of the Hellespont, but, from the point of view of moral geography, they
undoubtedly belong to different continents.


                              CHAPTER VI.

                      TREES AND FLOWERS IN HOMER.

IF we can accept as tolerably complete the view of early Achæan beliefs
presented to us in the Iliad and Odyssey, they included but few
legendary associations with vegetable growths. The treatment of the
Homeric flora, like that of the Homeric fauna, is essentially simple and
direct. One magic herb has a place in it, and the ‘enchanted stem’ of
the lotus bears fruit of inexplicable potency over the subtly compounded
human organism; but tree-worship is as remote from the poet’s thoughts
as animal-worship, and flower-myths seem equally beyond his ken. He knew
of no ‘love-lies-bleeding’ stories interpreting the passionate glow of
scarlet petals; nor of ‘forget-me-not’ stories fitted to the more tender
sentiment of azure blooms; nor of delicate calyxes nurtured by
goddesses’ tears; nor of any other of the wistful human fancies
endlessly intertwined with the beautiful starry apparitions of
spring-tide on the blossoming earth. The simplicity of his admiration
for them might, indeed, almost have incurred the disapprobation of
ultra-Wordsworthians. With the ‘yellow primrose’ he never had an
opportunity of making acquaintance, by ‘the river’s brim’ or elsewhere;
but crocuses or hyacinths, violets or poppies, drew him into no
reveries; no mystical meanings clung about the images of them in his
mind; he looked at them with open eyes of delight, and went his way.

The oak has been called the king of the forest, as the lion the king of
beasts. But its supremacy is largely a thing of the past. To the early
undivided Aryans, it was the tree of trees. Their common name for it,
which survived with its original special meaning in Celtic and Greek,
came, in other languages, to denote the generalised conception of a
tree, showing the oak to have been pre-eminent in their common ancestral
home. Traces of this shifting of the linguistic standpoint are preserved
in some Homeric phrases. Thus, _drûs_—etymologically identical with the
English _tree_—means, not only an oak, but, most probably, the
particular kind of oak familiar to us in England—_Quercus robur_, ‘the
unwedgeable and gnarled oak’ of Shakespeare. But the generic
significance gradually infused into the specific term comes to the front
in several of its compounds. A wood-cutter, for instance, is, in the
Iliad, literally an ‘oak-cutter,’ and the ‘solemn shade’ round Circe’s
dwelling was afforded, etymologically, by an oaken grove, although the
meaning really conveyed by the word _drûma_ was that of a collection of
forest-trees of undetermined and various kinds. In later Greek, too, we
find a woodpecker styled an ‘oakpecker’; and the Dryades, while in name
‘oak-nymphs,’ were, in point of fact, unrestricted in their choice of an
arboreal dwelling-place. By a curious survival of associations, the name
in modern Greek of this antique forest-constituent is _dendron_, a tree;
yet it is now by no means common in Greece. Homer’s oaks were
mountain-reared, sturdy, proof against most contingencies of climate. Of
similar nature were Leonteus and Polypœtes, of the rugged Lapith race,
who indomitably held the way into the Greek camp against the mighty
Asius. ‘These twain,’ we are told, ‘stood in front of the lofty gates,
like high-crested oak-trees in the hills, that for ever abide the wind
and rain, firm fixed with roots great and long.’[188]

Footnote 188:

  _Iliad_, xii. 131-34.

The species of oak at present dominant both in Greece and the Troad is
the ‘oak of Bashan,’ _Quercus ægilops_. Its fruit, the valonia in
commercial demand for tanning purposes, was made serviceable, within
Homer’s experience, under the almost identical name of _balanoi_, only
as food for pigs. Homer’s name for this fine tree—extended, perhaps, to
the closely allied _Quercus esculus_—is _phegos_, signifying ‘edible,’
and denoting, in other European languages, the beech. How, then, did it
come to be transferred, south of the Ceraunian mountains, to a totally
different kind of tree? The explanation is simple. No beeches grew in
the Hellenic peninsula when the first Aryan settlers entered it. A word
was hence left derelict, and was naturally claimed by a conspicuous
forest-tree, until then anonymous, because unknown further north, which
shared with the beech its characteristic quality—so the necessities of
hunger caused it to be esteemed—of producing fruit capable, after a
fashion, of supporting life.[189] So, in the United States, the English
names ‘robin,’ ‘hemlock,’ ‘maple,’ and probably many others, were
unceremoniously handed on to strange species, on the strength of some
casual or superficial resemblances.[190] The tradition of acorn-eating
connected with the rustic Arcadians applied evidently to the fruit of
the valonia-oak, or one of its nearest congeners;[191] and the oracular
oak of Dodona, to which Odysseus pretended to have hied for counsel,
appears to have been of the same description; as was certainly the tree
of Zeus before the Scæan gate, whence Apollo and Athene watched the
single combat between Hector and Ajax, and beneath which the spear of
Tlepolemus was wrenched from the flesh of the fainting Sarpedon. These
two are the only trees divinely appropriated in Homeric verse, and they
command but a small share of the reverence paid by Celts and Teutons to
their sacred oaks.

Footnote 189:

  Schrader and Jevons, _Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryans_, p. 273.

Footnote 190:

  Taylor, _Origin of the Aryans_, p. 27.

Footnote 191:

  Kruse, _Hellas_, Th. i. p. 350; Fraas, _Synopsis_, p. 252.

The beech is an encroaching tree. Wherever it is capable of thriving, it
tends to replace the oak, which has lost, apparently, a great part of
its old propagative energy. Possibly its exposure to the attacks of
countless insect-enemies, from which the beech enjoys immunity, may
account for its comparative helplessness in the battle for life. The
beech is, at any rate, now the typical tree of central Europe; it has
aided in the extirpation of the ancient oak-forests of Jutland, and has
established itself, within the historic period, in Scotland and
Ireland.[192] Its habitat is, however, bounded to the east by a line
drawn from Königsberg on the Baltic to the Caucasus; it is not found in
the Troad, or in Greece south of a track crossing the peninsula from the
Gulf of Arta to the Gulf of Volo. It grows freely, however, on the
slopes of the Mysian Olympus, as well as on Mount Pelion in Thessaly. At
the beginning of the Macedonian era, too, Dicæarchus[193] described the
thick foliage of Pelion as prevalently beechen, though cypresses, silver
firs, junipers, and maples, also abounded, the last three kinds of tree
having since disappeared, while the beech seems to have only just held
its ground.[194] Its relative importance, then, five hundred years
earlier, is not likely to have been very different; yet Homer, who
certainly knew a good deal about Pelion, whether by report, or from
observation, never mentions the beech. It is true that we cannot argue
with any confidence from omission to ignorance. An epic is not an
encyclopædia. The illustrations employed in it are not necessarily
exhaustive of all that the poet’s world contains. We can, then, be
certain of nothing more than that Homer’s idea of a typical forest did
not include the beech. Its appearance, then, in the following spirited
lines from Mr. Way’s excellent translation of the Iliad, has no warrant
in the original, where the third kind of tree mentioned is the _phegos_,
or valonia-oak.

  And as when the East-wind and South-wind in stormy contention strive
  In the glens of a mountain, a deep dark forest to rend and rive,
  Scourging the smooth-stemmed cornel-tree, and the beech and the ash,
  While against each other their far-spreading branches swing and dash
  With unearthly din, and ever the shattering limbs of them crash.[195]

Footnote 192:

  Selby, _History of British Forest Trees_, pp. 309, 319.

Footnote 193:

  Müller, _Geographi Græci minores_, t. i. p. 106.

Footnote 194:

  Tozer, _Researches in the Highlands of Turkey_, vol. ii. pp. 122-23.

Footnote 195:

  Way’s _Iliad_, xvi. 765-69.

The ash, on the other hand, though abundant on many Greek mountains, no
longer waves along the ridgy heights of Pelion. Yet it was here that the
ashen shaft of the great Pelidean spear was cut by the Centaur Chiron.
For in the Homeric account of the arming of Patroclus, after we have
been told of his equipment with the shield, cuirass, and formidably
nodding helmet of Achilles, it is recounted:

    Then seized he two strong lances that fitted his grasp, only he
    took not the spear of the noble son of Aiakos, heavy, and huge,
    and stalwart, that none other of the Achaians could wield, but
    Achilles alone availed to wield it: even the ashen Pelian spear
    that Chiron gave to his father dear, from the crown of Pelion,
    to be the bane of heroes.[196]

The shaft in question could certainly have been hewn nowhere else; the
fact of the Centaur’s residence being attested, to this day, by the
visibility of the cavern inhabited by him, dilapidated, it is true, but
undeniable.[197] Here, surely, is evidence to convince the most
sceptical. Its conclusive force is scarcely inferior to that of the
testimony borne by the graves of Hamlet and Ophelia at Elsinore to the
reality of the tragic endings of those distraught personages.

Footnote 196:

  _Iliad_, xvi. 139-44.

Footnote 197:

  Tozer, _Researches_, vol. ii. p. 126.

The Homeric epithet, ‘quivering with leaves,’ is fully justified, Mr.
Tozer informs us,[198] by the dense clothing of all the heights and
hollows of Chiron’s mountain with beech and oak, chestnut and
plane-trees, besides evergreen _under-garments_ of myrtle, arbutus, and
laurel-bushes. Yet the ash, as we have said, is missing, nor have the
pines felled to build the good ship ‘Argo’[199] left, it would seem, any

Footnote 198:

  _Ib._ p. 122.

Footnote 199:

  _Medea_, 3.

In the Iliad and Odyssey, too, pine-wood is the approved material for
nautical constructions. It was probably derived from the mountain-loving
silver-fir, some grand specimens of which grew nevertheless conveniently
near the sea-shore in remote Ogygia, and provided ‘old Laertes’ son’
with material for his rapidly and skilfully built raft. Homer
distinguishes, in a loose way, at least two species of pine, but their
identification in particular cases is to a great extent arbitrary. The
trees, for instance, employed in conjunction with ‘high-crested’ oaks,
to fence round the court-yard of Polyphemus, may have been the
picturesque stonepines of South Italy, but they may just as well, or
better, have been maritime pines, such as spring up everywhere along the
sandy flats of modern Greece.[200] The stone-pine was sacred to
Cybele.[201] Her husband, Atys, was transformed into one, with the
result of bringing her as near the verge of madness as might be
consistent with her venerable dignity; for actually bereft of reason a
goddess presumably cannot be. This, however, was a post-Homeric legend,
and a post-Homeric association.

Footnote 200:

  Daubeny, _Trees of the Ancients_, p. 19.

Footnote 201:

  Dierbach, _Flora Mythologica_, p. 42.

What might be called the ornamental part of the Ogygian groves consisted
of black poplars, aromatic cypresses, and alders. Indigenous there,
likewise, although heard of only as supplying perfumed firewood, were
the ‘cedar’ and ‘_thuon_,’ split logs of which blazed within the
fragrant cavern where Calypso was found by Hermes tunefully singing
while she plied the shuttle. The cedar here mentioned, however, was no
‘cedar of Lebanon,’ but a description of juniper which attains the full
dimensions of a tree in the lands bordering on the Levant.[202] The
resinous wood yielded by it was highly valued by the Homeric Greeks for
its ‘grateful smell’; store-rooms for precious commodities, and the
‘perfumed apartments’ of noble ladies were constructed of it. This, at
least, is expressly stated of Hecuba’s chamber, and can be inferred of
Helen’s and Penelope’s. The _thuon_, or ‘wood of sacrifice,’ burnt with
cedar-wood on Calypso’s hearth, was identified by Pliny with the African
_citrus_, extravagantly prized for decorative furniture in Imperial
Rome, and thought to be represented by a coniferous tree called _Thuya
articulata_, now met with in Algeria.[203]

Footnote 202:

  Buchholz, _Realien_, Bd. i. Abth. ii. p. 232.

Footnote 203:

  Daubeny, _op. cit._ pp. 40-42.

The trees shadowing, in the Odyssey, the entrance by the ‘deep-flowing
Ocean’ to the barren realm of death,[204] appear to have been selected
for that position owing to a supposed incapacity for ripening fruit. The
grove in question was composed of ‘lofty poplars’ and ‘seed-shedding
willows’; and poplars and willows were alike deemed sterile and, because
sterile, of evil omen.[205] Even among ourselves, the willow retains a
dismal significance, and it is prominent in Chinese funeral rites.[206]
The black poplar continued to the end sacred to Persephone; but its
connexion with Hades, in the traditions of historic Greece, was less
explicit than that of the white poplar (_Populus alba_). This last tree,
called by Homer _acheroïs_, had its especial habitat on the shores of
the Acheron in Thesprotia, whence, as Pausanias relates,[207] it was
brought to the Peloponnesus by Hercules; and the same hero, in a variant
of the story, returned crowned with poplar from his successful
expedition to Hades. In the Odyssey the white poplar does not occur, and
in the Iliad only in a simile employed to render more impressive, first
the collapse of Asius under the stroke of Idomeneus, and again the
overthrow of Sarpedon by Patroclus. ‘And he fell, as an oak falls, or a
poplar, or tall pine tree, that craftsmen have felled on the hills, with
new-whetted axes.’[208]

Footnote 204:

  _Odyssey_, x. 510.

Footnote 205:

  Hayman’s ed. of the _Odyssey_, vol. ii. p. 174; Pliny, _Hist. Nat._
  xvi. 46.

Footnote 206:

  Gubernatis, _Mythologie des Plantes_, t. ii. p. 337.

Footnote 207:

  _Descriptio Græciæ_, v. 14.

Footnote 208:

  _Iliad_, xiii. 389; xvi. 482-84.

The author of the Iliad ascribes no under-world relationships either to
the white or to the black poplar. His sole funereal tree is the elm.
Relating the misfortunes of her family, Andromache says:

                                 Fell Achilles’ hand
              My sire Aetion slew, what time his arms
              The populous city of Cilicia raz’d,
              The lofty-gated Thebes; he slew indeed,
              But stripp’d him not; he reverenc’d the dead;
              And o’er his body, with his armour burnt,
              A mound erected, and the mountain-nymphs,
              The progeny of ægis-bearing Jove,
              Planted around his tomb a grove of elms.[209]

Now the elm, like the poplar and willow, had, from of old, the
not-unfounded reputation of partial sterility, and was for this reason
made the legendary abode of dreams[210]—things without progeny or
purpose, that passing ‘leave not a rack behind.’ Virgil’s giant elm in
the vestibule of Orcus,

                               Quam sedem Somnia vulgo
            Vana tenere ferunt, foliisque sub omnibus hærent,

is the literary embodiment of this popular idea. Evidently, then, the
trees of mourning in the Iliad and Odyssey were singled out owing to
their possession of a common, though by no means obvious peculiarity;
yet their selection in each poem is different. This is the more
remarkable because associations of the sort, once established, are
almost ineradicable from what we may call tribal consciousness.
Cypresses have no share in them, so far as Homer is concerned. Their
appointment to the office of mourning the dead would seem to have been
subsequently resolved upon. The connexion was, at any rate, well
established before the close of the classic age, when funeral-pyres were
made by preference of cypress wood, the tree itself being consecrated to
the hated Dis.[211] And Pausanias met with groves of cypresses
surrounding the tomb of Laïs near Corinth, and of Alcmæon, son of the
ill-fated seer Amphiaraus, at Psophis in Arcadia.[212] The tradition
survives, nowadays in the East, in the planting of Turkish cemeteries.

Footnote 209:

  Lord Derby’s _Iliad_, vi. 414-20.

Footnote 210:

  Dierbach, _Flora Mythologica_, p. 34.

Footnote 211:

  _Ib._ p. 49.

Footnote 212:

  _Descriptio Græciæ_, ii. 2, viii. 24.

The vegetation along the shores of the Scamander (now the Mendereh) has
undergone, so far as can be judged, singularly little alteration during
nearly three thousand years. Homer sings of

                    the willows, elms, and tamarisk shrubs,
              The lotus, and the reeds, and galingal,
              Which by the lovely river grew profuse.[213]

And there they have continued to grow. The swampy district below
Hissarlik bristles with reeds and bulrushes; the whole plain is thick
with trefoil (the ‘lotus’ of the Iliad); while the banks of the famous
stream, once choked with Trojan dead, are fringed—Dr. Virchow
relates—with double rows of willows intermixed with tamarisks and young
elms. If no such robust trunk is now to be seen as that of the elm-tree,
by the help of which Achilles struggled out of the raging torrent, the
deficiency is accidental, not inherent. Potential trees are kept
perpetually in the twig stage by the unsparing ravages of camels and
browsing goats. To judge of the former sylvan state of the Troad, one
must ascend the valley of the Thymbrius—the modern Kimar Su.[214] There
the valonia-oak, the ilex, the plane, and the hornbeam, attain a fine
stature; pine-groves clothe the declivities; hazel-bushes and arbutus,
hops and wild vines, trail over the rocks, and cluster in the hollows.
Along the Asmak, dense growths of asphodel send up flower-stalks
reaching a horse’s withers; the elm-bushes are entangled with roses and
arums; the turf is sprinkled with coronilla, dandelion, starry trefoil,
red silene; fields are sheeted white with the blossoms of the
water-ranunculus; the ‘flowery Scamandrian plain’ that gladdened the
eyes of the ancient bard is still visibly spread out before the
traveller of to-day. Homer, indeed, as Dr. Virchow remarks, knew a good
deal more about the Troad than most of his critics, even if he did, on
occasions, subordinate topographical accuracy to poetical exigency.

Footnote 213:

  Lord Derby’s _Iliad_, xxi. 350-52.

Footnote 214:

  _Berlin. Abhandlungen_, 1879, p. 71.

The plane-tree nowhere shows to more splendid advantage than in Greece
and Asia Minor; but the only specimen commemorated in the Greek epics
grew at Aulis, and sheltered the altar upon which the hecatombs of the
expeditionary force were offered during the time of waiting terminated
by the sacrifice of Iphigenia. It was the scene, too, of a portent; for
one day, in full view of the astonished Achæans, a serpent crept up its
trunk to devour the nine callow inmates of a sparrow’s nest among its
branches, and on the completion of a sufficiently ample meal by the
deglutition of the mother-bird, was then and there turned into
stone.[215] The decade of consumed sparrows—mother and chicks—signified,
according to the interpretation of Calchas, the ten years of the siege
of Troy; and the reality of the event was attested to later generations
by the display, in the temple of Artemis at Aulis, of some wood from the
identical tree within the living compass of whose branches it had
occurred.[216] Had the petrified snake been producible as well, the
evidence would have been complete.

Footnote 215:

  _Iliad_, ii. 305-29.

Footnote 216:

  Pausanias, ix. 20.

The legendary plane-tree had, however, when Pausanias visited Aulis,
been replaced by a group of palms imported from Syria, the nearest home
of the species, whence the Phœnicians had not failed to transport it
westward. It accordingly, as being derived from the same prolific source
of novelties, shared the name ‘Phœnix’ with the brilliant colour
produced by the Tyrian dye. But its introduction seems to belong to the
later Achæan age. For the palm is unknown in the Iliad, and emerges only
once in the Odyssey,[217] although then with particular emphasis. The
individual tree seen by Homer was probably the first planted on Greek
soil. It spread its crown of leaves above the shrine of Apollo, at
Delos. And when the storm-tossed Odysseus set his wits to work to win
the protection of Nausicaa—a matter of life or death to him at the
moment—he could think of no more flattering comparison for the youthful
stateliness of her aspect, than to the vivid upspringing grace of the
tall, arboreal exotic. A tradition, not reported by Homer, who nowhere
localises the birth of a god, asserted Apollo to have come into the
world beneath that very tree, or one of its predecessors in the same
spot; and it still had successors in the Augustan age.[218]

Footnote 217:

  _Odyssey_, vi. 162.

Footnote 218:

  Hayman’s _Odyssey_, vol. i. p. 226.

The laurel, although exceedingly common in Greece, is found only in one
of the semi-fabulous regions of the Homeric world. The entrance to the
cavern of Polyphemus was shaded by its foliage, not as yet sacred to the
sun-god. Equally detached from relationship to Athene is the olive, with
which, however, acquaintance is implied both in its wild and cultivated
varieties. The latter Pindar asserts to have been introduced into his
native country, from the ‘dark sources of the Ister,’ by Hercules,[219]
who showed unexpected skill in the difficult art of acclimatisation; and
the value in which it was held can readily be gathered from the
following beautiful simile:

Footnote 219:

  _Olymp._ iii. 25-32.

    As when a man reareth some lusty sapling of an olive in a clear
    space where water springeth plenteously, a goodly shoot
    fair-growing; and blasts of all winds shake it, yet it bursteth
    into white blossom; then suddenly cometh the wind of a great
    hurricane and wresteth it out of its abiding-place and
    stretcheth it out upon the earth; even so lay Panthoös’ son,
    Euphorbos of the good ashen spear, when Menelaos, Atreus’ son,
    had slain him, and despoiled him of his arms.[220]

Footnote 220:

  _Iliad_, xvii. 53-60.

Olive-wood was the favourite material for axe-handles and clubs; and the
bed of Odysseus was carved by himself out of an olive-tree still rooted
within a chamber of his palace.[221] In the modern Ithaca, the olive
alone of all the trees that once flourished there has resisted
extirpation, and everywhere in the Ionian Islands attains a size
entitling its assemblages to rank as forests, rather than as mere
groves.[222] Thus, the olive planted at the head of the bay where
Odysseus landed after his long wanderings, was ‘wide-spreading’ in point
of simple fact, needing no poetical licence to make it so. Olive-oil
does not appear to have been then in culinary employment; its chief use
was for anointing the body after bathing. This indispensable luxury was
provided for, in opulent establishments, by laying up a goodly stock of
oil among such household treasures as were entrusted by Penelope to the
care of Eurycleia.[223]

Footnote 221:

  _Odyssey_, xxiii. 190.

Footnote 222:

  Schliemann, quoted in Hayman’s _Odyssey_, vol. iii. p. 15.

Footnote 223:

  _Odyssey_, ii. 339.

The Homeric poems contain no allusion to the perfume of either flowers
or fruit. This is the more surprising from the extreme sensitiveness
betrayed in them to olfactory impressions of other kinds. We hear of
‘scented apartments,’ ‘sweet-smelling garments,’ of the aromatic quality
of the cypress, of the spicy air wafted through Calypso’s island from
the juniper and citron-logs serving her for fuel, even of the barely
appreciable fragrance of olive-oil. Offensive odours excite
corresponding horror. Menelaus and his comrades were utterly unable to
endure, without the solace of an ambrosial antidote, the ‘ancient and
fish-like smell’ of the sealskins disguised in which they lay in wait
for Proteus, under the tutelary guidance of the sea-nymph Eidothea, his
scarcely dutiful daughter. The Spartan king, relating the incident to
Telemachus, was confident of meeting with fellow-feeling when he said:

    There would our ambush have been most terrible, for the deadly
    stench of the sea-bred seals distressed us sore; nay, who would
    lay him down by a beast of the sea? But herself she wrought
    deliverance, and devised a great comfort. She took ambrosia of a
    very sweet savour, and set it beneath each man’s nostril, and
    did away with the stench of the beast.[224]

Footnote 224:

  _Odyssey_, iv. 441-46, and Hayman’s notes.

As we read, the tradition that Homer’s last days were prolonged by the
perfume of an apple, grows intelligible. And yet the balmy breath of
Pierian violets and Cilician crocuses drew no comment from him!

The flowers distinctively noticed by him are: poppies, hyacinths,
crocuses, violets, and, by implication, roses and white lilies. And it
is somewhat remarkable that, while all the items of this not very long
list can be collected from the Iliad, only two of them recur in any
shape in the Odyssey. The former poem recognises the artificial
cultivation of the poppy, probably, as we shall see, for gastronomic
purposes, since there could be no question at that epoch, in Greece or
Asia Minor, of the preparation of opium. The death, by an arrow-shot
from the bow of Teucrus, of the youthful Gorgythion, son of Priam and
Castianeira, is thus described.

    Even as in a garden a poppy droopeth its head aside, being heavy
    with fruit and the showers of spring, so bowed he aside his head
    laden with his helm.[225]

Footnote 225:

  _Iliad_, viii. 306-308.

Crimson poppies now bloom freely along the Mendereh valley; they were
symbolical, in classical Greece, of fruitfulness, love, and death, and
were associated with the cult of Demeter.[226] Their fabled origin from
the tears of Aphrodite for the death of Adonis, was shared with

Footnote 226:

  Buchholz, _Realien_, Bd. i. Abth. ii. p. 250.

Mount Gargarus, the loftiest peak of Ida, blossomed, according to the
Iliad, with hyacinths, crocuses, and lotus. This last term designates,
however, not the lily of the Nile, but a kind of clover, much relished
by the steeds, not only of heroic, but of immortal owners. The fragrant
yellow flowers borne by it are not expressly adverted to; the function
of the Homeric lotus-grass was rather to supply herbage than to evoke

The identification of the hyacinth of Mount Ida has employed much
learning and ingenuity, and the result of learned discussions is not
always unanimity of opinion. The case in point is indeed very nearly one
of _quot homines, tot sententiæ_. The gladiolus, larkspur, iris, the
Martagon lily, the common hyacinth, have all had advocates, each of whom
considers his case to be of convincing, not to say, of irresistible
strength. The last-mentioned and most obvious solution of the problem is
that favoured by Buchholz,[227]

Footnote 227:

  _Loc. cit._ p. 219.

and he supports it with the reasonable surmise that the epithet
‘hyacinthine,’ applied to the locks of Odysseus, referred, not to
colour, but to form, their closely-set curls recalling forcibly enough
the _ringleted_ effect of the congregated flowerets. The dry soil of
Greece is particularly suitable to the hyacinth, sundry kinds of
which—one of them so deeply blue as to be nearly black—are found all
over the Peloponnesus, in the Ionian islands, and high up on the
outlying bulwarks of Olympus.[228] The ‘flower of Ajax,’ legibly
inscribed with an interjection of woe, sprang up for the first time in
Salamis, it was said, just after the hero it commemorated had met his
tragic fate.[229] Another story connected it similarly with the death of
Hyacinthus; and it was probably identical with the scarlet gladiolus
(_Gladiolus byzantinus_), almost certainly with the _suave rubens
hyacinthus_ of the Third Eclogue, but not with the Homeric hyacinth,
which is undistinguished in folk-lore.

Footnote 228:

  Kruse, _Hellas_, Th. i. p. 359.

Footnote 229:

  Pausanias, i. 35.

The ‘violet-crowned’ Athenians of old, could they recross the Styx to
wander by the Ilissus, would be struck with at least one unwelcome
change. For violets no longer grow in Attica. They are nevertheless
found, although sparingly, in most other parts of Greece, and up to an
elevation of two thousand feet on the slopes of Parnassus. Homer often
mentions them allusively, but introduces them directly only once, and
then, as Fraas has remarked, in the incongruous company of the
marsh-loving wild parsley (_Apium palustre_).[230] Unjustifiable from a
botanical point of view, the conjunction may have had an æsthetic
motive. In the festal garlands of classic Greece, violets and parsley
were commonly associated, and their association was perhaps dictated by
a survival of the taste displayed in the embellishment of Calypso’s
well-watered meadow.

Footnote 230:

  _Synopsis Plantarum_, p. 114; Hayman’s _Odyssey_, vol. i. p. 175.

Homeric violets, at any rate, flourished nowhere else ostensibly; but
from their modest retirement within the poet’s mind supplied him with a
colour-epithet, which he employed, one might make bold to say, without
over-nice discrimination. The sea might indeed, under certain aspects,
be fitly so described; but iron makes a very distant approach to the hue
indicated; and Nature must have been in her most sportive mood when she
clothed the flock of Polyphemus in violet fleeces. Polyphemus, to be
sure, lived in a semi-fabulous world, where it has been suggested[231]
that wool might conceivably _grow dyed_, as in the restored Saturnian
kingdom imagined by Virgil;[232] and the dark-blue material attached to
Helen’s golden distaff[233] was evidently a far-travelled rarity, such
as might be produced by the use of a foreign dye. But there is no
evidence of primitive acquaintance with a blue dye; indeed, if one had
been known, it is practically certain that the colour due to it would
have been named, either, like indigo, from the substance affording it,
or, like ‘Tyrian’ purple, from its place of origin. The hue of the
violet, however, as it appeared to Homer, does not bear to be more
distinctly defined than as dusky, while with Virgil it was frankly

                 Et nigræ violæ sunt, et vaccinia nigra.

Not preternaturally blue, but naturally black sheep, may then be
concluded to have been tended by the Cyclops.

Footnote 231:

  Hayman’s _Odyssey_, vol. ii. p. 116.

Footnote 232:

  _Ecl._ iv. 42.

Footnote 233:

  _Odyssey_, iv. 135.

The crocus of Mount Ida—the crocus that ‘brake like fire’ at the feet of
the three Olympian competitors for the palm of beauty—was the splendid
golden flower (_Crocus sativus_) yielding, through its orange-coloured
stigmas, a dye once deemed magnificent, a perfume ranked amongst the
choicest luxuries of Rome, and a medicine in high ancient and mediæval
repute. But its vogue has passed. Saffron slippers are no longer an
appanage of supreme dignity; the ‘saffron wings’ of Iris are folded; the
‘saffron robes’ of the Dawn retain the glamour only of what they
signify; to the chymist and the cook, the antique floral ingredient, so
long and so extravagantly prized, is of very subordinate importance.

Both the word ‘crocus’ and its later equivalent ‘saffron,’ are of
Semitic origin. Witness the Hebrew form _karkom_ of the first,[234] the
Arabic _sahafaran_ of the second, developed out of _assfar_, yellow, and
represented by the Spanish _azafran_, whence our ‘saffron.’ The plant
was widely and profitably cultivated under Moorish rule in Spain, and
was probably introduced by the Phœnicians into Greece, though the common
vernal crocus is certainly indigenous there, its white and purple cups
begemming all the declivities of ‘Hellas and Argos.’ The saffron-crocus,
too, now grows wild in such dry and chalky soil as Sunium and Hymettus
afford;[235] yet its name betrays its foreign affinities. Saffron-tinted
garments had perhaps never, down to Homer’s time, been seen in Greece
itself; he was beyond doubt unacquainted with the actual use of the dye,
and distributed with the utmost parsimony the splendour conferred by it.
Not only were mere mortals excluded from a share in it, neither Hecuba
nor Helen owning a crocus-bordered peplos, but none such set off the
formidable charms of the goddess-hostesses of Odysseus, in the fairy
isles where he lingered, home-sick amid strange luxury. Saffron robes
are, in fact, assigned by the poet of the Iliad, exclusively to Eos, the
Dawn, while in the Odyssey, the crocus is never referred to, directly or

Footnote 234:

  Hehn and Stallybrass, _op. cit._ p. 199; De Candolle, however,
  inclines to believe that carthamine, not saffron, is indicated by the
  Hebrew _karkom_ (_Origin of Cultivated Plants_, p. 166).

Footnote 235:

  Buchholz, _Realien_, Bd. i. Abth. ii. p. 220.

Some centuries after the material part of Homer had been reduced to

                                       A drift of white
                  Dust in a cruse of gold,

crocus-coloured tresses came poetically into fashion. The daughters of
Celeus, in the Hymn to Demeter, were endowed with them; Ariadne at
Naxos, too, besides other mythical maidens. And Roman ladies realised
the idea of employing saffron as a hair-dye, the stern disapproval of
Tertullian and Saint Jerome notwithstanding.[236] The scent of the
crocus was made part of the pleasures of the amphitheatre by the
diffusion among the audience of saffron-wine in the finest possible
spray, and Heliogabalus habitually bathed in saffron-water. The flower,
too, was noted by Pliny with the rose, lily, and violet, for its
delicious fragrance,[237] Homer’s apparent insensibility to which may
well suggest a doubt whether, after all, he knew the late-blooming,
golden crocus otherwise than by reputation.

Footnote 236:

  Syme, _English Botany_, vol. ix. p. 151.

Footnote 237:

  _Hist. Nat._ xxi. 17.

As regards the rose and the lily, the doubt becomes wellnigh certainty.
Both gave rise to Homeric epithets; neither takes in the Homeric poems a
concrete form. The Iranic derivation of their Greek names, _rhodon_ and
_leirion_, shows the native home of each of these matchless blossoms to
have been in Persia.[238] Thence, according to M. Hehn, they travelled
through Armenia and Phrygia into Thrace, and eventually, by that
circuitous route, reached Greece proper. Commemorative myths strewed the
track of their progressive transmissions. Thus, the mountain Rhodope in
Thrace took its name from a ‘rosy-footed’ attendant upon Persephone, in
the ‘crocus-purple hour’ of her capture by ‘gloomy Dis;’ and in the same
vicinity were located the Nysæan Fields—the scene of the disaster—then,
for a snare of enticement to the damsel, ablaze with roses and lilies,
‘a marvel to behold,’ with narcissus, crocuses, violets, and
hyacinths.[239] Moreover, roses, each with sixty leaves, and highly
perfumed, were said to blossom spontaneously in the Emathian gardens of
King Midas;[240] Theophrastus places near Philippi the original habitat
of the hundred-leaved rose; and roses were profusely employed in the
rites of Phrygian nature-worship.

Footnote 238:

  Hehn, _op. cit._ p. 189.

Footnote 239:

  _Hymn to Demeter._

Footnote 240:

  Herodotus, viii. 138.

Dim rumours of their loveliness spread among the Homeric Greeks. The
standing Odyssean designation of Eos as ‘rosy-fingered,’ alternating, in
the Iliad, with ‘saffron-robed,’ heralded, it might be said, the
European advent of the flower itself. For rose-gardens can have lain
only just below the Homeric horizon. Their ambrosial products did not
indeed come within mortal reach, but were at the disposal of the gods.
By the application of oil of roses, Aphrodite kept the body of Hector
fresh and fair during the twelve days of its savage maltreatment by
Achilles; and oil of roses was later an accredited antiseptic.
Archilochus seems to have been the first Greek poet to make living
acquaintance with the blushing flower of Dionysus and Aphrodite, which
became known likewise only to the writers of the later books of
Scripture. The ‘Rose of Sharon’ is accordingly believed to have been a

Allusions to the lily do not occur in the Odyssey, and are vague and
ill-defined in the Iliad. The flesh of Ajax might intelligibly, if not
appropriately, be designated ‘lily-like’; but the same term applied to
sounds conveys little or no meaning to our minds. Even if we admit a
far-fetched analogy between the song of the Muses, as something uncommon
and tenderly beautiful, and a fragile white flower, we have to confess
ourselves bewildered by the extension of the comparison to the shrill
voices of cicadas, rasping out their garrulous contentment amidst summer

The slenderness, then, of Homer’s acquaintance with the finer kinds of
bloom introduced gradually from the East, is apparent from his seeming
ignorance of their ravishing perfumes, no less than from the inadequacy
of his hints as to their beauty of form and colour. His love of flowers
was in the instinctive stage; it had not come to the maturity of
self-consciousness. They obtained recognition from him neither as
symbols of feeling, nor as accessories to enjoyment. Nausicaa wove no
garlands; the cultivation of flowers in the gardens of Alcinous is left
doubtful; Laertes pruned his pear-trees, and dug round his vines, but
reared for his solace not so much as a poppy. No display of living
jewellery aided the seductions of Circe’s island; Calypso was content to
plant the unpretending violet; Aphrodite herself was without a floral
badge; floral decorations of every kind were equally unthought of.
Flowers, in fact, had not yet been brought within the sphere of human
sentiment; they had not yet acquired significance as emblems of human
passion; they had not yet been made partners with humanity in the
sorrows of death, and the transient pleasures of a troubled and
ephemeral existence.


                              CHAPTER VII.

                             HOMERIC MEALS.

HEROIC appetites were strong and simple. They craved ‘much meat,’ and
could be completely appeased with nothing else; but they demanded little
more. They needed no savoury caresses or spicy blandishments. Occasion
indeed to stimulate them there was none, though much difficulty might
arise about satisfying them. For they disdained paltry subterfuges.
Fish, game, and vegetables they accepted in lieu of more substantial
prey; but under protest. Hunger, in consenting to receive such trifles,
merely compounded for a partial settlement of her claim.

The Homeric bill of fare was concise, and admitted of slight
diversification. Day after day, and at meal after meal, roast meat,
bread, and wine were set before perennially eager guests, in whose
esteem any fundamental change in the materials of the banquet would
certainly have been for the worse. Variety, in fact, was in the inverse
ratio of abundance. Want alone counselled departures from the beaten
track of opulent feasting, and compelled the reluctant adoption of
inadequate expedients for silencing the imperative outcries of famine.
Nevertheless it cannot be supposed that the epical setting forth of
Achæan culinary resources was as exhaustive as the menu of a Guildhall
dinner. For where would be the ‘swiftness’ of a narrative which could
not leave so much as a dish of beans to the imagination? Homeric
criticism is indeed everywhere complicated by the necessity of admitting
wide gaps of silence; and in this particular department, so much
evidently remains in those gaps, that our list of comestibles must be to
a great extent inferential.

‘Butcher’s meat’ (as we call it) was the staple food of Greek heroes.
Oxen, however, were not recklessly slaughtered. ‘Great meals of beef’
usually honoured solemn occasions. The fat beasts, reckoned to be in
their prime at five years old, met their fate for the most part in
connexion with some expiatory ceremony, as that employed to stay the
pestilence in the First Iliad, or as the sacrifice for victory offered
by Agamemnon in the Second Iliad. The gods were then served first with
tit-bits wrapped in fat, and reduced by fire to ashes and steamy odours,
peculiarly grateful to immortal nostrils. Portions of the haunches were
often chosen for this purpose; the tongue might be added; while at other
times, samples of the whole carcass at large seemed preferable. What
remained was cut up into small pieces after a fashion still prevailing
in Albania,[241] and these, having been filed upon spits, were rapidly
grilled. Thickly strewn with barley-meal, they were then distributed by
a steward, and eaten with utensils of nature’s providing. Specially
honoured guests had pieces from the chine—‘_perpetui tergo
bovis_’—allotted to them; and they might, if they chose, share their
‘booty’ (so it was designated) with any other to whom they desired to
pass on the compliment, as Odysseus did to Demodocus at the Phæacian
feast. The glad recipients of these greasy favours were obviously exempt
from modern fastidiousness.

Footnote 241:

  E. F. Knight, _Albania_, p. 225, 1880.

Sheep and goats were prepared for table precisely in the same way with
oxen, and so likewise were pigs, save that they were not divested of
their skins. ‘Cracklings’ were already appreciated. Roast pork appears,
in the Iliad, only on the hospitable board of Achilles; but is less
exclusively apportioned in the Odyssey. A brace of sucking-pigs were
instantly killed and cooked by Eumæus, the swineherd of Odysseus, on the
arrival of his disguised master. Yet he was very far from estimating at
their true value the tender merits of the dish celebrated by Elia as
perfectly ‘satisfactory to the criticalness of the censorious palate,’
actually apologising for it as ‘servants’ fare,’ wholly unacceptable to
the haughty Suitors, for whose profuse entertainment a full-grown porker
had to be daily sacrificed. Each man, however, despatched his pig, and
was shortly ready for more. And so captivated was Eumæus, by the time
his four underlings returned from the fields for supper, with his
outwardly sorry guest, that, enlarging the bounds of his liberality, he
ordered the slaughter of a noble hog, whose adipose perfections had been
ripening during full five years of life. His cooking was promptly
executed, and one share having been set aside for the local nymphs, the
six men fell to, and left only such scraps as served for an early
breakfast next morning. The performance would have been creditable in
modern Somaliland.

Every Homeric hero was an accomplished butcher, and no despicable cook.
Both offices were, indeed, too closely connected with religious ritual
to have any note of degradation attached to them. Thus, animals were
habitually understood to be ‘sacrificed,’ not killed in the purely
carnal sense, and the preparation of their flesh for table was
formalised as part of the ceremony of worship. The Suitors were marked
out as a reckless and impious crew by discarding all sacerdotal
functions from their meal-time operations; yet they reserved to
themselves, as if it belonged to their superior station, the pleasing
duty of cutting the throats of the beasts they were about to devour,
passing with the least possible delay from the shambles to the

Homeric culinary art perhaps really covered a wider range than is
attributed to it in the Poems, where it is designedly represented under
a quasi-ritualistic aspect. Although meat, for instance, so far as can
be learned from direct statement, was invariably roast or grilled, it by
no means follows that it was never eaten boiled or stewed. The contrary
inference is indeed fairly warranted by the frequent conjunction of
pots, water, and fire; and was thought by Athenæus to derive support
from the use as a missile, aimed at Odysseus in unprovoked savagery by
Ctesippus, one of the Suitors, of an ox’s foot, which happened to be
lying conveniently at hand in a bread-basket.[242] For who, asked the
gastronomical sophist, ever thought of roasting an ox’s foot?[243] The
casual display, too, in a simile of the Iliad, of a caldron of boiling
lard,[244] assures us that some kind of frying process was familiar to
the poet.

Footnote 242:

  _Odyssey_, xx. 299.

Footnote 243:

  Potter, _Archæologia Græca_, vol. ii. p. 360.

Footnote 244:

  _Iliad_, xxi. 362.

Among the few secondary articles of diet specified by him was a
sausage-like composition, of so irredeemably coarse a character, that
‘ears polite’ cannot fail to be offended at its literal description. It
consisted, to speak plainly, of the stomach or intestines of a goat,
stuffed with blood and fat, and kept revolving before a hot fire until
thoroughly done. The Suitors, of noble lineage though they were,
occasionally supped off this seductive viand, which may, nevertheless,
be concluded to have engaged chiefly plebeian patronage.

No quality of game is known to have been rejected through prejudice or
superstition by the Homeric Greeks. But even venison ranked in the
second line after beef, mutton, and pork. It was sheer hunger that made
the ‘sequestered stag’ brought down by Odysseus in Ææa a real godsend to
his disconsolate crew; and hunger again reduced them, in the island of
Thrinakie, to the necessity of supporting life with fish and birds, both
kinds of prey equally being taken by means of baited hooks.[245] But
they set about their capture only when the exhaustion of the ship’s
store of flour and wine warned them to bestir themselves; and the
regimen their ingenuity provided was so distasteful, and fell so little
short, in their opinion and sensations, of absolute starvation, that the
fatal temptation to seek criminal relief at the expense of the oxen of
the Sun, proved irresistible. They succumbed to it, and perished.

Footnote 245:

  _Odyssey_, xii. 332.

Small birds were, however, beyond doubt habitually eaten by the poor.
The snaring of pigeons and fieldfares is alluded to in the Odyssey,[246]
and was practised, we may be sure, in the interests of the appetite. Nor
can we suppose that Penelope and the ‘divine Helen’ entirely abstained
from tasting the geese reared by them, although curiosity and amusement
may have been the chief motives for the care bestowed upon them. Poultry
of other kinds, as we have seen in another chapter, there was none. But
hares must have been used for food, since, like roebucks and wild goats,
they were hunted with dogs,[247] certainly not for the mere sake of
sport. As regards boars, the case stands somewhat differently. For their
destructiveness imposed their slaughter as a necessity. The subsequent
consumption of their flesh is left to conjecture. The remains of the
Calydonian brute seem to have been contended for rather through
arrogance than through appetite, Meleager and the sons of Thestius
standing forth as the champions of antagonistic claims to the trophies
of the chace. That the boar sacrificed in attestation of the oath of
Agamemnon in the Nineteenth Iliad was afterwards flung by Talthybius far
into the sea to be ‘food for fishes,’ is without significance on the
point of edibility. Victims thus immolated never furnished the material
for feasts; they belonged to the subterranean powers, and fell under the
shadow of their inauspicious influence.

Footnote 246:

  _Odyssey_, xxii. 468.

Footnote 247:

  _Odyssey_, xvii. 295.

The fish-eating tastes of the Greeks were of comparatively late
development. Homeric prepossessions were decidedly against ‘fins and
shining scales’ of every variety. Eels were ranked apart. Etymological
evidence shows them to have been primitively classified with
serpents,[248] and they appeared, from this point of view, not merely
unacceptable, but absolutely inadmissible, as food. The resemblance was
thus protective, not by the design of nature, but through the
misapprehension of man, and the ingenuity of hunger was diverted from
seeming watersnakes to less repulsive prey. This was found in the
silvery shoals and ‘fry innumerable’ inhabiting the same element, but
differentiated from their congeners by the more obvious possession, and
more active use of fins. The Homeric fishermen, however, were not
enthusiastic in their vocation. Its meditative pleasures made no appeal
to them, and they were very sensible of the unsatisfied gastronomic
cravings which survived the utmost success in its pursuit. Nets or hooks
were employed as occasion required. A heavy haul from the deep is
recalled by the gruesome spectacle of the piled-up corpses in the
banqueting-hall at Ithaca.

Footnote 248:

  Skeat, _Etymological Dictionary_. Ἔγχελυς, an eel, is equivalent to
  _anguilla_, diminutive of _anguis_, a snake; cf. Buchholz, _Realien_,
  Bd. i. Abth. ii. p. 107.

    But he found all the sort of them fallen in their blood in the
    dust, like fishes that the fishermen have drawn forth in the
    meshes of the net into a hollow of the beach from out the grey
    sea, and all the fish, sore longing for the salt sea-waves, are
    heaped upon the sand, and the sun shines forth and takes their
    life away; so now the wooers lay heaped upon each other.[249]

We do not elsewhere hear of net-fishing;[250] but rod-and-line similes
occur twice in the Iliad, and once in the Odyssey. So Patroclus, after
the manner of an angler, hooked Thestor, son of Enops.

Footnote 249:

  _Odyssey_, xxii. 383-89.

Footnote 250:

  Either birds or fishes might be understood to be taken in the net
  mentioned in _Iliad_, v. 487.

    And Patroclus caught hold of the spear and dragged him over the
    rim of the car, as when a man sits on a jutting rock, and drags
    a sacred fish forth from the sea, with line and glittering hook
    of bronze; so on the bright spear dragged he Thestor gaping from
    the chariot, and cast him down on his face, and life left him as
    he fell.[251]

Footnote 251:

  _Iliad_, xvi. 406-410.

So too, Scylla exercised her craft:

            As when a fisher on a jutting rock,
            With long and taper rod, to lesser fish
            Casts down the treacherous bait, and in the sea
            Plunges his tackle with its oxhorn guard;
            Then tosses out on land a gasping prey;
            So gasping to the cliff my men were raised.[252]

Footnote 252:

  _Odyssey_, xii. 251-55 (W. C. Green’s translation in _Similes of the
  Iliad_, p. 259).

Spearing, not rod-fishing, is thought by some commentators to be here
indicated; but a weighted line is plainly described where the
‘storm-swift Iris’ plunges into the ‘black sea’ on the errand of Zeus to

             Like to a plummet, which the fisherman
             Lets fall, encas’d in wild bull’s horn, to bear
             Destruction to the sea’s voracious tribes.[253]

Footnote 253:

  _Iliad_, xxiv. 80-82. (Lord Derby.)

River-fishing is passed over in silence. Yet it was doubtless practised,
since the finny denizens of Scamander are remembered with pity for the
discomfort ensuing to them from the fight between Achilles and the
River; and the admixture of perch with tunny and hake-bones in the
prehistoric waste-heaps at Hissarlik[254] makes it clear that
fresh-water fish were not neglected by the early inhabitants of the

Footnote 254:

  Virchow, _Berlin. Abh._ 1879, p. 63.

Homeric seafarers did not resort to fishing as a means of diversifying
the monotony, either of their occupations or of their commissariat. They
got out their hooks and lines when famine was at hand, and never
otherwise. Menelaus accordingly, recounting the story of his detention
at Pharos, vivified the impression of his own distress, and the hunger
of his men, by the mention of the piscatorial pursuits they were reduced
to.[255] And Odysseus, in his narrative to Alcinous, similarly
emphasised a similar experience. Fishermen by profession, it can hence
be inferred, belonged to the poorest and rudest of the community. Among
them were to be found divers for oysters. Patroclus, mocking the fall of
Cebriones, exclaims:

Footnote 255:

  _Odyssey_, iv. 368.

    Out on it, how nimble a man, how lightly he diveth! Yea, if
    perchance he were on the teeming deep, this man would satisfy
    many by seeking for oysters, leaping from the ship, even if it
    were stormy weather; so lightly now he diveth from the chariot
    into the plain. Verily among the Trojans too there be diving

The trade was then well known, and the molluscs it dealt in constituted,
it is equally plain to be seen, a familiar article of diet. Their
provision for the dead, in the graves of Mycenæ,[257] emphasises this
inference all the more strongly from the absence of any other evidence
of Mycenæan fish-eating.

Footnote 256:

  _Iliad_, xvi. 745-50.

Footnote 257:

  Schliemann, _Mycenæ_, p. 332.

Neither fish nor flesh was, in the Homeric world, preserved by means of
salt or otherwise as a resource against future need. The distribution of
superfluity was not better understood in time than in space. Meat, as we
have seen, was killed and eaten on the spot; and the husbanding of
fish-supplies was still less likely to be thought of. Salt was, however,
regularly used as a condiment; it was sprinkled over roast meat,[258]
and a pinch of salt was a proverbial expression for the indivisible
atom, so to speak, of charity.[259] Only the marine stores of the
commodity were drawn upon; those concealed by the earth remained
unexplored—a circumstance in itself marking the great antiquity of the
poems; and it was accordingly regarded as characteristic of an inland
people to eat no salt with their food.[260] Its efficacy for ritual
purification was fully recognised; and the ceremonial of sacrifice
probably involved some use of it; but this is not fully

Footnote 258:

  _Iliad_, ix. 214.

Footnote 259:

  _Odyssey_, xvii. 455.

Footnote 260:

  _Odyssey_, xi. 123, with Hayman’s note.

Footnote 261:

  Buchholz, _Realien_, Bd. i. Abth. ii. p. 294.

The farinaceous part of Homeric diet was furnished, according to
circumstances, either by barley-meal, or by wheaten flour. The former
was lauded as the ‘marrow of men’; ship-stores consisted mainly of it;
and it was probably eaten boiled with water into a kind of porridge,
corresponding perhaps by its prominence in Achæan rustic economy, to the
_polenta_ of the Lombard peasantry. Barley is called by Pliny ‘the most
antique form of food,’ and its antiquity lent it sacredness. Hence the
preliminary sprinkling with barley-groats, alike of the victim, and of
the altar upon which it was about to be sacrificed. So essential to the
validity of the offering was this part of the ceremony, that the guilty
comrades of Odysseus, in default of barley, had recourse to shred
oakleaves, in their futile attempt at bribing the immortal gods with a
share of the spoil, to condone their transgression against the solar

The favourite Homeric epithet for barley was ‘white,’ and the quality of
whiteness is also conveyed by the name, _alphiton_, of barley-meal.[262]
But our word ‘wheat’ has the same meaning, while the Homeric _puros_ was
a yellow grain.[263] Nor can there be much doubt that it was a different
variety, identical, presumably, with the small, otherwise unknown kind
unearthed at Hissarlik. As the finest cereal then extant, its repute
nevertheless stood high; its taste was called ‘honey-sweet’; its
consumption was plainly a privilege of the well-to-do classes. Our poet
is not likely to have ‘spoken by the card’ when he included wheat among
the spontaneous products of the island of the Cyclops; yet the assertion
of its indigenous growth there was repeated by Diodorus Siculus,[264]
who had better opportunities for knowing the truth, and had taken out no
official licence for its embellishment. Nevertheless there is much
difficulty in believing that wheat had its native home elsewhere than in
Mesopotamia and Western India.

Footnote 262:

  Hehn and Stallybrass, _op. cit._ p. 431.

Footnote 263:

  _Odyssey_, vii. 104; Buchholz, _op. cit._ p. 118.

Footnote 264:

  De Candolle, _Origin of Cultivated Plants_, p. 357.

Bakers were as little known as butchers to Homeric folk, whose
bread-making was of the elementary description practised by the
pile-dwellers of Robenhausen and Mooseedorf. The corn was first ground
in hand-mills[265] worked by female slaves, of whom fifty were thus
exclusively employed in the palace of Alcinous.[266] The loaves or
cakes, for which the material was thus laboriously provided, were
probably baked on stones, like those fragmentarily preserved during
millenniums beneath Swiss lacustrine deposits of peat and mud.[267] Only
wheaten flour was so employed in Achæan households; but wheaten bread
was indispensable to every well-furnished table, and was neatly served
round in baskets placed at frequent intervals. Barley-bread was the
invention of a later age; the word _maza_, by which it is signified,
does not occur in the Epics.

Footnote 265:

  Blümner, _Technologie und Terminologie bei Griechen und Römern_, Bd.
  i. p. 24.

Footnote 266:

  _Odyssey_, vii. 104.

Footnote 267:

  Heer, _Die Pflanzen der Pfahlbauten_, p. 9.

They include, however, the mention of two additional kinds of grain,
varieties, it is supposed, of spelt. And of these one, _olura_, is
limited to the Iliad, the other, _zeia_, belongs properly to the
Odyssey, occurring in the Iliad only in the traditional phrase
‘zeia-giving soil.’ The expression doubtless enshrined the memory of
spelt-eating days, as did, among the Romans, the appropriation of this
species of corn for the _mola_ of sacrifices.[268] But neither _zeia_
nor _olura_ served within Homer’s experience for human food; both were
left to horses, whose fodder was moreover enriched by the addition of
‘white barley’ and clover, nay, in exceptional cases, of wheat and wine.
With these restoring dainties the steeds of Hector were pampered by
Andromache on their return from battle; while the snowy team of Rhesus
shared with the ‘Trojan’ horses of Æneas, the generous wheaten diet
provided for them in the opulent stables of their new master, the
intrepid king of Argos.

Footnote 268:

  Potter, _Archæologia Græca_, vol. i. p. 215.

One of the unaccountable Egyptian perversities enumerated by
Herodotus[269] was that of rejecting wheat and barley as bread-stuffs,
and adopting spelt (_olura_). The grain indicated, however, must have
been either rice or millet, since spelt does not thrive in hot
countries.[270] Millet, too, which was unknown in primitive Greece, was
specially favoured by Celts, Iberians, and other tribes.[271] It was
also cultivated with barley and several kinds of wheat, by the
amphibious villagers of Robenhausen. And the discovery of caraway and
poppy seeds mingled in the _débris_ of their food[272] suggests that
varied flavourings were in prehistoric request. It suggests further a
non-æsthetic, hence a probable, motive for the cultivation of the poppy
by the early Achæans.[273] The flower was in fact actually grown in
classical times for the sake of its seeds, which were roasted and strewn
on slices of bread, to be eaten with honey after meals as a sort of

Footnote 269:

  Lib. ii. cap. 36.

Footnote 270:

  De Candolle, _Cultivated Plants_, p. 363.

Footnote 271:

  Hehn, _op. cit._ pp. 439-40.

Footnote 272:

  Dawkins, _Early Man in Britain_, pp. 293, 301.

Footnote 273:

  _Iliad_, viii. 306; cf. _ante_, p. 166.

Footnote 274:

  Dierbach, _Flora Mythologica_, p. 117.

Vegetables figured very scantily, if at all, at Achæan feasts. One
species only is expressly apportioned for heroic consumption. Nestor and
Machaon were avowedly guilty of eating onions as a relish with
wine.[275] Some degree of refinement has indeed been vindicated for
their tastes on the plea that the Oriental onion is of infinitely
superior delicacy to our objectionable bulb; but we scarcely wrong the
Pylian sage by admitting the likelihood of his preference for the
stronger flavour; nor can we raise high the gustatory standard according
to which wine compounded with goats’ cheese and honey was esteemed the
most refreshing and delightful of drinks. The same root, moreover, in
its crudest form, seems to have recommended itself to refined Phæacian
palates. There is persuasive, if indirect evidence, that ‘the rank and
guilty garlic’ was privileged to flourish in the sunny gardens of
Alcinous.[276] Socrates, indeed, eulogised the onion, whereas Plutarch
contemned it as vulgar, and Horace did not willingly permit onion-eaters
to come ‘between the wind and his nobility.’ The company of Nestor would
not, then, have been agreeable to him.

Footnote 275:

  _Iliad_, xi. 629.

Footnote 276:

  Buchholz, _Realien_, Bd. i. Abth. ii. p. 216.

Peas and beans keep out of sight in the Odyssey, but are just glanced at
in the Iliad. The following simile explains itself:

            As from the spreading fan leap out the peas
            Or swarthy beans o’er all the spacious floor,
            Urged by the whistling wind and winnower’s force;
            So then from noble Menelaus’ mail,
            Bounding aside far flew the biting shaft.[277]

Here there is evidently no thought of green vegetables. The elastic and
agile pellets cleansed by winnowing were fully ripe. They can be
identified as chick-peas and broad-beans—species, both of them,
abundantly produced in modern Greece. The former even retain in Crete
their Homeric name of _erebinthoi_, ground down, however, by phonetic
decay to _rebithi_.[278] They afforded, under the designation ‘_frictum
cicer_,’ a staple article of food to the poorer inhabitants of Latium;
and, as the Spanish _garbanzo_, they derive culinary importance from the
part assigned to them in every properly constituted _olla podrida_.[279]
Beans were the first pod-fruit cultivated. They are mentioned in the
Bible, and have been excavated at Hissarlik. Some pea-like grains,
however, found in the same spot, proved on examination to be
lentils.[280] These, too, were presumably in common use when Homer
lived, as they certainly were some centuries later, yet he makes no
allusion to them. More significant, possibly, is his silence on the
subject of chestnuts. Although the tree covers wide tracts of modern
Greece, it is held by some eminent authorities to have been introduced
there from Pontic Asia Minor at a comparatively late period.[281] And
the fact that the rural wisdom of Hesiod completely ignores the chestnut
certainly inclines the balance towards the opinion of its arrival
subsequent to the composition of the ‘Works and Days.’

Footnote 277:

  _Iliad_, xiii. 588-92 (trans. by W. C. Green).

Footnote 278:

  Buchholz, _loc. cit._ p. 269.

Footnote 279:

  Rhind, _Hist. of the Vegetable Kingdom_, p. 315.

Footnote 280:

  Virchow, _Berlin. Abh._ 1879, p. 69.

Footnote 281:

  Hehn, _op. cit._ p. 294.

Grapes and olives are the only fruits of which the cultivation is
recorded in the Iliad; but the list is greatly extended in the Odyssey.
Alcinous had at perennial command, besides apples and pears, figs and
pomegranates. Within the precincts of his palace, Odysseus cast his
exploratory glances round ‘a great garden of four plough-gates,’ hedged
round on either side.

    ‘And there grow tall trees blossoming, pear-trees and
    pomegranates, and apple-trees with bright fruit, and sweet figs
    and olives in their bloom. The fruit of these trees never
    perisheth neither faileth, winter nor summer, enduring through
    all the year. Evermore the west wind blowing brings some fruits
    to birth and ripens others. Pear upon pear waxes old, and apple
    on apple, yea, and cluster ripens upon cluster of the grape, and
    fig upon fig. There too hath he a fruitful vineyard planted,
    whereof the one part is being dried by the heat, a sunny spot on
    level ground, while other grapes men are gathering, and yet
    others they are treading in the wine-press. In the foremost row
    are unripe grapes that cast the blossom, and others there be
    that are growing black to vintaging. There, too, skirting the
    furthest line, are all manner of garden beds, planted trimly,
    and that are perpetually fresh, and therein are two fountains of

Footnote 282:

  _Odyssey_, vii. 112-29.

The same fruits, the grape excepted, as being too low-growing to fulfil
the required conditions, hung suspended above the head of Tantalus in
his dusky abode, where alone the olive seems to be classed as food. They
claimed, moreover, all but the pomegranate, the care of Laertes,
occupying his chagrined leisure during the absence of his son from

Apples and pears are alike indigenous in Greece, and their discovery,
dried and split longitudinally, among the winter-stores of the Swiss and
Italian lake-dwellers, suggests that they may have been similarly
treated, with a similar end in view, by Achæan housewives. The apple
evidently excited Homer’s particular admiration; he, in fact, made it
his representative fruit. That it should have been so considered in the
North, where competition for the place of honour was small, is less
surprising; and apples, accordingly, of an etherealised and paradisaical
kind, served to restore youth to the aging gods of Asaheim.[283]

Footnote 283:

  Grimm and Stallybrass, _Teutonic Mythology_, p. 319.

The pomegranate is believed to have been the ‘apple’ of Paris. Known to
the Greeks by the Semitic name _roia_, it may hence be safely classed
among Phœnician gifts to the West. And its associations were besides
characteristically Oriental. The fruit, called from the Sun-god Rimmon,
had a prominent place in Syrian religious rites; Aphrodite introduced it
into Cyprus, and eventually transferred to Demeter her claims to the
symbolical ownership of it.[284] But with its mythological history, the
poet of the Odyssey did not concern himself.

Footnote 284:

  Hehn and Stallybrass, _op. cit._ p. 180.

The wild fig-tree is native in Greece, and is mentioned both in the
Iliad and Odyssey. But the cultured fig occurs only in the latter poem,
the author doubtless having made its acquaintance somewhere on the
Anatolian seaboard, whither it would naturally have been conveyed from
Phrygia. For Phrygia was in those days more renowned for its figs than
Attica became later. Those of Paros were celebrated by Archilochus about
700 B.C.;[285] but none, it would seem, were produced on the mainland of
Greece when Hesiod’s homely experiences took metrical form at
Orchomenus. The ripe figs contributed by his garden to the frugal
repasts of Laertes were then an anachronism to the full as glaring as
turkeys in England, when Falstaff and Poins took purses ‘as in a castle,
cock-sure,’ on Gadshill. The very idea, indeed, of archæological
accuracy was foreign to the mind of either poet; nor could it, without
detriment to the vigour and freedom of their conceptions, have been

Footnote 285:

  _Ib._ p. 86.

The pastoral section of the Achæan people drew their subsistence
immediately, and almost exclusively from their flocks and herds. The
commodities directly at hand were supplemented to a very slight extent,
if at all, through the secondary channels of sale or barter. Milk and
cheese hence formed the staple of their food, and were mainly the
produce of sheep and goats. Cow’s milk never found favour in Greece;
Homer ignored the possibility of its use; Aristotle depreciated its
quality; and it is now no more thought of as an article of consumption
than ewe’s milk in Great Britain or Ireland.[286] Those early herdsmen
differed from us, too, in liking their simple beverage well watered. The
part played occasionally by the pump in our London milk-supply would
have met with their full approbation—unless, indeed, they might have
preferred to add the qualifying ingredient at their own discretion. But
the native strength of milk was, at any rate, too much for them. Only
Polyphemus, a giant and a glutton, was voracious enough to swallow the
undiluted contents of his pails. To him, as to his curious visitors from
over the sea, butter-making was an unknown art, cheese being the sole
modified product of Homeric dairies. That the first step towards its
preparation consisted in the curdling of fresh milk with the sap of the
fig-tree, we learn from the following allusion:

                                 Soon as liquid milk
         Is curdled by the fig-tree’s juice, and turns
         In whirling flakes, so soon was heal’d the wound.[287]

Footnote 286:

  Kruse, _Hellas_, Bd. i. p. 368.

Footnote 287:

  _Iliad_, v. 902-904. (Lord Derby.)

The patient on this occasion was Ares himself, and the rapid closing of
the gash inflicted by the audacious Diomed was brought about by the
application of Pæonian simples, unavailable, it can readily be imagined,
outside of Olympus.

Although the keeping of bees was strange to Homer’s experience, the
product of their industry was pleasantly familiar to him. The ideal of
deliciousness was furnished by honey, and Homeric palates reached their
acme of gratification with things ‘honey-sweet.’ But Homeric bees were
still in a state of nature, their ‘roofs of gold’ getting built in
hollow trees or rocky clefts. Artificial dwellings were provided for
them, by interested human agency, considerably later. The use of
bee-hives in Greece is first attested in the Hesiodic Theogony; and in
Russia and Lithuania, wild honey was still gathered in the woods little
more than a century and a half ago.[288] Alike in the Iliad and Odyssey,
honey figures in a manner totally inconsistent with our notions of
gastronomic harmony. We, in our unregenerate condition, should seek to
be excused from partaking of the semi-ambrosial diet of cheese, honey,
and sweet wine supplied by Aphrodite to the divinely brought-up
daughters of Pandareus;[289] nor do we envy to ‘Gerenian Nestor’ and his
wounded companion the posset brewed for them on their return from the
battle-field by the skilful Hecamede. The palates indeed must have been
hardy, and the constitutions robust, of those upon whom it acted as an
agreeable restorative. The process of its preparation was as follows. In
a bowl of such noble capacity that an ordinary man’s strength scarcely
availed to raise it brimming to his lips,

                       Their goddess-like attendant first
           A gen’rous measure mixed of Pramnian wine;
           Then with a brazen grater shredded o’er
           The goatsmilk cheese, and whitest barley-meal,
           And of the draught compounded bade them drink.[290]

Nothing loath, they obeyed, nor did they shrink from adding piquancy to
the liquid concoction by simultaneously devouring a dozen or so of raw
onions! A precisely similar drink, designed as a vehicle for the ‘evil
drugs’ mingled with it, was treacherously served round by Circe to her
guests, and imbibed with the debasing and transforming results one has
heard of.[291] Only the onions were absent, and with good reason, the
crafty sorceress being fully aware of their antidotal power against
malign influences. The practice of sweetening and thickening wine was
handed on from heroic to classic times. Old Thasian especially was
considered, when tempered with honey and meal, to be of most refreshing
quality in the heats of summer; and Athenæus relates, without surprise
or disapproval, that the islanders of Thera preferred, for the purpose
of making porridge of their wine, ground pease or lentils to
barley.[292] The tolerant motto, _De gustibus_, needs now and then, as
we study the past of gastronomy, to be recalled to mind.

Footnote 288:

  Hehn and Stallybrass, _op. cit._ p. 463.

Footnote 289:

  _Odyssey_, xx. 69.

Footnote 290:

  _Iliad_, xi. 637-40. (Lord Derby.)

Footnote 291:

  _Odyssey_, x. 234.

Footnote 292:

  Athenæus, x. 40.

Honey is now, to a great extent, a superannuated article of food. The
sugar-cane has usurped its place and its importance. But to the
ancients, its value, as the chief saccharine ingredient at their
disposal, was enormous. It could not then be expected that the
myth-making faculty should remain idle in regard to it. The nectar of
the earth was accordingly believed to drop down from heaven into the
calyxes of half-opened flowers; it fell from the rising stars, or, at
any rate, near the places, so Aristotle averred,[293] whence they rose,
and was distilled from rainbows upon the blossoming plains they seemed
to touch. Nature’s winged agents, too, for the collection of what must
have seemed to the first rude experimenters in diet, an almost
supersensual dainty, had a niche assigned to them in the edifice of
fancy. Bees were connected with poetry, music, and eloquence; as
_Musarum volucres_, they brought the gift of song to the sleeping
Pindar; they were themselves nymphs and priestesses, intertwined more
especially with the worship of Demeter and Cybele.[294] The germ of some
of these imaginative shoots and sprays seems to be laid bare in the
simple Homeric metaphor by which the discourse of Nestor was said to
flow with more than the sweetness of honey from his lips.[295] The same
idea—a very obvious one—is embodied in the English word _mellifluous_.
But a figure, in older times, was often only the beginning of a fable;
and hence the hovering of bees about the lips of the infant Plato, and
round the head of Krishna, when he expounded the nature of the divinity.
A genuine Homeric trace, moreover, of the legendary associations of bees
is supplied by their installation in the Nymphs’ Grotto at Ithaca,[296]
where they gathered honey for the local divinities, ministering to them
as Melissa, the Nymph-bee _par excellence_, ministered to the young Zeus
on Ida.

Footnote 293:

  _De Animal._ lib. v. cap. 22.

Footnote 294:

  Preller, _Griechische Mythologie_, Bd. i. p. 105, 3te Auflage.

Footnote 295:

  _Iliad_, i. 249.

Footnote 296:

  _Odyssey_, xiii. 106.

Homer was fully acquainted with the virtue of honey for propitiating the
dead. A vase of honey was placed by Achilles on the pyre of
Patroclus,[297] and Odysseus poured a due libation of milk and honey as
part of his apparatus of enticement to the shade of Tiresias. Subsequent
experience showed this beverage to be acceptable even to the Erinyes;
nor was Cerberus proof against a lure of honey-cakes. Luckily for
himself, however, Odysseus escaped an encounter with the Dog of Hades,
for whom he brought no pacifying recipe.

Footnote 297:

  _Iliad_, xxiii. 170.

The earliest European intoxicant was made from honey, but was in Greece
quickly and completely discarded on the introduction of vine-culture.
Floating reminiscences of its primitive use, however, were preserved by
Plutarch and Aristotle,[298] and survived unconsciously in the tolerably
frequent substitution, by Homer, of the word ‘mead,’ under the form
μέθυ, for ‘wine.’ The survival was indeed linguistic only. No mental
association with honey clung to the term ‘mead.’ The fermented juice of
the grape is the sole Homeric stimulant, and excites a fully
corresponding amount of Homeric enthusiasm. From the old epics,
accordingly, Pindaric praises of water are wholly absent. The crystal
spring occupies in them a strictly subordinate place. The merits allowed
to it are purely relative. That is to say, it exercises, like the
nitrogen of our atmosphere, a qualifying function. The exuberant energy
of a more fiery element is modified by its innocuous presence, and it
helps to neutralise some of the heady virtue inherent in the ‘subtle
blood of the grape.’

Footnote 298:

  Lippmann, _Geschichte des Zuckers_, p. 6.

A draught of clear water was a luxury unappreciated by the early Greeks.
On the other hand, they freely watered their wine, counting its full
strength scarcely less redoubtable than that of raw spirits appears to
ordinary Englishmen. Polyphemus alone drank—in post-Homeric
phraseology—’like a Scythian’—that is, swallowed his liquor ‘neat’; and
he plunged thereby into disastrous drunkenness. The wine provided for
him, it is true, was of unusual and overweening potency. Of Thracian
growth, it was supplied to Odysseus by Maron, a priest of Apollo at
Ismarus, in grateful acknowledgment of protection afforded during the
Odyssean sack of the Ciconian metropolis. The secret of its manufacture
was jealously guarded in the Maronian family;[299] its bouquet was
irresistible; its power against sobriety formidable. Even if the
statement that it required, or at least tolerated, a twenty-fold
admixture of water, be taxed as hyperbolical, we can still fall back
upon Pliny’s assurance that the Maronian wine of his epoch was commonly
diluted with eight measures of water;[300] and the proportion of
twenty-five to one of Thasian wine from the same neighbourhood was
recommended by Hippocrates for invalids.[301]

Footnote 299:

  _Odyssey_, ix. 205.

Footnote 300:

  _Hist. Nat._ xiv. 6.

Footnote 301:

  Hayman’s _Odyssey_, vol. ii. p. 96.

Red wines only were quaffed by Homeric heroes. ‘Golden,’ or ‘white’
kinds were unknown to them; and it may be suspected that the pleasure of
sharing their potations would have been qualified, to modern
connoisseurs, by strong gustatory disapproval. We do not know that the
practice of using turpentine in the preparation of wine prevailed so
early, but it was in full force when Plutarch wrote, and it subsisted
too long for the comfort of Mr. Dodwell, who warmly protested his
preference of sour English beer to the resinous wines of Patra and
Libadia.[302] Some of their worst qualities were probably shared by the
famous ‘Pramnian,’ described by Galen as ‘black and austere.’[303] This
was the leading component of the draught administered by Hecamede and
Circe; but traditions as to its local origin are obscure and
contradictory. The credit of its production was now assigned to a
mountain in Caria, now to the Icarian Isle, or to some favoured section
of Lesbian territory. Others again held that its distinction resided,
not in the place of its growth, but in the method of its manufacture. A
particular variety of grape perhaps yielded it; at any rate, Dioscorides
says that it was a _prototropum_—that is, a product of the first running
of self-expressed juice, making it, among wines, what a proof before
letters is among engravings. It took rank, however this might have been,
as a choice vintage, meet for the refreshment of heroes, and strictly
reserved for exceptional use; while the ordinary demand of the army
before Troy was met by the importation of Lemnian and Thracian wines of
commonplace quality, brought in ships to the shores of the Hellespont,
and purchased with the spoils of war—copper and iron, cattle and
slaves.[304] A night’s carouse might sometimes ensue upon the arrival of
a wine-fleet; but temperance was the rule of old Achæan life. Excess was
reprobated, and often figured as the cause of misfortune. Thus, the
‘Drunken Assembly,’ held immediately after the sack of Troy, was the
first link in the long chain of disasters incurred by the returning
Achæans;[305] Elpenor, one of the crew of Odysseus, preceded him to
Hades ‘on foot,’ as it is quaintly said, having broken his neck by a
fall from a roof-top when overcome with wine in the house of Circe; the
ungovernable rage of Achilles could find no more opprobrious epithet
than ‘wine-laden’ to be hurled, in lieu of a javelin, at Agamemnon; and
in Polyphemus, vinous excess assuredly took on its least inviting
aspect. The Homeric ideal of life was indeed a festive one, but the
conviviality it included was kept within the bounds of moderation and
decorum. Moreover, the pleasures of the table, however keenly
appreciated, were redeemed from grossness by the finer touches of social
sympathy and æsthetic enjoyment. Minstrelsy formed a regular part of a
well ordered entertainment, and the rhythmical movements of the dance
accompanied, on occasions, or alternated with chanted narratives of

Footnote 302:

  _Classical Tour_, vol. i. p. 212.

Footnote 303:

  Leaf’s _Iliad_, xi. 639.

Footnote 304:

  _Iliad_, vii. 467; ix. 72.

Footnote 305:

  Cf. Hayman’s _Odyssey_, vol. ii. p. 73; Gladstone’s _Studies in
  Homer_, vol. ii. p. 447.

In the palace of Ithaca, guests were served at separate small tables;
but this may not have been the case everywhere. An erect posture was
maintained by them. The Roman fashion of reclining at meals came in much
later. An opening formality of ablution was designed for ceremonial
purification; in the interests of corporeal cleanliness, a repetition of
the process after the meal was concluded would have been desirable, but
appears to have been neglected. As regards the food-supply, a
stewardess, or housekeeper, brought round bread in a basket; a carver
sliced and distributed the grilled meat; a herald filled the goblets in
orderly succession; and good appetites did the rest. Women habitually
ate apart. So Penelope sat by, spinning and silent, though feverish with
eagerness for news of her absent lord, until Telemachus and Theoclymenus
had concluded their repast; and Nausicaa supped in retirement while her
father feasted with the Phæacian elders. But the rule of seclusion
appears to have had no application to nymphs and goddesses. Wine,
however, was freely allowed to women and children. Arêtê, the mother of
Nausicaa, supplied a goat’s skin full for her pic-nic by the seashore;
and it was with wine that the tunic of Phœnix was wont to be soiled as
he fed the infant Achilles upon his knee.

Three meals a day made the full Homeric complement, reduced,
nevertheless, to two under frequently recurring circumstances.
Breakfast—_ariston_—was not always insisted upon, and we hear only twice
of its formal preparation. It consisted ordinarily, there is reason to
believe, of nothing more than bread soaked in wine; but Eumæus, who, for
all his vigilant husbandry, loved talk and good cheer, offered better
fare to his wily, unknown guest. A fire was lit in his hut at dawn; some
cold pork, left from supper the night before, got re-broiled, and was
barely hot when Telemachus made an appearance more welcome than looked
for, having run the gauntlet of the Suitors’ sea-ambuscade on his return
from Pylos. Hence a considerable amount of weeping for joy was
indispensable before they could all three—seeming beggar, prince, and
swineherd—sit down comfortably to breakfast together.

But when life ran out of its accustomed groove, and opportunities for
eating became precarious, breakfast and dinner—_ariston_ and
_deipnon_—were apt to coalesce. Noon, the regular dinner-hour, might,
under such circumstances, be anticipated. Thus, when Telemachus and
Pisistratus were setting out from Sparta towards Pylos, Menelaus, who
was the soul of hospitality, ordered a _deipnon_ to be hastily got
ready, and it had certainly been preceded by no lighter repast. The
third Homeric meal—_dorpon_—was taken at, or after sundown. Its status
fluctuated. Of primary importance to those busily engaged in out-of-door
occupations, it counted for relatively little with idle folk like the
Suitors, whose feasts and diversions might be prolonged, if they so
willed it, from dawn to dusk. Supper, on the other hand, was naturally
the chief meal of soldiers and sailors. ‘Perils will be paid with
pleasures,’ says Verulam; and when the rage of battle was spent, or the
ship brought safely into port, a banquet was spread with every available
luxury, and enjoyed to the utmost. At sea, cooking was reduced to a
minimum, even to zero, the probability being small that fires were ever
kindled on shipboard. So that the hardships of long voyages were very
great, if rarely incurred. When possible, land was made by nightfall,
the vessel moored, and the crew disembarked.

                               Ac magno telluris amore
                 Egressi, optata potiuntur Troes arena.

Supper followed, and sleep.


                             CHAPTER VIII.

                          HOMER’S MAGIC HERBS.

THERE are certain low-lying districts in southern Spain where the
branched lily, or king’s spear, blooms in such profusion that whole
acres, seen from a distance towards the end of March, show as if densely
strewn with new-fallen snow. Just such in aspect must have been the
abode of the Odyssean dead. There, along boundless asphodel plains,
Odysseus watched Orion, a spectral huntsman pursuing spectral game:
there Agamemnon denounced the treachery of Clytemnestra: there Ajax
still nursed his wrath at the award of the Argive kings: there Achilles
gnawed a shadowy heart in longing, on any terms, for action and the
upper air: thither Hermes conducted the delinquent souls of the suitors
of Penelope. A tranquil dwelling-place: where the stagnant air of apathy
was stirred only by sighs of inane regret.

Homer’s asphodel grows only in the under-world, yet it is no mythical
plant. It can be quite clearly identified with the _Asphodelus
ramosus_,[306] now extensively used in Algeria for the manufacture of
alcohol, and cultivated in our gardens for the sake of its tall spikes
of beautiful flowers, pure white within and purple-streaked without
along each of the six petals uniting at the base to form a
deeply-indented starry corolla. The continual visits of pilfering bees
attest a goodly store of honey; while the perfume spread over the
northern shores of the Gulf of Corinth by the abundant growth of
asphodel was said to have given their name, in some far-off century, to
the Ozolians of Locris.

Footnote 306:

  The daffodil has no other connexion with the asphodel than having
  unaccountably appropriated its name, through the old French
  _affodille_. It is a kind of narcissus, while the asphodel belongs to
  the lily tribe.

Introduced into England about 1551, it was succeeded, after forty-five
years, by the yellow asphodel (_Asphodelus luteus_), of which already in
1633 Gerard in his Herbal reports ‘great plenty in our London gardens.’
Hence Pope’s familiarity with this kind, and his consequent
matter-of-course identification of it with the classical flower in the

                     By those happy souls who dwell
                     On yellow meads of asphodel:

wherein he has entirely missed what may with some reason be called the
local colouring of Hades.

In order to explain the lugubrious associations of the branched
asphodel, we must go back to an early stage of thought regarding the
condition of the dead.

Instinctively man assumes that his existence will, in some form, be
continued beyond the grave. Only a few of the most degraded savages, or
a handful of the most enlightened sceptics, accept death with stolid
indifference as an absolute end. The almost universally prevalent belief
is that it is a change, not a close. Humanity, as a whole, never has
admitted and never can apostatise from its innate convictions by
admitting that its destiny is mere blank corruption. Apart from the
body, however, life can indeed be conceived, but cannot be imagined;
since imagination works only with familiar materials. Recourse was then
inevitably had to the expedient of representing the under-world as a
shadowy reflection of the upper. Disembodied spirits were supposed to
feel the same needs, to cherish the same desires, as when clothed in the
flesh; but they were helpless to supply the first or to gratify the
second. Their opulence or misery in their new abode depended solely upon
the pitying care of those who survived them. This mode of thinking
explains the savage rites of sacrifice attendant upon primitive funeral
ceremonies: it converted the tombs of ancient kings into the
treasure-houses of modern archæologists; and it suggested a system of
commissariat for the dead, traces of which still linger in many parts of
the world.

Here we find the clue we are in search of. It is afforded by the simple
precautions adopted by unsophisticated people against famine in the
realm of death. Amongst the early Greeks, the roots of the branched lily
were a familiar article of diet. The asphodel has even been called the
potato of antiquity. It indeed surpassed the potato in fecundity, though
falling far below it in nutritive qualities. Pliny, in his ‘Natural
History,’ states that about eighty tubers, each the size of an average
turnip, were often the produce of a single plant; and the French
botanist Charles de l’Écluse, travelling across Portugal in 1564-5, saw
the plough disclose fully two hundred attached to the same stalk, and
together weighing, he estimated, some fifty pounds. Moreover, the tubers
so plentifully developed are extremely rich in starch and sugar, so that
the poorer sort, who possessed no flocks or herds to supply their table
with fat pork, loins of young oxen, roasted goats’ tripe, or similar
carnal delicacies, were glad to fall back upon the frugal fare of mallow
and asphodel lauded by Hesiod. Theophrastus tells us that the roasted
stalk, as well as the seed of the asphodel served for food; but chiefly
its roots, which, bruised up with figs, were in extensive use. Pliny
seems to prefer them cooked in hot ashes, and eaten with salt and oil;
but it may be doubted whether he spoke from personal experience.

Their consumption, however, was recommended by the example of
Pythagoras, and was said to have helped to lengthen out the fabulous
years of Epimenides. Yet, such illustrious examples notwithstanding, the
degenerate stomachs of more recent times have succeeded ill in
accommodating themselves to such spare sustenance. When about the middle
of last century the Abate Alberto Fortis was travelling in Dalmatia, he
found inhabitants of the village of Bossiglina, near Traù, so poor as to
be reduced to make their bread of bruised asphodel roots, which proving
but an indifferent staff of life, digestive troubles and general
debility ensued. This is the last recorded experiment of the kind. The
needs of the human economy are far better, more widely, and almost as
cheaply subserved by the tuber brought by Raleigh from Virginia. The
plant of Persephone is left for Apulian sheep to graze upon.

Asphodel roots, accordingly, rank with acorns as a prehistoric, but now
discarded article of human food. They were, it is likely, freely
consumed by the earliest inhabitants of Greece, before the cultivation
of cereals had been introduced from the East. There is little fear of
error in assuming that the later Achæan immigrants found them already
consecrated by traditional usage to the sustenance of the dead—perhaps
because the immemorial antiquity of their dietary employment imparted to
them an idea of sacredness; or, possibly, because the slightness of the
nourishment they afforded was judged suitable to the maintenance of the
unsubstantial life of ghosts. At any rate, the custom became firmly
established of planting graves with asphodel, with a view to making
provision for their silent and helpless, yet still needy inmates. With
changed associations the custom still exists in Greece, and, very
remarkably, has been found to prevail in Japan, where a species of
asphodel is stated to be cultivated in cemeteries, and placed, blooming
in pots, on grave-stones. We can scarcely doubt that the same train of
thought, here as in Greece, originally prompted its selection for
sepulchral uses. Unquestionably some of the natives of the Congo
district plant manioc on the graves of their dead, with no other than a
provisioning design.[307] The same may be said of the cultivation of
certain fruit-trees in the burying-grounds of the South Sea Islanders.
One of these is the _Cratæva religiosa_, bearing an insipid but eatable
fruit, and held sacred in Otaheite under the name of ‘Purataruru.’ The
_Terminalia glabrosa_ fills (or filled a century ago) an analogous
position in the Society Islands. It yields a nut resembling an almond,
doubtless regarded as acceptable to phantasmal palates.

Footnote 307:

  Unger, _Die Pflanze als Todtenschmuck_, p. 23.

We now see quite clearly why the Homeric shades dwell in meadows of
asphodel. These were, in the fundamental conception, their
harvest-fields. From them, in some unexplained subsensual way, the
attenuated nutriment they might require must have been derived. But this
primitive idea does not seem to have been explicitly present to the
poet’s mind. It had already, before his time, we can infer, been to a
great extent lost sight of. It was enough for him that the plant was
popularly associated with the dusky regions out of sight of the sun. He
did not stop to ask why, his business being to see, and to sing of what
he saw, not to reason. He accordingly made his Hades to bloom for all
time with the tall white flowers of the king’s spear, and so perpetuated
a connexion he was not concerned to explain.

Homer cannot be said to have attained to any real conception of the
immortality of the soul. The shade which flitted to subterranean spaces
when the breath left the body, resembled an animal principle of life
rather than a true spiritual essence. Disinherited, exiled from its
proper abode, without function, sense, or memory, it survived, a
vaporous image, a mere castaway residuum of what once had been a man.
Tiresias, the Theban soothsayer, alone, by special privilege of
Persephone, retained the use of reason: the rest were vain appearances,
escaping annihilation by a scarcely perceptible distinction. No wonder
that life should have been darkened by the prospect of such a destiny—or
worse. For there were, in the Homeric world to come, awful possibilities
of torment, though none—for the common herd—of blessedness. Deep down in
Tartarus, those who had sinned against the gods—Sisyphus, Ixion,
Tantalus—were condemned to tremendous, because unending, punishment;
while the haunting sense of loss, which seems to have survived every
other form of consciousness, giving no rest, nor so much as exemption
from fear, pursued good and bad alike. Nowhere does the utter need of
mankind for the hope brought by Christianity appear with such startling
clearness as in the verses of Homer, from the contrast of the vivid
pictures of life they present with the appalling background of despair
upon which they are painted.

Its relation to the unseen world naturally brought to the asphodel a
host of occult or imaginary qualities. Of true medicinal properties it
may be said to be devoid, and it accordingly finds no place in the
modern pharmacopœia. Anciently, however, it was known, from its manifold
powers, as the ‘heroic’ herb. It was sovereign against witchcraft, and
was planted outside the gates of villas and farmhouses to ward off
malefic influences. It restored the wasted strength of the consumptive:
it was an antidote to the venom of serpents and scorpions: it entered as
an ingredient into love-potions, and was invincible by evil spirits:
children round whose necks it was hung cut their teeth without pain, and
the terrors of the night flew from its presence. Briefly, its faculties
were those of (in Zoroastrian phraseology) a ‘smiter of fiends’; yet
from it we moderns distil alcohol! Of a truth it has gone over to the

                   Sweet is moly, but his root is ill,

wrote Spenser in one of his sonnets. But it may be doubted whether he
would have committed himself to this sentiment had he realised that the
gift of Hermes was neither more nor less than a clove of garlic.

Odysseus approaching the house of Circe in search of his companions
(already, as he found out later, transformed into swine), was met on the
road by the crafty son of Maia, and by him forewarned and forearmed
against the wiles of the enchantress. Skilled in drugs as she was, a
more potent herb than any known to her had been procured by the
messenger of the gods. ‘Therewith,’ the hero continued in his narrative
to the Phæacian king, ‘the slayer of Argos gave me the plant that he had
plucked from the ground, and he showed me the nature thereof. It was
black at the root, but the flower was like to milk. The gods call it
moly, but it is hard for mortal men to dig; howbeit, with the gods all
things are possible.’ It is thus evident that the Homeric moly is
compounded of two elements—a botanical, so to speak, and a mythological.
A substratum of fact has received an embellishment of fable. Before the
mind’s eye of the poet, when he described the white flowers and black
root of the vegetable snatched from the reluctant earth by Hermes, was a
specific plant, which he chose to associate, or which had already become
associated, with floating legendary lore, widely and anciently diffused
among our race. The identification of that plant has often been
attempted, and not unsuccessfully.

The earliest record of such an effort is contained in Theophrastus’s
‘History of Plants.’ He there asserts the moly of the Odyssey to have
been a kind of garlic (_Allium nigrum_, according to Sprengel), growing
on Mount Cyllene in Arcadia (the birthplace, be it observed, of Hermes),
and of supreme efficacy as an antidote to poisons; but he, unlike Homer,
adds that there is no difficulty in plucking it. We shall see presently
that this difficulty was purely mythical. The language of Theophrastus
suggests that the association of moly with the Arcadian garlic was
traditional in his time; and the tradition has been perpetuated in the
modern Greek name, _molyza_, of a member of the same family.

John Gerard in his Herbal, calls moly (of which he enumerates several
species) the ‘Sorcerer’s garlic,’ and describes as follows the
Theophrastian, assumed as identical with the epic, kind.

    Homer’s moly hath very thick leaves, broad toward the bottom,
    sharp at the point, and hollowed like a trough or gutter, in the
    bosom of which leaves near unto the bottom cometh forth a
    certain round bulb or ball of a green colour; which being ripe
    and set in the ground, groweth and becometh a fair plant, such
    as is the mother. Among those leaves riseth up a naked, smooth,
    thick stalk of two cubits high, as strong as is a small
    walking-staff. At the top of the stalk standeth a bundle of fair
    whitish flowers, dashed over with a wash of purple colour,
    smelling like the flowers of onions. When they be ripe there
    appeareth a black seed wrapt in a white skin or husk.

    The root is great and bulbous, covered with a blackish skin on
    the outside, and white within, and of the bigness of a great

So much for the question in its matter-of-fact aspect. We may now look
at it from its fabulous side.

And first, it is to be remembered that moly was not a charm, but a
counter-charm. Its powers were defensive, and presupposed an attack. It
was as a shield against the thrust of a spear. Now if any clear notion
could be attained regarding the kind of weapon of which it had efficacy
thus to blunt the point, we should be perceptibly nearer to its
individualisation. But we are only told that the magic draught of Circe,
the effects of which it had power to neutralise, contained pernicious
drugs. The poet either did not know, or did not care to tell more.

There is, however, a plant round which a crowd of strange beliefs
gathered from the earliest times. This is the _Atropa mandragora_, or
mandrake, probably identical with the _Dudaim_ of Scripture, and called
by classical writers _Circæa_, from its supposed potency in philtres.
The rude resemblance of its bifurcated root to the lower half of the
human frame started its career as an object of credulity and an
instrument of imposture. It was held to be animated with a life
transcending the obscure vitality of ordinary vegetable existence, and
occult powers of the most remarkable kind were attributed to it. The
little images, formed of the mandrake root, consulted as oracles in
Germany under the name of _Alrunen_, and imported with great commercial
success into this country during the reign of Henry VIII., were credited
with the power of multiplying money left in their charge, and generally
of bringing luck to their possessors, especially when their original
seat had been at the foot of a gallows, and their first vesture a
fragment of a winding-sheet. But privilege, as usual, was here also
fraught with peril. The operation of uprooting a mandrake was a critical
one, formidable consequences ensuing upon its clumsy or negligent
execution. These could only be averted by a strict observance of forms
prescribed by the wisdom of a very high antiquity. According to Pliny,
three circles were to be drawn round the plant with a sword, within
which the digger stood, facing west. This position had to be combined,
as best it might, with an approach from the windward side, upon his
formidable prey. Through the pages of Josephus the device gained its
earliest publicity, of employing a dog to receive the death penalty,
attendant, in his belief, on eradication. It was widely adopted, and by
mediæval sagacity fortified with the additional prescriptions that the
canine victim should be black without a white hair, that the deed should
be done before dawn on a Friday, and that the ears of the doer should be
carefully stuffed with cotton-wool. For, at the instant of leaving its
parent-earth, a fearful sound, which no mortal might hear and sanely
survive, issued from the uptorn root. This superstition was familiar in
English literature down to the seventeenth century.

Thus Suffolk alleging the futility of bad language in apology for the
backwardness in its use with which he has just been reproached by the
ungentle queen of Henry VI., exclaims,

            Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake’s groan,
            I would invent as bitter-searching terms,
            As curst, as harsh, and horrible to hear,
            Deliver’d strongly through my fixed teeth,
            With full as many signs of deadly hate,
            As lean-fac’d Envy in her loathsome cave.

And poor Juliet enumerates among the horrors of the charnel-house,

             Shrieks like mandrakes’ torn out of the earth,
             That living mortals hearing them, run mad.

The persuasion was, moreover, included amongst the Vulgar Errors gravely
combated by Sir Thomas Browne.

Mandragora, then, is the most ancient and the most widely famous of all
magic herbs; and the old conjecture is at least a plausible one that
from its exclusive possession were derived the evil powers employed to
the detriment of her wind-borne guests by the inhospitable daughter of

Moly, on the other hand, must be sought for amongst the herbaceous
antidotes of fable. Perhaps the best known of these is the plant
repugnant to the fine senses of Horace, and equally abominable to the
nostrils of Elizabethan gallants. The name of garlic in Sanskrit
signifies ‘slayer of monsters.’ Juvenal ridiculed the Egyptians for
paying it reverence as a divinity.

            Porrum et cepe nefas violare ac frangere morsu.
            O sanctas gentes, quibus hæc nascuntur in hortis

The Eddic valkyr, Sigurdrifa, sang of its unassailable virtue. As a sure
preservative from witchcraft it was, by mediæval Teutons, infused in the
drink of cattle and horses, hung up in lonely shepherds’ huts, and
buried under thresholds. It was laid on beds against nightmare: planted
on cottage roofs to keep off lightning: it cured the poisoned bites of
reptiles: it was eaten to avert the evil effects of digging hellebore;
while, in Cuba, immunity from jaundice was secured by wearing, during
thirteen days, a collar consisting of thirteen cloves of garlic, and
throwing it away at a cross-road, without looking behind, at midnight on
the expiration of that term. The occult properties of this savoury root
originated, no doubt, as M. Hehn conceives,[308] in its pungent taste
and smell. Substances strongly impressive to the senses are apt to
acquire the reputation of being distasteful to ‘spirits of vile sort.’
Witness sulphur, employed from of old, in ceremonial purification. But
this may have been owing to its association, through the ‘sulphurous’
smell of ozone, with the sacred thunder-bolt.

Footnote 308:

  _Wanderings of Plants_, p. 158.

All the magic faculties of garlic, it may be remarked, are directed to
beneficent purposes; whereas those of the mandrake (regarded as an herb,
not as an idol) are purely maleficent. Later folk-lore, however, has not
brought them into direct competition. Each is thought of as supreme in
its own line. Only in the Odyssey (on the supposition here adopted) they
were permitted to meet, with the result of signal defeat for the powers
of evil.

Thus we see that the identification of moly with garlic is countenanced
by whatever scraps of botanical evidence are at hand, fortified by a
constant local tradition, no less than by the fantastic prescriptions of
superstitious popular observance. The difficulty or peril of uprooting,
which made the prophylactic plant obtained by Hermes all but
unattainable to mortals, is a common feature in vegetable mythology. It
figures as the price to be paid for something rarely precious, enhancing
its value and at the same time affixing a scarcely tolerable penalty to
its possession. It belonged, for instance, in varying degrees, to
hellebore and mistletoe, as well as to mandragora. With the last it most
likely originated, and from it was transferred by Homer, in the exercise
of his poetical licence, to moly.

From the adventure in the Ææan isle, as from so many others, Odysseus
came out unscathed. But it was not without high moral necessity that he
passed through them. The leading motive of his character is, in fact,
found in his multiform experience. He is appointed to see and to suffer
all that comes within the scope of Greek humanity. No vicissitudes, no
perils are spared him. Protection from the extremity of evil must and
does content him. For his keen curiosity falls in with the design of his
celestial patroness, in urging him to drink to the dregs the costly
draught of the knowledge of good and evil. Yet it is to be noted that
from the house of the enchantress there is no exit save through the
gates of hell.

Within the spacious confines of the universe there is perhaps but one
race of beings whose implanted instincts and whose visible destiny are
irreconcilably at war. Man is born to suffer; but suffering has always
for him the poignancy of surprise. The long record of multiform
tribulation which he calls his history, has been moulded, throughout its
many vicissitudes, by a keen and ceaseless struggle for enjoyment. Each
man and woman born into the world looks afresh round the horizon of life
for pleasure, and meets instead the ever fresh outrage of pain. Our
planet is peopled with souls disinherited of what they still feel to be
an inalienable heritage of happiness. No wonder, then, that
quack-medicines for the cure of the ills of life should always have been
popular. Of such nostrums, the famous Homeric drug nepenthes is an early
example, and may serve for a type.

We read in the Odyssey that Telemachus had no sooner reached man’s
estate than he set out from Ithaca for Pylos and Lacedæmon, in order to
seek news of his father from Nestor and Menelaus, the two most eminent
survivors of the expedition against Troy. But he learned only that
Odysseus had vanished from the known world. The disappointment was
severe, even to tears, notwithstanding that the banquet was already
spread in the radiant palace of the Spartan king. The remaining guests,
including the illustrious host and hostess, caught the infection of
grief, and the pleasures of the table were over-clouded.

         Then Helena the child of Zeus strange things
         Devised, and mixed a philter in their wine,
         Which so cures heartache and the inward stings,
         That men forget all sorrow wherein they pine.
         He who hath tasted of the draught divine
         Weeps not that day, although his mother die
         And father, or cut off before his eyne
         Brother or child beloved fall miserably,
       Hewn by the pitiless sword, he sitting silent by.

         Drugs of such virtue did she keep in store,
         Given her by Polydamna, wife of Thôn,
         In Egypt, where the rich glebe evermore
         Yields herbs in foison, some for virtue known,
         Some baneful. In that climate each doth own
         Leech-craft beyond what mortal minds attain;
         Since of Pæonian stock their race hath grown.
         She the good philter mixed to charm their pain,
       And bade the wine outpour, and answering spake again.[309]

Footnote 309:

  _Odyssey_, iv. 219-32 (Worsley’s translation).

Such is the story which has formed the basis of innumerable conjectures.
The name of the drug administered by Helen signifies the negation of
sorrow; and we learn that it grew in Egypt, and that its administration
was followed by markedly soothing effects. Let us see whither these
scanty indications as to its nature will lead us.

Many of the ancients believed nepenthes to have been a kind of bugloss,
the leaves of which, infused in wine, were affirmed by Dioscorides,
Galen, and other authorities, to produce exhilarating effects. It is
certain that in Plutarch’s time the hilarity of banquets was constantly
sought to be increased by this means. But this was done in avowed
imitation of Helen’s hospitable expedient. It was, in other words, a
revival, not a survival, and possesses for us, consequently, none of the
instructiveness of an unbroken tradition.

A new idea was struck out by the Roman traveller Pietro della Valle, who
visited Persia and Turkey early in the seventeenth century. He suspected
the true nepenthean draught to have been coffee! From Egypt, according
to the antique narrative, it was brought by Helen; and by way of Egypt
the best Mocha reached Constantinople, where it served to recreate the
spirits, and pass the heavy hours, of the subjects of Achmet. Of this
hypothesis we may say, in the phrase of Sir Thomas Browne, that it is
‘false below confute.’ The next, that of honest Petrus la Seine, has
even less to recommend it. His erudite conclusion was that in nepenthes
the long-sought _aurum potabile_, the illusory ornament of the
Paracelsian pharmacopœia, made its first historical appearance! Egypt,
he argued, was the birthplace of chemistry, and the great chemical
desideratum from the earliest times had been the production of a
drinkable solution of the most perfect among metals. Nay, its supreme
worth had lent its true motive to the famous Argonautic expedition,
which had been fitted out for the purpose of securing, not a golden
fleece in the literal sense, but a parchment upon which the invaluable
recipe was inscribed. The virtues of the elixir were regarded by the
learned dissertator as superior to proof or discussion, in which exalted
position we willingly leave them.

More enthusiastic than critical, Madame Dacier looked at the subject
from a point of view taken up, many centuries earlier, by Plutarch.
Nepenthes, according to both these authorities, had no real existence.
The effects ascribed to it were merely a figurative way of expressing
the charms of Helen’s conversation.

But this was to endow the poet with a subtlety which he was very far
from possessing. Simple and direct in thought, he invariably took the
shortest way open to him in expression; and circuitous routes of
interpretation will invariably lead astray from his meaning. It is clear
accordingly that a real drug, of Egyptian origin, was supposed to have
soothed and restored appetite to the guests of Menelaus—a drug quite
possibly known to Homer only by the rumour of its qualities, which he
ingeniously turned to account for the purposes of his story. Now, since
those qualities were undoubtedly narcotic, the field of our choice is a
narrow one. We have only to inquire whether any, and, if so, what,
preparations of the kind were anciently in use by the inhabitants of the
Nile valley.

Unfortunately our information does not go very far back. A certain
professor of botany from Padua, however, named Prosper Alpinus, has left
a remarkable account of his personal observations on the point towards
the close of the sixteenth century. The vulgar pleasures of intoxication
appear to have been (as was fitting in a Mohammedan country) little in
request: among all classes their place was taken by the raptures of
solacing dreams and delightful visions artificially produced. The means
employed for the purpose were threefold. There was first an electuary of
unknown composition imported from India called _bernavi_. But this may
at once be put aside, since the ‘medicine for a mind diseased’ given by
Polydamna to Helen was, as we have seen, derived from a home-grown
Egyptian herb. There remain of the three soothing drugs mentioned by
Alpinus, hemp and opium. Each was extensively consumed; and the practice
of employing each as a road to pleasurable sensations was already, in
1580, of immemorial antiquity. One of them was almost certainly the true
Homeric nepenthes. We have only to decide which.

The first, as being the cheaper form of indulgence, was mainly resorted
to, our Paduan informant tells us, amongst the lower classes. From the
leaves of the herb _Cannabis sativa_ was prepared a powder known as
_assis_, made up into boluses and swallowed, with the result of inducing
a lethargic state of dreamy beatitude. _Assis_ was fundamentally the
same with the Indian _bhang_, the Arabic _hashish_—one of the mainstays
of Oriental sensual pleasure.

The earliest mention of hemp is by Herodotus. He states that it grew in
the country of the Scythians, that from its fibres garments scarcely
distinguishable in texture from linen were woven in Thrace, and that the
fumes from its burning seeds furnished the nomad inhabitants of what is
now Southern Russia, with vapour-baths, serving them as a substitute for
washing. Marked intoxicating effects attended this peculiar mode of

In China, from the beginning of the third century of our era, if not
earlier, a preparation of hemp was used (it was said, with perfect
success) as an anæsthetic; and it is mentioned as a remedy under the
name of _b’hanga_, in Hindu medical works of probably still earlier
date. Its identity with nepenthes was first suggested in 1839, and has
since been generally acquiesced in. But there are two objections.

The practice of eating or smoking hemp, for the sake of its exalting
effects upon consciousness, appears to have originated on the slopes of
the Himalayas, to have spread thence to Persia, and to have been
transmitted farther west by Arab agency. It was not, then, primitively
an Egyptian custom, and was assuredly unknown to the wife of Thôn.
Moreover, hemp is not indigenous on the banks of the Nile. It came
thither as an immigrant, most probably long after the building of the
latest pyramid. Herodotus includes no mention of it in his curious and
particular account of the country; and, which is still more significant,
no relic of its textile use survives. Not a hempen fibre has ever been
found in any of the innumerable mummy-cases examined by learned
Europeans. The ancient Egyptians, it may then be concluded, were
unacquainted with this plant, and we must look elsewhere for the chief
ingredient of the comfort-bringing draught distributed by the daughter
of Zeus.

There is only opium left. It is legitimately reached by the ‘method of
exclusions.’ Should it fail, no substitute can be provided. But it does
not fail. No serious discrepancy starts up to shake our belief that in
recognising opium under the disguise of nepenthes we have indeed struck
the truth. All the circumstances correspond to admiration: the
identification runs ‘on all fours.’ The physical effects indicated agree
perfectly with those resulting from a sparing use of opium. They tend to
just so much elevation of spirits as would impart a roseate tinge to the
landscape of life. The intellect remains unclouded and serene. The
Nemesis of indulgence, however moderate, is still behind the scenes. The
exhibition of a soporific effect has even been seriously thought to have
been designed by the poet in the proposal of Telemachus to retire to
rest shortly after the nepenthean cup has gone round; but so bald a
piece of realism can scarcely have entered into the contemplation of an
artist of such consummate skill.

For ages past, Thebes in Egypt has witnessed the production of opium
from the expressed juice of poppyheads. Six centuries ago, the substance
was known in Western Europe as _Opium Thebaïcum_, or the ‘Theban
tincture.’ Prosper Alpinus states that the whole of Egypt was supplied,
at the epoch of his visit, from Sajeth, on the site of the ancient
hundred-gated city. And since a large proportion of the upper classes
were undisguised opium-eaters, the demand must have been considerable.
Now it was precisely in Thebes that Helen, according to Diodorus,
received the sorrow-soothing drug from her Egyptian hostess; while the
women of Thebes, and they only, still in his time preserved the secret
of its qualities and preparation. Can we doubt that the ancient
nepenthes was in truth no other than the mediæval Theban tincture? Even
stripping from the statement of Diodorus all historical value, its
legendary significance remains. It proves, beyond question, the
existence of a tradition localising the gift of Polydamna in a spot
noted, from the date of the earliest authentic information on the
subject, for the production of a modern equivalent. The inference seems
irresistible that the two were one, and that, as De Quincey said, Homer
is rightly reputed to have known the virtues of opium.


                              CHAPTER IX.

                          THE METALS IN HOMER.

THE undivided Aryans knew very little of the underground riches of the
earth. They transmitted to their dispersed descendants no common words
for mining, forging, or smelting, none to indicate a metal in general,
and only one designative of a metal in particular. This took in Sanskrit
the form _ayas_, in Latin, _æs_; it is represented by the German _Erz_,
equivalent to the English _ore_; and, after drifting through a Celtic
channel, took a new meaning and form as _Eisen_, or _iron_.[310] The
original signification of the term was _copper_; and copper seems, in
general, to have been the first metal to engage the attention of
primitive man. This is easily accounted for. Copper is widely
distributed; it frequently occurs in the native state, when its strong
colour at once catches the eye; it is easily worked, and displays a
luminous glow highly engaging to an unsophisticated taste for ornament.
And, because copper was at first the only substance of the kind known,
its name was used to determine those of other related substances. Thus,
in Sanskrit, iron was called ‘dark blue _ayas_,’ _ayas_ having come to
mean metal in general; and a specific sign (possibly that for
_hardness_) added, in the Egyptian inscriptions, to the hieroglyph for
copper, causes it to denote iron.[311] But in South Africa these
positions are exchanged. There iron ranks as the fundamental metal; gold
being known to at least one Kafir tribe as ‘yellow,’ silver as ‘white,’
copper as ‘red’ iron.[312] And to these linguistic facts corresponds the
exceptional circumstance, due probably to early intercourse with Egypt,
that the stone-age in South Africa yielded immediately to an iron-age.

Footnote 310:

  Much, _Die Kupferzeit in Europa_, p. 173; Schrader and Jevons,
  _Prehistoric Antiquities of the Aryans_, p. 188; Taylor, _Origin of
  the Aryans_, p. 138.

Footnote 311:

  Lepsius, _Les Métaux dans les Inscriptions Égyptiennes_, p. 55.

Footnote 312:

  Schrader and Jevons, _op. cit._ p. 154; Rougemont, _L’Âge de Bronze_,
  p. 14.

In Asia, gold was discovered next after copper, the Massagetæ, described
by Herodotus, exemplifying this stage of progress; silver, or ‘white
gold’ succeeded, bringing lead in its train; then, little by little, tin
crept into use; while iron, destined to predominate, came last. All the
six, however, are enumerated in a Khorsabad inscription;[313] they were
familiar to the ancient Egyptians, to the Israelites of the Exodus, and
to the Homeric Greeks.

Footnote 313:

  Lenormant, _Trans. Soc. Bibl. Archæology_, vol. vi. p. 345.

Gold was with Homer supreme among terrestrial substances. It represented
to him beauty, splendour, power, wealth, incorruption. It was the metal
of the gods, and mortals by its profuse employment, borrowed something
of divine glory. Its availability for them had, nevertheless, narrow
limitations unfelt supernally. For the visionary metal of Olympus might
be dispensed at will without restrictions either as to quantity or
qualities. Inexhaustible stores of it lay at command; and it could be
rendered infrangible and impenetrable by some mythical process unknown
to sublunary metallurgists. Hence the golden hobbles with which Poseidon
secured his coursers might have proved less satisfactory for the
restraint of commonplace Thracian or Thessalian horses; the golden sword
of Apollo would surely have bent in the hand of Hector; the golden
mansion of the sea-god built for aye in the blue depths of the Ægean,
could not have supported its own weight for an hour on realistic dry
land; nor would the process of lifting earth to heaven by hauling on a
rope have been facilitated by making that rope (as Zeus proposed to do
for the purpose in question) of gold. Of gold, too, were the garments of
the gods, their thrones, utensils, implements, appurtenances; the
pavement of their courts was ‘trodden gold’; golden were the wings of
Iris, golden was the beauty of Aphrodite. No doubt, all these
attributions were half consciously metaphorical, but their main design
was to set off immortal existence by decorating it with an enhanced
degree of the same kind of magnificence marking the dignity of mortal

It is remarkable that the Olympian gold in the Shield of Achilles
retained some part of the occult virtue properly belonging to it only in
that elevated sphere. Of the five metallic layers composing the great
buckler, the middle and most precious one gets the whole credit of
having arrested the quivering spears of Æneas and Asteropæus.[314] The
verses, to be sure, recording its superior efficacy are held to be
spurious, and the inclusion of a hidden stratum of gold does indeed seem
without reason, as it is certainly without precedent. Yet the original
poet would not have altogether disavowed the inspiring idea of the
passage; and the alleged impenetrability of the gold-mail of
Masistius[315] may be held to imply that traces of its old mystical
faculty of resistance lingered about the metal so late as when Xerxes
invaded Greece.

Footnote 314:

  _Iliad_, xx. 268; xxi. 165; and Leaf’s annotations.

Footnote 315:

  Herodotus, ix. 22.

The metallic treasures allotted to the gods in the Iliad are confiscated
for human enrichment in the Odyssey. For the golden automata of
Hephæstus are substituted the golden watch-dogs and torch-bearers of
Alcinous; resplendent dwellings are erected, no longer on Olympus or at
Ægæ, but in Sparta and Phæacia; Helen shares with Artemis in the Odyssey
the golden distaff exclusively attributed to the latter in the Iliad;
the ‘dreams of avarice,’ in short, are tangibly realised, in the Epic of
adventure, only by human possessions; they shrink for the most part into
shadowy epithets where divine surroundings are concerned. Nor is this
diversity accidental or unmeaning. It indicates a genuine shifting of
the mythological point of view—an advance, slight yet significant,
towards a more spiritualised conception of deity.

Oriental contact first stirred the _auri sacra fames_ in the Greek mind.
That this was so the Greek language itself tells plainly. For _chrusos_,
gold, is a Semitic loanword, closely related to the Hebrew _chârûz_, but
taken immediately, there can be no reasonable doubt, from the Phœnician.
The restless treasure-seekers from Tyre were, indeed, as the
Græco-Semitic term _metal_ intimates,[316] the original subterranean
explorers of the Balkan peninsula. As early, probably, as the fifteenth
century B.C. they ‘digged out ribs of gold’ on the islands of Thasos and
Siphnos, and on the Thracian mainland at Mount Pangæum; and the fables
of the Golden Fleece, and of Arimaspian wars with gold-guarding
griffins, prove the hold won by the ‘precious bane’ over the popular
imagination. Asia Minor was, however, the chief source of prehistoric
supply, the native mines lying long neglected after the Phœnicians had
been driven from the scene. Midas was a typical king in a land where the
mountains were gold-granulated, and the rivers ran over sands of gold.
And it was in fact from Phrygia that Pelops was traditionally reported
to have brought the treasures which made Mycenæ the golden city of the
Achæan world.

Footnote 316:

  Schrader and Jevons, _Antiquities of the Aryans_, p. 155; Much, _Die
  Kupferzeit in Europa_, p. 147.

The Epic affluence in gold was not wholly fictitious. From the
sepulchres of Mycenæ alone about one hundred pounds Troy weight of the
metal have been disinterred; freely at command even in the lowest
stratum of the successive habitations at Hissarlik, it was lavishly
stored, and highly wrought in the picturesquely-named ‘treasure of
Priam;’ and has been found, in plates and pearls, beneath twenty metres
of volcanic debris, in the Cycladic islands Thera and Therapia.[317]
This plentifulness contrasts strangely with the extreme scarcity of gold
in historic Greece. It persisted, however, mainly owing to the vicinity
of the auriferous Ural Mountains, in the Milesian colony of Panticapæum,
near Kertch, where graves have been opened containing corpses shining
‘like images’ in a complete clothing of gold-leaf, and equipped with
ample supplies of golden vessels and ornaments.

Footnote 317:

  Much, _Die Kupferzeit_, p. 41.

Silver[318] was, at the outset, a still rarer substance than gold. Not
that there is really less of it. The ocean alone is estimated to contain
nearly ten thousand million tons, and the mines yielding it, though few,
are rich. But it occurs less obviously, and is less easy to obtain pure.
Accordingly, in some very early Egyptian inscriptions, silver, by
heading the list of metals, claims a supremacy over them which proved
short-lived. It terminated for ever with the scarcity that had produced
it, when the Phœnicians began to pour the flood of Spanish silver into
the markets and treasure-chambers of the East. Armenia constituted
another tolerably copious source of supply; and it was in this quarter
that Homer located the ‘birthplace of silver.’[319] Alybé, on the coast
of the Euxine east of Paphlagonia, whence the Halizonians came to Troy,
was identified by Strabo with Chalybe, a famous mining district.[320]
The people there, indeed, as Xenophon recorded, lived mostly by digging
iron; and their name was preserved in the Greek _chalups_, steel, and
survives with ourselves in _chalybeate_ waters. The district has,
however, in modern times, again become known as argentiferous. The
Homeric tradition receives countenance from the discovery, in the
neighbourhood of Tripoli, of antique, half obliterated silver-workings;
and from the existence, not far off, of a ‘Silver-town’ (Gunnish-kana),
and a ‘Silver-mountain’ (Gunnish-dagh), whence a large tribute in silver
still flowed, a few years ago, into the leaky coffers of Turkey.[321]

Footnote 318:

  Blümner, _Technologie der Gewerbe_, Bd. iv. pp. 28-32.

Footnote 319:

  _Iliad_, ii. 857.

Footnote 320:

  _Geog._ xii. 3.

Footnote 321:

  Rougemont, _L’Âge de Bronze_, p. 169; Riedenauer, _Handwerk und
  Handwerker_, p. 101.

The word _silver_ (Gothic, _silubr_) has even been conjecturally
associated with the Homeric Alybé;[322] while other philologists prefer
to regard it as equivalent to the Assyrian _sarpu_.[323] All that is
certain is the absence of a general Aryan name for the metal, showing
that the Aryans collectively made no acquaintance with it. Thus, the
Greek _arguros_ and the Latin _argentum_, although closely related, are
really different words. That is to say, they were formed independently
from the common root, _ark_, to shine, modified into _arg_, white. Its
whiteness, in fact, has supplied the designations of this metal in all
parts of the world. Silver is the ‘white iron’ of the Kaffirs, the
‘white gold’ of the Afghans, the ‘white copper’ of the Vedic Indians;
and the antique Accadians and Egyptians defined it by the same obvious
quality.[324] The Greek _arguros_ is, then, a comparatively late word,
formed, perhaps, after the Achæan tribes were already settled in their
Hellenic home, when their first supplies of silver began to come in from
Pontic Asia Minor.

Footnote 322:

  Hehn, _Wanderings of Plants_, p. 443.

Footnote 323:

  Taylor, _Origin of the Aryans_, p. 143.

Footnote 324:

  Schrader and Jevons, _Antiquities of the Aryans_, pp. 154, 180-82.

The subsequence of its invention to the adoption into the Greek language
of _chrusos_, gold, can be inferred from the relative paucity of proper
and placenames compounded with it. Homer has only four such, while his
‘golden’ appellations number thirteen. Take as specimens the series
Chryse, Chryses, and Chryseïs, designating a place in the Troad, the
priest of Apollo in that place, and his daughter, all memorably
connected with the tragic Wrath of Achilles. The nomenclature, no doubt,
took its rise from solar associations; yet the typical relationship
between gold and the sun, silver and the moon, is nowhere in the Epics
directly recognised. Helios is never decorated with the epithet
‘golden’; Apollo, if he wears a golden sword, is more strongly
characterised by his silver bow. Lunar mythology is ignored; nor is the
ready metaphor of the ‘silver moon’ to be found in Homeric verse. The
‘apparent queen’ of the nocturnal sky does not there, as elsewhere in
poetry and folk-lore, ‘throw her silver mantle o’er the dark.’ The
metallic sheen, on the other hand, of water rippling in sunshine,
produces its due effect in the generation of epithets; rivers being
habitually called ‘silver-eddying,’ and Thetis, the Undine of the Iliad,
wearing a specific badge as ‘silver-footed.’

For the concrete purposes of actual decoration, the metal was in
constant Homeric demand. Heré’s chariot and the car of Rhesus shone with
its delicate radiance; the chair of Penelope was spirally inwrought with
silver and ivory; the greaves of Paris were silver clasped, and the
sheath of his sword silver-studded; a silver hilt adorned the weapon of
Achilles, and the strings of his lyre were attached to a silver
yoke.[325] Of silver, too, was the tool-chest of Hephæstus; the guests
of Circe ate off silver tables; the guests of Menelaus, if particularly
favoured, might have bathed in silver tubs, two of which were presented
to him in Egypt; and from golden ewers water was poured into silver
basins for the ablutions before meals in every establishment of some
pretension. The fittings shared the splendours of the furniture in
Odyssean palaces. In the great hall of Alcinous, the door-posts and
lintel were of silver, and golden and silver hounds, fashioned by
Hephæstus, kept watch beside its golden gates. And the courts of
Menelaus were resplendent with gold, bronze, silver, and electrum.

Footnote 325:

  _Iliad_, i. 219; ix. 187; Buchholz, _Homerische Realien_, Bd. i. Abth.
  ii. p. 316.

The term ‘electrum,’ however, is a somewhat ambiguous one. In classical
Greek, it denotes two perfectly distinct substances, one metallic, the
other of organic origin—the latter, indeed, chiefly; the word came to be
applied almost exclusively to _amber_. Or it may be that two primarily
distinct words coalesced with time into one. Lepsius has urged the
probability that the name of the metal was of the masculine form
_elektros_, while amber was designated by the neuter _elektron_.[326]
Nor is it unlikely that these words had separate genealogies, the first
being derived from an Aryan root signifying ‘to shine,’ the second from
a Semitic name for resin. Phœnician inscriptions may eventually throw
light upon a point which must otherwise remain unsettled, by acquainting
us with the Phœnician mode of designating amber.

Footnote 326:

  _Les Métaux dans les Inscriptions Égyptiennes_, p. 60.

The metallic electrum was an alloy of gold with about twenty per cent.
of silver. It occurs naturally, but was produced artificially as well,
especially in Egypt, where _asem_, as it was called, came into favour
long before any of the pyramids were built. It was in the Nile valley
thought fit for goddesses’ wear, its pale radiance suggesting feminine
refinement; and stores of it were laid up in the treasures of all the
early kings. The first Lydian coinage was of electrum; many of the
utensils and ornaments discovered at Hissarlik and Mycenæ prove to be
similarly composed; and electrum continued in favour down to a
particularly late date in the Græco-Scythic settlements on the Black
Sea. It made one of its few historical appearances in the ‘white gold’
offered by Crœsus at Delphi;[327] and there are two instances of its
epical employment. The ground of the Hesiodic Shield of Hercules was
inlaid, the walls of the banqueting-hall of Menelaus were overlaid, with
gold, electrum, and ivory. Although, in two other passages of the
Odyssey, the same word undoubtedly designates amber, it is safe to
affirm that here, where mural incrustations are in question, a metallic
substance, none other than the immemorial _asem_ of Egypt, should be
understood. Egyptian analogies, as Lepsius many years ago pointed out,
strongly support this supposition, above all where Egyptian associations
are so marked as in the Odyssean description of the Spartan court.
Electrum is unknown in the Iliad. The word occurs only in the form
_elektor_, signifying ‘the beaming sun.’

Footnote 327:

  Herodotus, i. 50.

The third Homeric metal, and the most important of all, is _chalkos_.
But what does _chalkos_ mean? Copper or bronze? The question is not one
to be answered off-hand or categorically. It has been long and learnedly
debated; and admits, perhaps, of no decision more absolute than the
cautious arbitrament of Sir Roger de Coverley.

No help towards clearing up the point in dispute has been derived from
etymological inquiries. The word _chalkos_ is without Aryan equivalents,
and can best be explained by means of the Semitic _hhalaq_, signifying
‘metal worked with a hammer.’[328] Its primitive meaning, thus left
conjectural, was most probably ‘copper.’ For, from all parts of Europe,
evidence has gradually accumulated that the transition from the use of
stone to the use of bronze was through a ‘copper age,’ which, though
perhaps of short duration, has left relics impossible to be ignored.
Indications are even forthcoming among the prehistoric ‘finds’ at
Hissarlik, of the tentative processes by which copper was improved into
bronze.[329] The lower strata of ruins on the site of ancient Troy
contained articles and implements of approximately pure copper; nearer
the surface, a sensible ingredient of tin was added, augmented, here and
there, to the normal proportion for bronze of about twelve per cent. At
Mycenæ, domestic vessels were fabricated of copper, weapons and
ornamental objects of bronze; and a copper saw, dug from beneath the
lavas of Santorin, gives corroborative evidence of the early Greek use
of the unalloyed metal.

Footnote 328:

  Lenormant, _Antiquités de la Troade_, p. 11.

Footnote 329:

  _Ib._ p. 10.

_Chalkos_, then, must, to begin with, have denoted copper, and indeed it
partially preserves that sense in the Homeric poems. The cargo, for
example, taken on board at Temesé, in Cyprus, by the Taphian king
Mentes,[330] must have been of pure copper, the distinctively ‘Cyprian’
metal. The port of Temesé, afterwards Tamassos, be it observed, was a
Phœnician establishment, and bore a Phœnician name denoting
‘smelting-house,’ both instructive circumstances as regards the agency
by which metallic supplies were transmitted westward.[331] Again, when
Achilles enumerated with gold and ‘grey iron,’ red _chalkos_ as forming
part of his wealth,[332] he could have meant nothing but unadulterated
copper. The colour-adjective does not recur, but its employment this
once strongly supports the inference that the unwrought _chalkos_,
frequently spoken of as stored for future use or barter, was without
sensible admixture of tin.

Footnote 330:

  _Odyssey_, i. 184.

Footnote 331:

  Schrader and Jevons, _op. cit._ p. 196; Buchholz, _Homer. Real._ Bd.
  i. Abth. ii. p. 326.

Footnote 332:

  _Iliad_, ix. 365.

This inference, however, cannot reasonably be carried further. Homeric
armour was altogether of _chalkos_, and it would be absurd to suppose
that the ‘well-greaved Greeks’ went into action copper-clad. This on two
grounds. In the first place, archæological research has proved to
demonstration that bronze was fully and freely available in the late
Mycenæan age, when Homer, there is good reason to believe, flourished.
Articles composed of it must have been continually before his eyes and
within his grasp. Unless he deliberately elected, which is
inconceivable, to exclude from his poems all mention of a material of
primary importance to the known arts, his _chalkos_ was a term
sufficiently comprehensive to embrace _both_ bronze and copper. In the
second place, pure copper could not have played the part assigned to it.
Its inadequacy as a material for weapons or armour should promptly have
led to its rejection. Assuredly it could neither have sustained, nor
been the means of inflicting, the heavy blows and buffets exchanged by
the heroes of the Trojan War. The mere fact of the shattering of
Menelaus’s sword against the helmet of Paris[333] is conclusive as to
its having been made of a less yielding substance than copper;[334] and
the hardening process, by sudden cooling, imagined with the view to
removing the difficulty, has been pronounced, on the authority of
experts, impracticable.[335] The rigidity and occasional brittleness of
the Homeric _chalkos_ was imparted to it, we may be quite sure, by the
tin mixed with it.

Footnote 333:

  _Iliad_, iii. 363.

Footnote 334:

  Riedenauer, _Handwerk und Handwerker_, p. 103.

Footnote 335:

  Blümner, _Technologie_, Bd. iv. p. 51.

Moreover, it is incredible that the Homeric Greeks, although acquainted
with iron, had no share in the bronze-culture flourishing, then and
previously, along the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. The
persistence, anywhere in that region, of so late, and so extraordinarily
developed a copper age, would indeed be a glaring anomaly. Already,[336]
in the third millennium B.C., bronze tools were used in Egypt; and under
the name _zabar_, whence the Arabic _zifr_, bronze was fabricated by
Sumero-Accadian metallurgists at the very outset of Mesopotamian
civilisation.[337] It was, in fact, probably from Mesopotamia that
knowledge of the art and its attendant advantages was carried westward
by Sidonian traffickers. Customers, then, who, like the Achæans,
procured from them plentiful supplies of copper, and a smaller quantity
of tin, could not long have remained ignorant of the vast superiority of
their alloyed over their separate condition. The conclusion is
inevitable that _chalkos_, like the corresponding Hebrew term
_nechosheth_, and the Egyptian _chomt_, was a word of some elasticity of
meaning, designating ordinarily bronze, but occasionally copper. The
translation, it need hardly be said, of any of the three by the English
_brass_ involves a gross error. Copper was not systematically alloyed
with zinc until about the second century B.C.[338]

Footnote 336:

  Perrot et Chipiez, _Histoire de l’Art_, t. i. p. 829; Beck (_Gesch.
  des Eisens_, p. 79) considers, however, that no Egyptian bronzes yet
  analysed go back beyond the eighteenth dynasty, about 1700 B.C.

Footnote 337:

  Lenormant, _Trans. Soc. Bibl, Archæology_, vol. vi. p. 344.

Footnote 338:

  Blümner, _Technologie_, Bd. iv. p. 199.

But the bronze industry of old must have been seriously hampered in its
growth and spread by the scarcity of tin. This metal is of most
restricted distribution. The reservoirs of it held by the earth are few
and far apart. The two principal, in Cornwall and the Malaccan peninsula
respectively, are ‘wide as the poles asunder.’ Yet its discovery goes
back to a hoar antiquity, and its prehistoric use was extensive and
continuous. This wide dispersion of so scarce an article gives cogent
proof of unexpectedly early intercourse between remote populations, and
strikingly illustrates the effectiveness of those gradual processes of
primitive trade by which desirable commodities permeated continents, and
reached the least accessible markets.

The earliest historical source of tin was in the Cassiterides, or
‘tin-islands’ of Britain; and there can be no doubt, geographical
mystifications notwithstanding, that the tin thence derived came,
directly or indirectly, from Cornwall. Not improbably, the staple of the
Phœnician tin-trade was in the Isle of Wight, which accordingly became
the representative tin-island.[339] But this is questionable. What is
certain is, that the metal was transported overland to the Gulf of Lyons
long before the Phœnicians passed the Pillars of Hercules, and was
available, much earlier still, in Egypt and Assyria. The Cornish was
not, then, the first source of supply to be opened, nor was the
Malaccan. Tin was, in fact, an article of export from Alexandria to
India down to the beginning of the Christian era. The modern discovery,
however, of tin-mines in Khorassan, the ancient Drangiana, irresistibly
suggests that the primitive bronze-workers derived the less plentiful
material of their industry from the Paropamisus, and tends to confirm
the Turanian lineage imputed to them by Lenormant.[340]

Footnote 339:

  Blümner, _Technologie_, Bd. iv. p. 86.

Footnote 340:

  Von Baer, _Archiv für Anthropologie_, Bd. ix. p. 266; Blümner,
  _Technologie_, Bd. iv. p. 84.

The Homeric name for tin, _kassiteros_, is at any rate clearly of
Oriental origin. The Greeks adopted it from the Phœnicians; the
Phœnicians _may_, it is thought, have picked it up from Accadian
bronze-smiths along the shores of the Persian Gulf. It survives in the
Arabic _kasdîr_, and under the form _kastîra_ made its way into
Sanskrit, on the occasion of Alexander’s invasion of the Punjâb. Pure
tin ranked with Homer almost as a precious metal. Its scarcity gave it
prestige; but he had evidently very little acquaintance with its
qualities. As Helbig remarks,[341] difficulties of interpretation arise
wherever _kassiteros_ is brought on the scene. A good deal of critical
discomfort, for instance, has been created by the statement that greaves
of tin were included in the warlike outfit supplied to Achilles from
Olympus. And bewilderment is heightened later on by the defensive power
they are made to exhibit in the hardest trials of actual battle. In
point of fact, they would have been as ineffective as papier-maché
against the thrust of Agenor’s spear; and their clattering would
scarcely have produced the awe-inspiring effect ascribed to it in the
following passage.

Footnote 341:

  _Das Homerische Epos_, p. 285.

    He [Agenor] said, and hurled his sharp spear with weighty hand,
    and smote him [Achilles] on the leg beneath the knee, nor missed
    his mark, and the greave of new-wrought tin rang terribly on
    him; but the bronze bounded back from him it smote, nor pierced
    him, for the god’s gift drave it back.[342]

Footnote 342:

  _Iliad_, xxi. 591-94; cf. Blümner, _Technologie_, Bd. iv. p. 53.

Elsewhere in the Iliad, tin is employed ornamentally, as it was on the
pottery of the ancient pile-dwellers of Savoy.[343] But the poet is much
more sparing of it than he is of either gold or silver. Even his
imaginary stores appear to be strictly limited. ‘Relucent tin,’ however,
bordered the breastplate presented by Achilles to Eumelus as a
consolation-prize in the Patroclean games; the chariot of Diomed was
‘overlaid with gold and tin’;[344] the cuirass of Agamemnon was inlaid
with parallel stripes, and the buckler of Agamemnon decorated with
bosses of tin.

Footnote 343:

  Dawkins, _Early Man in Britain_, p. 402.

Footnote 344:

  _Iliad_, xxiii. 503.

The metal was also turned to account by Hephæstus for the purpose of
adding to the effect and variety of his delineations on the Shield of
Achilles. But we get no hint as to how it came into Achæan hands; no
rich man’s treasure contains it; and it drops completely out of sight in
the Odyssey.

Tin corrodes so readily that its extreme archæological rarity is not
surprising. None has been found, either at Mycenæ or in any part of the
stratified débris at Hissarlik.[345] Lead, on the other hand, has been
disinterred from all the Trojan cities, and was in use at Mycenæ, both
pure, and alloyed with silver. Among the objects brought to light there
was a leaden figure of Aphrodite, doubtless an idol,[346] and a vessel
in stag-shape composed of silver mixed with half its weight of
lead.[347] The latter substance is unmentioned in the Odyssey, but is
twice familiarly alluded to in the Iliad. Its cheapness and commonness
can be gathered from the circumstance incidentally disclosed, that poor
fishermen attached pieces of it as weights to their lines.[348] Its
quality of softness comes in to illustrate the ease with which the spear
of Iphidamas was turned by the silver in the belt of Agamemnon.[349]

Footnote 345:

  Schliemann, _Troy_, pp. 31, 162.

Footnote 346:

  Schuchhardt and Sellers, _op. cit._ p. 67.

Footnote 347:

  Schliemann, _Mycenæ_, p. 257.

Footnote 348:

  _Iliad_, xxiv. 80.

Footnote 349:

  _Ib._ xi. 237.

Tin and lead made part of the booty taken in the land of Midian by the
Israelites, as well as of the Asiatic tribute paid to early Egyptian
conquerors. But the lead disposed of by the Achæans of the Iliad was
most likely brought by the Phœnicians from southern Spain; and the
surmise is plausible that the Homeric word, _molubdos_—lead—-otherwise
isolated and unexplained, may have been transferred, by the same agency,
from the perishing Iberian to the vigorous Greek tongue.[350]

Footnote 350:

  Schrader, _Prehistoric Antiquities_, p. 217.

The Greek name for iron, _sideros_, is equally destitute of known
affinities. It has, indeed, sometimes been deemed cognate with the Latin
_sidus_, a star, on the ground that meteoric, or star-sent iron was the
earliest form of the metal made available for human purposes; but modern
philologists do not see their way to admitting the connexion. The
coincidence is impressive, yet may, none the less, be wholly misleading.

The Homeric poems testify to everyday experience of the powers and
faculties of iron. In the Iliad, knives are made of it, and rustic
implements of all sorts; iron-tipped arrows are sped from tough bows;
iron axes perform the rough work of the forest and farm-yard. The
Odyssean functions of the metal cover a still wider range. The iron age,
just beginning in the first Epic, has pretty well made good its footing
in the second. Thus, Beloch[351] has pointed out that, while _chalkos_
is mentioned 279, _sideros_ only 23 times in the Iliad, the proportion
has become, in the Odyssey, 80 to 29; and his detailed analysis
partially supports the conclusion that iron comes most prominently into
view in the latest portions of both poems. Yet no amount of skill in
critical carving can divide off a section of either in which ignorance
of the metal prevails. The differences are only in degrees of

Footnote 351:

  _Rivista di Filologia_, t. ii. p. 55.

The diversity in this respect between the Odyssey and Iliad can be
perceived at a glance by contrasting the weapons Odysseus left behind
him at Ithaca with those he wielded before Troy. The first set were of
iron, probably of steel, the existence of which is implied in the
practice of tempering by immersion in cold water, referred to in
connexion with the feat of plunging a hot stake into the vast orbit of
the Cyclops’ solitary eye.

            And from the burning eye-ball the fierce steam
            Singed all his brows, and the deep roots of sight
            Crackled with fire. As when in the cold stream
            Some smith the axe untempered, fiery white,
            Dips hissing; for thence comes the iron’s might;
            So did his eye hiss, and he roared again.[352]

Footnote 352:

  _Odyssey_, ix. 391-95 (Worsley’s trans.).

Iron or steel has even reached, in the Odyssey, the stage of proverbial
familiarity as the material for arms. _Sideros_ stands for sword in a
maxim which may be translated ‘Cold steel masters the man,’[353]
signifying that when weapons are at hand, bloodshed is not far off. In
the Iliad, on the contrary, swords and spears are invariably of bronze;
and the commentators’ _caveat_ marks the lines presenting the
iron-headed arrow of Pandarus, and the iron mace of Areithöus. The
passage, too, is not exempt from their suspicions, in which Achilles
offers, as prizes in the Funeral Games, a ‘massy clod’ of
freshly-smelted iron, and two sets of iron axe-heads.

Footnote 353:

  _Ib._ xvi. 294.

The scanty use made of _sideros_ in the compounding of Homeric
epithets,[354] no less than its total neglect in the formation of proper
names, is a further argument for the comparatively late introduction of
the metal. More especially when the plentifulness of derivatives from
_chalkos_ is taken into consideration. Nevertheless, a good deal of
allowance has to be made, in this matter, for what may be called
ethnical caprice. So the Teutons excluded copper from among the elements
of their local and personal appellations, while admitting gold and iron;
those of the Slavs were coined from gold, silver, and iron; the Celts
excluding from employment for the purpose all the metals except
iron.[355] More decisive is the designation of a smith as _chalkeus_,
irrespective of the particular metal wrought by him, showing that the
term had been fixed when neither gold nor iron, but only copper or
bronze, was welded in Achæan forges. _Nam prior æris fuit quam ferri
cognitus usus._

Footnote 354:

  Beloch, _loc. cit._ p. 50.

Footnote 355:

  Schrader and Jevons, _op. cit._ p. 194.

Iron, copper, and gold served as the Homeric media of exchange.
Definitions of value, however, are always by head of oxen. The golden
armour of Glaucus, for instance, was worth one hundred, the bronze
equipment of Diomed, inconsiderately taken in exchange by the chivalrous
Lycian, no more than nine oxen,[356] and the figures may be considered
to represent the proportionate value of those two metals. Iron probably
occupied an intermediate position. It must, however, have been much
cheaper in Ithaca than in the Troad. For, since the Taphians are said to
have conveyed it in ships to Cyprus, where they bartered it for copper,
it was evidently mined and smelted in notable quantities on the mainland
of Epirus.

Footnote 356:

  _Iliad_, vi. 235.

Iron has no decorative function in the Homeric Poems. It contributes
nothing to the polymetallic splendours of the palaces of Menelaus and
Alcinous, of the Shield of Achilles, or of the Breastplate of Agamemnon.
Except where it furnishes an axletree for the chariot of Heré, it is
never employed in purposeful combination with any other substance.
Esteem, rather than admiration, seems, in fact, to be considered its
due. Its colour is described, usually as grey, sometimes as violet; and
the distinction may possibly, as has been supposed,[357] mark the
observed difference between the hoary appearance of newly fractured
iron, and the bluish gleam of steel blades. Nevertheless, an arbitrary
element in Homeric tints has often to be admitted. Iron is, however,
chiefly characterised in the Iliad and Odyssey—and with indisputable
justice—as ‘hard to work.’ It demands, indeed, far more strenuous
treatment than its ancient rival, copper; and the difficulties connected
with its production and working long retarded the prevalence of its use.
Metallurgy advanced but slowly to the point of being dominated by its

Footnote 357:

  Buchholz, _Homer. Realien_, Bd. i. Abth. ii. p. 335.

This was probably first reached in Mesopotamia. Some Chaldean graves
have been found to contain immense quantities of iron, of the best
quality, and wrought with the finest skill.[358] One, opened by Place at
Khorsabad, was a veritable magazine of chains and implements, still
recognisable, though of course partly devoured by rust. They dated from
about the eighth century B.C.; but the metal had been in some degree
available for ages previously. In Egypt, although _men_ (iron) may have
been known under the early Memphite dynasties, the nature of the
hieroglyph employed to denote it proves that copper had the precedence.
Utensils of iron were enumerated among the spoils of Thothmes III., in
the seventeenth century, B.C.;[359] _barzel_ has a place in the Books of
Moses, and was wrought at Tyre in the days of king Hiram, and no doubt
indefinitely earlier. The Latin _ferrum_, indeed (equivalent to the
Semitic _barezum_) testifies, it is held, to the Phœnician introduction
of the metal to Italy in the twelfth century, B.C.[360]

Footnote 358:

  Perrot et Chipiez, _Hist. de l’Art dans l’Antiquité_, t. ii. p. 720.

Footnote 359:

  Lepsius, _Les Métaux dans les Inscriptions Égyptiennes_, p. _missing
  page_ See this transcriber note.

Footnote 360:

  Taylor, _Origin of the Aryans_, p. 145.

Its still earlier diffusion through Greece is only, then, what might
have been expected: and the complete acquaintance with it manifested in
the Homeric poems conveys, in itself, no presumption of lateness in
their origin. But there are archæological difficulties. Prehistoric iron
is unaccountably scarce in the neighbourhood of the Ægean. True, it is
of a perishable nature; but where not even a ferruginous stain survives,
it is difficult to believe that objects made out of iron once existed.
Until lately, iron was believed to be entirely absent from the ruins
both at Hissarlik and Mycenæ, as well as from those of Orchomenos and
Tiryns. But in 1890, Dr. Schliemann, in clearing the foundations of a
building on the Trojan Pergamus, came upon two lumps of the missing
substance; and some finger-rings composed of it are among the trophies
of the recent excavations carried on in the lower city of Mycenæ, under
the auspices of the Greek Archæological Society.[361] But the metal was
then evidently very rare, although the ‘bee-hive tombs,’ where it was
discovered, belong to a later stage of Mycenæan history than the
‘shaft-graves’ of the citadel. Still, the gap previously supposed to
divide, at this point, the Homeric from the Mycenæan world, has to a
certain extent been bridged; and other discrepancies may, in like
manner, be qualified, if not removed, by further research.

Footnote 361:

  Schuchhardt, _op. cit._ pp. 332, 296.

The metals chiefly employed in Homeric verse to typify abstract
qualities are bronze and iron. The Shakespearian use of ‘golden’ to
convey delightfulness of almost any kind, as in the expressions
‘_golden_ cadence of poesy,’ ‘a _golden_ mind,’ ‘_golden_ joys,’
‘_golden_ sleep,’ and so on, is paralleled only by the Homeric ‘_golden_
Aphrodite.’ Lead does not exemplify, with the Greek poet, heaviness and
sloth, nor silver the gentle ripple of sweet sounds. But death, as ‘a
sleep of bronze,’ comes before us in all its unrelenting sternness;
Stentor has a ‘voice of bronze;’ a ‘memory of bronze’ was needed for
exceptional feats of recitation; and the ‘iron noise’ of battle went up
to a ‘bronzen sky’ during the struggle ensuing upon the fall of
Patroclus. In the Odyssey, the sky is alternately of bronze and of iron,
the same idea of stability—of a ‘brave, o’erhanging firmament’ being
conveyed by both epithets.[362] Moreover, iron is there the recognised
symbol of pitilessness, strength of mind, and self-command. Odysseus
listens, masked in an ‘aspect of iron,’ while Penelope, strangely
touched by his still unrecognised presence, recites the weary story of
her sorrows. A heart _steeled_—as we should say—against pity was said to
be ‘of iron,’ as was that of Achilles against Hector in the days of his
‘iron indignation’ at the slaying of his loved comrade; and silence and
secrecy, even in a woman, were represented by the rigidity of that
unbending metal. Such metaphors occur, it is true, more frequently in
the Odyssey than in the Iliad; but the conception upon which they are
founded is present throughout the whole sphere of Homeric thought. There
are, nevertheless, as we have seen, clearly definable differences, in
the matter of metallic acquisitions, between the two great Epics. The
Iliad knows six, while the Odyssey refers only to four of these
substances, tin and lead not chancing to be noticed in its cantos; and
iron, in their record, has made a considerable advance upon its Iliadic
status. This is unquestionably a circumstance to be taken into account
in attempting to deal with the Homeric problem.

Footnote 362:

  Hayman’s _Odyssey_, vol. i. p. 63.


                               CHAPTER X.

                          HOMERIC METALLURGY.

MAN is a tool-shaping animal. He alone infuses matter with purpose, and
so makes it effective for widening and strengthening his wonderful
dominion over physical nature. What is more, his thoughts themselves
grow with the means at his command, and their growth in turn inspires a
further restless seeking after instruments of fresh conquests. The first
metal-workers, accordingly, crossed a gulf destined to divide the ages.
It was not for nothing that legendary honours were paid to them; they
were the vague recognition of a really momentous advance. Its importance
consisted, not so much in the immediate gain of power, as in the
implication of what was to come. For metallurgy is an art which does not
easily stand still. Even in its crudest stages it demands some technical
skill; and technical skill cannot be attained without division of
labour, differentiation of classes, and development of intelligence by
its direction into special channels, and towards feasible ends. There
are, then, few better tests of civilisation than the degree of command
acquired over the metals.

The wide compass of metallic qualities was in itself stimulating to
ingenuity. There was always something new to be found out about them,
and they lent themselves with facility to every variety of treatment.
This versatility contrasted strongly with the rigid and impracticable
nature of the stony substances they tended to supersede. Thus, the six
primitive metals not only presented, at first sight, a great number of
diverse characteristics, but those characteristics proved, on the most
elementary trials, highly susceptible of change. They could be
surprisingly modified, for instance, by mutual admixtures, and, in a
lesser degree, by differences of manipulation. Secrets of the craft
hence multiplied, and invited, as they continue to invite, further
experiments and research.

Of still greater consequence to civilisation at large was the
comparatively recondite occurrence of the metals. They are not to be met
with, like flints or pebbles, strewing the bed of every stream; their
distribution is defined and restricted. The demand for them could, for
this reason, only be supplied by opening long lines of communication; it
led to extended intercourse between nations, and created wants
stimulating to traffic.

Metals, besides, present themselves only by exception in the native
state; they are commonly disguised under some form of ore,
subterraneanly bestowed. Nature holds them concealed in her bosom, or at
most attracts the eye with niggardly samples of her treasures. The very
word _metal_, indeed, records a ‘quest,’ a searching for something
hidden; and it is remarkable that these substances have been least
effective for promoting culture just where they have come most readily
to hand. By the shores of Lake Superior pure copper can be quarried like
sandstone; and it was, in fact, cut away and hammered into axes and
knives by Indian tribes long before they came into contact with
Europeans. A similar use has been made of meteoric iron by the
Esquimaux. But no development of ingenuity resulted in either case. And
for this reason among others, that the metal was used _cold_. It
received essentially the treatment of stone, and made very much the same
kind of response. Because smelting processes were not needed, forging
processes were not thought of. The furnace was absent, and with it the
power of rendering metals plastic to human wants and purposes. There
was, then, good warrant for the figuring, as the arch-metallurgist of
mythology, of the incorporated element of fire.

Hephæstus was the Homeric Wayland Smith. He embodied the antique,
universal notion of magic metallurgy, but embodied it after a dignified
manner suitable to the grand epical standard. Homer was not given to
repeating folk-stories current among the lower strata of—shall we
say?—Pelasgian society. His associations were with courts and camps, his
sympathies with heroic achievements and maritime adventures in distant,
perhaps fabulous, countries. There, indeed, grotesque aboriginal fancies
might be permitted to flourish; but they were excluded as much as
possible from the sunlit spaces of the Hellenic world. Even here they
crept in unbidden, for the Homeric theology is by no means exempt from
the influence of rustic persuasions. But these were only admitted after
passing through the alembic of fine fancy or ennobling thought. Thus,
Hephæstus, although he has not wholly put off the semblance of the
‘drudging goblin’ of caves and cairns, stands for a formidable
nature-power, and possesses the capability of being sublime. Panting,
perspiring, shaggy, and limping, he is still no dubious divinity, but a
genuine Olympian. His dwelling is on the mountain of the gods; he shares
their councils; his operations are at the command of none; he is
self-directed and self-inspired with his art, having taken to the hammer
and anvil as spontaneously as the infant Hermes took to music and
thievery. Indeed, the ill-used, yet not ill-natured, son of Heré
surpasses his progenitors in one important respect. He is the only one
of the Homeric gods in whom some remnant of creative power remains
active. He alone commands a glimmer of the Promethean spark, half-hidden
though it be in the ashes of material conceptions. Not, indeed, life in
any true sense, but faculties of perception and animation are his to
give to the works of his hands. His forge can turn out intelligent
automata. Among its products are golden handmaidens,[363] conscious
without being self-conscious, endowed with all the useful attributes,
while devoid of the inconveniences of personality. Their efficiency was
purely altruistic; they acted, but neither sought nor suffered. The
bellows, too, of the great Iliadic armourer could be left to blow at
discretion; and his wheeled tripods repaired to, and withdrew from, the
assembly of the gods, at fit times, unsummoned and undismissed. This
lingering of the creative tradition, completely dissociated from the
mighty Zeus, about the misshapen nursling of Thetis, illustrates his
connexion with Pthah, the creative and at the same time the
metallurgical deity of the Nile-valley.

Footnote 363:

  Ilmarine, the Finnish Hephæstus, made himself a wife of gold.

The Teutonic Wieland sprang from the same mythological stock. He could,
however, lay claim to no trait of divinity, but was merely an artist of
supreme skill, taught by subterranean pygmies. He was lamed by King
Nidung, an early art-patron, eager for a monopoly of his services; but
eventually escaped by means of a flying-apparatus of his own
construction, his maladroit brother Ægil barely escaping the fate of
Icarus. Here, then, Wieland merges into Dædalus, who is only once
mentioned by Homer, and that as a builder. In a passage full of the
‘local colour’ of Crete, he is said to have constructed the ‘chorus,’ or
dancing-place of Ariadne.[364] The dream of a levitative art lurked
nowhere within the Homeric field of view. Least of all had it been
mastered by the ‘eternal smith’ of Olympus, who owed his life-long
infirmity to the want of a parachute. His ‘summer’s day’ fall from the
‘crystal battlements’ of Olympus ‘on Lemnos, th’ Ægean isle,’ crippled
him incurably; and his return thither was effected by other than
aeronautic means. But the story of his alliance with Dionysus is not
Homeric, so we have nothing to do with it.

Footnote 364:

  _Iliad_, xviii. 592.

Still less Homeric is the comparatively late account of his localisation
in the Lipari Islands:

                Vulcani domus, et Vulcania nomine tellus.

And yet it is worth recalling, as evidence that the prime metallurgists
of Northern and Southern Europe were offshoots from the same stem. Every
one knows that, in the days of old, travellers’ horses were wont to be
privily shod, ‘for a consideration,’ at a cromlech at Ashbury in
Berkshire,[365] by a certain ‘Wayland Smith,’ who had no doubt his own
reasons for eschewing public observation. It seems, however, from the
testimony of Pytheas, a Massilian Greek of Alexander’s epoch, that the
Liparine Hephæstus conducted himself in just the same kind of way.[366]
He worked invisibly, but could be hired to do any given job. This shows
a marked decline from his palmy Iliadic days, when his services might by
exception be had for love, but never for money. From the position of a
god, he had sunk to that of a mere mercenary troll or kobold.

Footnote 365:

  Wright, _Archæologia_, vol. xxxii. p. 315.

Footnote 366:

  Scholium to Apoll. Rhod. _Argonautica_, iv. 761.

Among the Achæans at the time of the siege of Troy, works in metal[367]
of traditional repute were ascribed to Hephæstus no less freely than
swords and cuirasses in the Middle Ages to Wieland or his French
equivalent, Galand, or than fiddles in later days to Straduarius. A
Wieland’s sword, first brandished by Alexander the Great, was said to
have been transmitted successively to Ptolemy, Judas Maccabæus, and
Vespasian; Charlemagne’s ‘Durandal’ and Taillefer’s ‘Durissima’ were
from his master-hand, which armed as well the prowess of Julius Cæsar,
and Godfrey of Bouillon. Part at least of the armour of Beowulf was also
from the cavernous northern workshop which reproduced the forge on Mount
Olympus, where the behest of Thetis was carried into execution; and to
this day in Kurdistan King David is believed to labour, in a desolate
sepulchre among the hills, at hauberks, greaves, and cuirasses.[368]

                       Never on earthly anvil
                       Did such rare armour gleam,

as that supplied by Hephæstus to Achilles, after his original outfit had
been stript by Hector from the dead body of Patroclus. Only the shield,
however, is described in detail. It was a world-picture—a succession of
typical scenes of human life:

                    All various, each a perfect whole
                    From living Nature—

wrought in gold, silver, tin, and enamel on a bronze surface. The
implements at hand were hammer, anvil, tongs, and bellows. A
self-supporting furnace—we hear of no fuel—contained crucibles, in which
the metals were rendered plastic by heat, but not, it would appear,
melted. The bronze used was presumably ready-made.[369] Processes of
alloying, like processes of mining and smelting, are ignored in the
Homeric poems. They seem to have lain outside the range of ordinary
Achæan experience, and can have been carried on only to a very limited
extent on Greek soil, and there, perhaps, by foreigners. No part of the
‘clypei non enarrabile textum’ was cast. Forged throughout, inlaid and
embossed, it was a piece of work of which the great Mulciber had no
reason to be ashamed.

Footnote 367:

  Besides some of mixed materials, such as the Ægis of Zeus and the
  Sceptre of Agamemnon.

Footnote 368:

  Mrs. Bishop’s _Travels in Persia_, vol. i. p. 85.

Footnote 369:

  Beck, _Geschichte des Eisens_, p. 383.

The technique employed by him has, within the last few years, received a
curiously apposite illustration. The Homeric description is of a series
of vignettes depicted by means of polymetallic combinations, in a manner
wholly alien to the practice of historic antiquity. But now prehistoric
antiquity has come to the rescue of the commentators’ perplexity. From
the graves at Mycenæ were dug out some rusty dagger-blades, which
proved, on being cleaned and polished at Athens, to be skilfully
ornamented in coloured metallic intarsiatura. The ground is of bronze,
prepared with a kind of black enamel for the reception of figures cut
out of gold-leaf tinted of various shades, from silvery-white to
copper-red, the details being brought out with a graver.[370] Groups of
men and animals, mostly in rapid motion, are thus depicted with
considerable vigour, and forcibly recall the naturalistic effects
suggested by the plastic power of the poet. ‘On these blades,’ Mr.
Gardner remarks,[371] ‘we find fishes of dark gold swimming in a stream
of pale gold; drops of blood are represented by inserted spots of red
gold; in some cases silver is used. What could be nearer to Homer’s
golden vines with silver props, or his oxen of gold and tin?’

Footnote 370:

  Koehler, _Mitth. Deutsch. Archäol. Institut_, Bd. vii. p. 241;
  Schuchhardt and Sellers, _Schliemann’s Excavations_, p. 229.

Footnote 371:

  _Macmillan’s Magazine_, vol. liv. p. 377.

This peculiar kind of damascening work was completely forgotten before
the classical age. It seems to have originated in Egypt at least as
early as 1600 B.C.[372] and Egyptian influences are palpable both in the
decorative designs on the Mycenæan blades and in the mode of their
execution. The papyrus, for instance, is conspicuous in a riverside
scene. Nevertheless, these remarkable objects were certainly not
imported. They were wrought by native artists inspired by Egyptian
models. The freedom and boldness with which the subjects chosen for
portrayal are treated make this practically certain. A specimen of the
same style of work, brought from the island of Thera (now Santorin) to
the Museum of Copenhagen, suffices to show that acquaintance with it was
at one time pretty widely diffused through the Ægean archipelago, and
hence cannot serve to localise the origin of the Homeric poems.

Footnote 372:

  ‘A sword exactly in the style of the Mycenæan blades was taken from
  the grave of Aa Hotep, the mother of Ah Mose, who freed Egypt, about
  1600 B.C., from the Hyksos.’—Schuchhardt, _op. cit._ p. 316.

In its entirety, the Shield of Achilles was beyond doubt an ideal
creation. The poet described something imaginatively apprehended as the
_chef-d’œuvre_ of a superhuman artist, but claiming no existence out of
the shining realm of fancy. Only the elements of the creation were taken
from reality. The idea dominating its construction, of moulding a work
of art into a comprehensive world-picture, is eminently Oriental. It
recurs in the mantle of Demetrius Poliorcetes, and, more or less
abortively, in various Indian and Moorish embroideries. And the
arrangement of the sequence of scenes in concentric circles on the ‘vast
circumference’ of the ‘orbed shield’ was certainly copied from
Assyrio-Phœnician models.

In its manufacture no iron was employed; and this was quite in
accordance with Homeric usage. The latest metallic acquisition of the
fore-time boasted no traditional consecration; it could impart neither
beauty nor splendour; the part its nature assigned to it was one of
prosaic usefulness. It is accordingly excluded from the Mycenæan scheme
of ornament imitated in the Shield, and may, indeed, have been unknown
to the artists by whom that scheme was elaborated. The Olympian
Demiurgus, at any rate, was acquainted with no such substance; but then
the gods of Greece were never quick to adopt new improvements. So far as
Homer tells us, the only Olympian use of iron was in the chariot of
Heré, thus described in the Fifth Iliad:

    And Hebe quickly put to the car the curved wheels of bronze,
    eight-spoked, upon their axletree of iron. Golden is their
    felloe, imperishable, and tires of bronze are fitted thereover,
    a marvel to look upon; and the naves are of silver, to turn
    about on either side. And the car is plaited tight with gold and
    silver thongs, and two rails run round about it. And the silver
    pole stood out therefrom; upon the end bound she the fair golden
    yoke, and set thereon the fair breast-straps of gold.[373]

Footnote 373:

  _Iliad_, v. 722-31.

This passage shows, as Dr. Leaf points out,[374] that the chariots of
those times, being very light, were, in the intervals of use, taken to
pieces and laid by on stands. That they were then covered with linen
cloths is told to us elsewhere in the Iliad. Not all were furnished with
eight-spoked wheels. The emphasis laid upon the fact as regards the
goddess’s car indicates that it was exceptional; and the indication is
confirmed by the four-spoked wheels of every vehicle in the Mycenæan
reliefs. As to the iron axletree, it was plainly meant, not for show,
but for strength; yet its introduction, even in that humble capacity,
among the appurtenances of a divine being, can scarcely have been
warranted by prescription, and may have appeared a no less daring
innovation than the serving-out of gunpowder to the infernal host in
‘Paradise Lost.’

Footnote 374:

  Leaf’s _Iliad_, vol. i. p. 186.

Homeric archæology has assumed a new aspect since the opening of the
prehistoric graves at Mycenæ. The doubts of centuries have now at last
met a criterion of truth; the debates of centuries are in many cases
already virtually closed. And this is only a beginning. If the spade be
the best commentator, it will hardly be laid aside until further light
has been thrown upon still twilight places in Homeric controversy. What
has been done is indeed surprising enough. Not very rarely, what might
pass—allowing for some slight poetical amplification—for the originals
of implements or utensils described in the Epics, have been unearthed in
the course of the excavations begun by Dr. Schliemann. Among them is an
excellent model, on a reduced scale, of Nestor’s Cup, an acquisition
almost as surprising as would have been the recovery of Jason’s Mantle,
or Penelope’s Web.

The Pramnian beverage prepared by the skilled Hecamede for the
refreshment of Nestor and Machaon was served in ‘a right goodly cup that
the old man brought from home, embossed with studs of gold, and four
handles there were to it; and round each two golden doves were feeding;
and to the cup were two feet below.’[375]

Footnote 375:

  _Iliad_, xi. 631-39.

The golden beaker now, after three millenniums of sepulture, exhibited
in the Polytechnicon at Athens,[376] has two, instead of two pairs of
dove-surmounted handles; but the support of each by a separate prop
riveted on to the base, corresponds strictly to the construction with
‘two feet below’ (πυθμένες), as described in the Iliad. The real and
imagined objects unmistakably belong to the same class and epoch, and
their agreement is in itself strong evidence of coherence between
Homeric and Mycenæan civilisation. The ‘studs of gold’ embossing the
Nestorean drinking-cup were doubtless the ornamental heads of the nails
used as rivets. The art of soldering, in the proper sense, was a later
discovery;[377] but the Mycenæan goldsmith sometimes had recourse to a
cement of borax for fastening pieces of gold together. In general,
however, decorative adjuncts were separately cast, and afterwards
attached with rivets to the objects they were intended to embellish. In
this way, probably, the purely ornamental use of metallic knobs and
bosses grew up. The Homeric epithets ‘silver-studded’ and ‘bossy,’
applied to sword-sheaths, chairs, and shields, have been copiously
illustrated by the discovery at Mycenæ of innumerable gold, or rather
gilt, discs and buttons, which had evidently once formed the adornment
of the sheaths and shields lying alongside.[378] At Olympia, too, bronze
sheathings have been found set with rows of solid silver nails,[379] by
means of which they may have been fastened to chairs of the exact type
of those described in the Iliad.

Footnote 376:

  Schliemann, _Mycenæ_, p. 236; Helbig, _Das Homerische Epos aus den
  Denkmälern erläutert_, p. 371; Schuchhardt and Sellers _Schliemann’s
  Excavations_, p. 241.

Footnote 377:

  Riedenauer, _Handwerk und Handwerker in den Homerischen Zeiten_, p.

Footnote 378:

  Schuchhardt and Sellers, _op. cit._ p. 237, &c.

Footnote 379:

  Furtwängler, _Bronzefünde aus Olympia_, p. 102.

For his effects of palatial splendour, Homer relied all but exclusively
on the metals. Upholstery was for him non-existent. Small carpets for
placing under the feet of distinguished persons, and rugs for their
beds, were the utmost luxuries known to him in this line, and they were
mere individual appurtenances. But for producing general effects, his
means were exceedingly limited. He could dispose neither of rich
draperies, nor of silken hangings. Polished and rare woods lay outside
his acquaintance; the marbles of Paros and Pentelicus had not yet been
quarried; porphyry, jasper, alabaster, and all other kinds of ornamental
stones seem to have been strange to him. Not so much as a coat of
plaster, or a dash of distemper, clothed the bareness of his walls.
Floors of trodden earth, rafters blackened with smoke, chimneyless and
windowless apartments, belonged even to the royal residences of his
time, at least in Ithaca. But in a few of the more opulent houses of the
Peloponnesus, something was done to dispel this sordid aspect by means
of metallic incrustations; and the possibility was made the most of by
the poet. Nor need the looks of Mammon have been ‘always downward bent’
in the radiant dwellings imagined by him, since their riches lay on
every side. They are, in the Iliad, appropriated exclusively to the
gods, and are vaguely characterised as ‘golden,’ or ‘of bronze,’ all
details of construction being omitted. But the terrene magnificence of
the Odyssey is more distinctly realised.

    ‘Son of Nestor, delight of my heart!’ [exclaimed Telemachus,
    entering the ‘megaron’ or banqueting-saloon of Menelaus], ‘mark
    the flashing of bronze through the echoing halls, and the
    flashing of gold and of amber,[380] and of silver and of ivory.
    Suchlike, methinks, is the court of Olympian Zeus within, for
    the world of things that are here; wonder comes over me as I
    look thereon.’[381]

Footnote 380:

  See _supra_, p. 241.

Footnote 381:

  _Odyssey_, iv. 71-75.

His experienced sire was little less astonished at the pomp surrounding
the Phæacian king. All the ‘cities of men’ visited by him in the
progress of his long wanderings had not prepared him for the dazzling
effect of those stately halls.

    ‘Meanwhile,’ it is said, ‘Odysseus went to the famous palace of
    Alcinous, and his heart was full of many thoughts as he stood
    there, or ever he had reached the threshold of bronze. For there
    was a gleam as it were of sun or moon through the high-roofed
    hall of great-hearted Alcinous. Brazen were the walls which ran
    this way and that from the threshold to the inmost chamber, and
    round them was a frieze of blue, and golden were the doors that
    closed in the good house. Silver were the doorposts that were
    set on the brazen threshold, and silver the lintel thereupon,
    and the hook of the door was of gold. And on either side stood
    golden hounds and silver, which Hephæstus wrought by his
    cunning, to guard the palace of great-hearted Alcinous, being
    free from death and age all their days.... Yea, and there were
    youths fashioned in gold, standing on firm-set bases, with
    flaming torches in their hands, giving light through the night
    to the feasters in the palace.’[382]

Footnote 382:

  _Odyssey_, vii. 81-102.

Both here, and at Sparta, besides perhaps some gilding of smaller
surfaces with overlaid gold-leaf, the stone and woodwork of the houses
can be understood to have been coated with metal plates—a mode of
decoration usual in Mesopotamia from a very early date. Thus, the temple
of Bel at Babylon had its walls covered with silver and ivory, while the
shimmer of gold came from pavement and roof.[383] The fashion was
adopted in Egypt, and spread to Asia Minor, perhaps through the
conquests of Ramses II., who built at Abydos a temple to Osiris, plated
with ‘silver-gold.’ It was diffused as well among the pre-Dorian Greeks.
Both the so-called ‘Treasury of Minyas’ at Orchomenus, and the ‘Treasury
of Atreus’ at Mycenæ, bear evident traces of having once been
scale-plated with bronze, not, it is thought, uniformly, but in fixed
patterns.[384] So, here again, archæological research supplies the most
instructive gloss upon the Homeric text. Metallic incrustations lost
their charm when tinted marbles and manifold draperies had become fully
available; but a glint of their traditional splendour was introduced by
Plato into his Atlantis, where the temple of Poseidon was lined
interiorly with the semi-mythical ‘orichalcum’ (later identified with
brass), dug up appropriately in great profusion from the soil of a
fabulous island.[385]

Footnote 383:

  Helbig, _op. cit._ p. 436.

Footnote 384:

  Schuchhardt and Sellers, _op. cit._ p. 147.

Footnote 385:

  _Critias_, 116; Jowett’s _Plato_, vol. iii. p. 697.

The watch-dogs of Alcinous find analogues in the pairs of sphinxes,
winged bulls, or other nondescript monsters, guarding Egyptian and
Assyrian portals. There is nothing to show that they possessed automatic
powers. In those unsophisticated times, works of consummate imitative
skill would readily take rank as samples of magic metallurgy; and what
was life-like so inevitably suggested animation, that the distinction
could scarcely be drawn very clearly. Similarly, the torch-bearers in
the banqueting-hall may be regarded as poetical anticipations of the
Greek art of statuary, then still unborn, or at most in

One of the rarities brought by Helen with her from Egypt to Sparta was a
silver basket, mounted on wheels, for holding the wool which she
industriously span into thread.[386] Now wheeled utensils were
presumably a Phœnician invention, since they are mentioned among the
furniture of Solomon’s Temple (1 Kings vii.). Their occurrence in
prehistoric Greece is hence one of many proofs of Oriental influence.
The Iliad knows them as the handiwork of Hephæstus, who facilitated by
means of subjacent wheels, the movements of his intelligent tripods; and
Homeric indications have been substantiated by the unearthing, in the
Altis at Olympia, of remnants of objects belonging, apparently, to the
same category.[387] Others, probably incense-pans, were found, a quarter
of a century ago, in tombs of great antiquity at Præneste, Veii, and

Footnote 386:

  _Odyssey_, iv. 125.

Footnote 387:

  Furtwängler, _Die Bronzefünde aus Olympia_, p. 440.

Footnote 388:

  Garrucci, _Archæologia_, vol. xi. p. 206.

Helen’s silver workbasket was gilt round the edges, like the ‘crater,’
or mixing-bowl, presented by Menelaus as a ‘guest-gift’ to
Telemachus.[389] The latter was a work of Hephæstus, and had been
presented to Menelaus by the king of Sidon, when he was driven thither
on his way back from Troy. The process of gilding, however, is well
known in the Odyssey, and was practised by native craftsmen. In the
scene of Nestor’s sacrifice at Pylos,[390] the goldsmith Laerkes is
summoned to gild the horns of the victim, which he evidently did by the
simple expedient of overlaying them with gold-leaf. Fusion had indeed
not yet been resorted to for the purpose; nevertheless the art of
plating silver with gold, to which is compared the beautifying action of
Athene upon Odysseus, in order to his advantageous appearance before
Nausicaa,[391] excites the extreme personal admiration of the poet, and
is regarded as a direct fruit of divine tuition. And it is noticeable
that the artists of Mycenæ, although in most respects far above the
Homeric standard, found the operation of plating silver directly with
gold so difficult that they commonly interposed a layer of copper to
receive the more precious metal.[392]

Footnote 389:

  _Odyssey_, iv. 615.

Footnote 390:

  _Ib._ iii. 425.

Footnote 391:

  _Odyssey_, vi. 232.

Footnote 392:

  Schuchhardt and Sellers, _op. cit._ p. 249.

No gilt objects are expressly mentioned in the Iliad,[393] but the
delineative inlaying of the Shield of Achilles involved the same sort of
process as that required for producing them. The Iliadic Hephæstus,
however, was somewhat behind his time. For the ‘latest thing out,’ one
would be inclined to look elsewhere. He was, as we have seen,
unacquainted with iron, and his models were often a trifle archaic. From
the very outset of his career, when, as an infant and a foundling, he
was cared for by Thetis and Eurynome, the divine artificer appears to
have been more dexterous than inventive.

Footnote 393:

  In the adventitious Tenth Book, v. 294, the practice of gilding the
  horns of victims for sacrifice is, however, alluded to.

    ‘Nine years,’ he himself afterwards related, ‘with them I
    wrought much cunning work of bronze; brooches, and spiral
    armbands, and cups and necklaces, in the hollow cave; while
    around me the stream of ocean with murmuring foam flowed

Footnote 394:

  _Iliad_, xviii. 400-403.

But these ornaments were already of obsolete forms. Three of the four
kinds mentioned find no place elsewhere in Homeric descriptions, and
would probably have struck Homeric ladies as quaint and old-fashioned.
They can, however, be more or less plausibly identified with compound
spiral brooches and other decorative objects from pre-Hellenic,
pre-Etruscan, and Scandinavian tombs.[395]

Footnote 395:

  Gerlach, _Philologus_, Bd. xxx. p. 491; Helbig, _op. cit._ p. 279.

The armour of Agamemnon was of foreign manufacture. Cinyras, king of
Cyprus, of semi-mythical fame as a metallurgist, had sent it to him,
perhaps as a pledge of benevolent neutrality,[396] at any rate, more
through fear than love. It was of a highly decorative character, being
inlaid and embossed with gold and tin, silver and enamel. Fundamentally,
of course, it was, like all Homeric armour, of bronze. Something further
will be said about it in the next Chapter.

Footnote 396:

  Cf. Gladstone, _Studies in Homer_, vol. i. p. 189.

The Baldric of Hercules, seen by Odysseus in Hades, constituted, one
must admit, an incongruously substantial article of equipment for the
thin remnant of a hero owning the sway of Persephone. Yet the horrified
and shrinking glance with which it is regarded brings it wonderfully
into harmony with the sombre vision of the great _eidolon_, pursuing, in
the under-world, a career of shadowy destruction. The golden
shoulder-belt in question was from the hand of an unknown but
exceptionally gifted artist. It was of chased, or repoussé work, and
showed no diversity of colouring or material.

             Also a wondrous sword-belt, all of gold,
             Gleamed like a fire athwart his ample breast,
             Whereon were shapes of creatures manifold,
             Boar, bear, and lion sparkling-eyed, expressed,
             With many a bloody deed and warlike gest.
             Whoso by art that wondrous zone achieved,
             Let him for ever from art’s labours rest.[397]

Footnote 397:

  _Odyssey_, xi. 609-14 (Worsley’s trans.). Many critics regard the
  passage as spurious. Yet it makes part of a splendidly impressive

The design indicated seems to be that of an animal frieze fencing in a
series of fighting episodes[398]—an arrangement met with on Rhodian and
Etruscan vases, and adopted in productions of the needle or the loom,
from the Peplum of Alcisthenes to the Bayeux Tapestry. It does not
appear to have made its way into pre-Hellenic Greece; and the Belt of
Hercules bears, accordingly, a completely exotic stamp.

Footnote 398:

  Gardner, _Macmillan’s Magazine_, vol. liv. p. 378.

The Brooch of Odysseus, on the other hand, might have been wrought
within the Achæan realm. It was besides in his possession before his
foreign wanderings began, and we are not told that it was procured from
abroad. At his setting out from Ithaca for Troy, it is said that:

    Goodly Odysseus wore a thick purple mantle, twofold, which had a
    brooch fashioned in gold, with a double covering for the pins,
    and on the face of it was a curious device; a hound in his
    forepaws held a dappled fawn and gazed on it as it writhed. And
    all men marvelled at the workmanship, how, wrought as they were
    in gold, the hound was gazing on the fawn and strangling it, and
    the fawn was writhing with his feet and striving to flee.[399]

Footnote 399:

  _Odyssey_, xix. 225-31.

The brooch, it is to be observed, was duplex. Two pins were received
into two confronting tubes, opening opposite ways. The mechanism is
exemplified in the ‘pin and tube’ fastening of some golden diadems from
Mycenæ;[400] and, still more perfectly, in certain brooches exhumed at
Præneste and Cære, each provided with two pins running into a pair of
tubular sheaths, a kind of hook-and-eye arrangement behind serving to
retain them in that position.[401] These were associated with a
multitude of articles, known to be of Phœnician manufacture, imported
into Etruria during the sixth century B.C.; but the stolid sphinxes
surmounting them were replaced, in the Ithacan ornament, by a life-like
representation, conceived in the true Greek spirit, although deriving
its motive from the typical Oriental group of a lion tearing an ox, or
deer.[402] This, however, had become so naturalised in Mycenæan art as
by no means in itself to imply a foreign origin; and the same remark
applies to the mechanism of the Odyssean fibula. The poet certainly
regarded it as a rare specimen of superlative skill; but the like of it
may not improbably yet be unearthed from Greek soil.

Footnote 400:

  Schliemann, _Mycenæ_, p. 156.

Footnote 401:

  Helbig, _op. cit._ p. 277.

Footnote 402:

  _Ib._ p. 387.

Smiths are not included among the Homeric _demiurgi_. The class of
persons specially distinguished for their serviceableness to the
community is made up of physicians, soothsayers, carpenters, and poets.
Nevertheless, there were metal-workers in Ithaca who might have competed
in general utility with the best of the native wizards. A smithy,
described as a place of common resort, was situated close to the
Odyssean palace; and the demand for spears, swords, axes, and knives
must have been continual, and was certainly met by a local supply. There
is much doubt, however, as to whether objects claiming an artistic
character were produced in Ithaca. It seems more likely, on the whole,
that the few existing there had been imported from the Peloponnesus.
There, presumably, Nestor’s Cup, stated to have been brought by him from
Pylos to Troy, was manufactured; and the Brooch of Odysseus might very
well have been turned out from the same workshop. It is true that a
Peloponnesian origin is never expressly attributed to objects for which
particular admiration is sought to be enlisted. Such are either left
undetermined, claimed for Hephæstus, or said to have come from Egypt,
Sidon, or Cyprus. Achæan was thus plainly ranked below foreign industry.
And this in itself indicates a falling off from the ‘golden prime’ of
Mycenæ, when Achæan craftsmen were, to say the least, not utterly below
compare with those of lands earlier illuminated by the rising sun of
civilisation. Hence, products of everyday familiarity to Agamemnon had
become strange and wonderful to his _sacer vates_; yet the abounding
vitality has not left them. They come before us in his songs, animated
with the energy of his thought, fragments of palpitating life, true
prognostics of the perfect art which the future was to bring to Greece.

Homeric metallurgy thus plainly represents a declining stage of Mycenæan
metallurgy; and this again included conspicuous elements from Egyptian,
Phœnician, and Phrygian sources. Of the two first springs of influence,
our poet shows full consciousness, but none of the last; since his
admiration for spiral patterns, derived, according to the best
authorities, from the banks of the Sangarius, came to him at second-hand
from Mycenæ. The metallurgical traditions of Phrygia find, moreover, no
place in his verses. The dæmonic artificers of Asia Minor—the
hammer-and-anvil goblins, sons or servants of Hephæstus, who of old
intangibly colonised the shores and islands of the Levant, make no
figure in the Iliad or Odyssey. Cabiri, Curetes, Corybantes, Idæan
Dactyls, Rhodian Telchines, are all equally ignored in the Homeric
world. Hephæstus there works alone. He has neither aides-de-camp nor
coadjutors, apart from his spontaneously helpful bellows. His
predilection for Lemnos was obviously due to the existence there of an
active volcano; for Mosychlus did not become extinct until about the
time of Alexander the Great. He, however, consulted perhaps in the
choice rather his primitive elemental character than his derived
industrial function. The establishment of Cyclopean forges in the
craters of volcanoes seems to have been a mythological after-thought.
Its appropriateness did not at any rate strike Homer. He indeed betrays
no direct acquaintance with subterranean fires. His Island of the
Cyclops is entirely devoid of volcanic associations, and indeed the
genealogy of Polyphemus was scarcely consistent with any such
relationship. He sprang from Poseidon; and Poseidon’s wrath at the evil
entreatment by Odysseus of his amiable offspring was a main factor in
the development of the subsequent narrative. For the resentment of the
sea-god was not to be trifled with by hero or mariner who had slipped
unawares into that outer region of much sea and little land, where he
reigned supreme. _Hinc illæ lachrymæ._


                              CHAPTER XI.

                     AMBER, IVORY, AND ULTRAMARINE.

MANY ages ago, in early Tertiary times, a great forest of conifers
covered the bed of the present Baltic Sea. Their copious gummy
exudations had the leisure of perhaps some hundreds of centuries to
accumulate, and have in fact furnished the greater part of the amber
brought into commerce from before the dawn of history until now. The
value set on the commodity probably gave the first impulse to the
establishment of systematic relations between the north and south of
Europe; and supplied means for the diffusion, far up towards the Arctic
circle, of many of the secrets of Mediterranean culture. Scandinavia
exchanged her amber for bronze, and the improvements that the use of
bronze implied and introduced. They travelled in opposite directions,
one as the correlative of the other, from the mouth of the Elbe to the
mouth of the Rhone,[403] the ever-ready Phœnicians carrying the prized
Eocene product eastward. There, much inequality in its distribution was
prescribed by variety of tastes. In Egypt and Assyria, it had no great
vogue; it is not mentioned in the Bible; but it found a ready market
among the younger communities by the Ægean, just then eagerly
appropriating the elements and ornaments of civilisation. In the
Odyssey, the crafty Phœnician traders who kidnapped Eumæus when a child
in the island of Syriê, are represented as diverting attention from
their plot by the chaffering sale of ‘a golden chain strung here and
there with amber beads’; and ‘a golden chain of curious work, strung
with amber beads, shining like the sun,’ was presented by the suitor
Eurymachus to Penelope.[404] To critics of an earlier generation, it
seemed indeed incredible that a material of such remote and exclusive
origin should have been familiar in the Levant nine centuries before the
Christian era. But recent experience has enforced, as well as qualified,
the maxim _Ab Homero omne principium_[405]: enforced it, by frequent
archæological verifications; qualified it, by the disclosure of a
pre-Hellenic world, by no means completely reflected in the Homeric

Footnote 403:

  Genthe, _Ueber den Etruskischen Tauschhandel nach dem Norden_, p. 102.

Footnote 404:

  _Odyssey_, xv. 460; xviii. 295.

Footnote 405:

  Scheins, _De Electro Veterum metallico_, p. 17.

For here once more Mycenæ teaches an object-lesson. Innumerable amber
beads, of varied sizes, the largest nearly an inch and half in diameter,
were found in the graves there. All were perforated, and they had
manifestly once been connected together to form necklaces. And the
remains of amber necklaces have likewise been disinterred from the
archaic tombs of Præneste and Veii,[406] from British barrows, and from
a prehistoric necropolis at Hallstadt in Austria. The earliest Italian
amber seems to have been conveyed from the Gulf of Lyons along the
Ligurian coast; but a subsequent and more lasting stream of supply
flowed directly to the Po-delta from near the site of Dantzic. Among the
early Italian specimens, are some neck-pendants carved into the forms of
apes, necessarily from Oriental models in a different material—most
likely, ivory.

Footnote 406:

  _Archæologia_, vol. xli. p. 205.

The particular and widespread preference for amber as a means of
decorating the throat had a superstitious motive. An idea somehow
originated that the substance, thus worn, was potent against malefic
agencies, and the persuasion doubtless accompanied it on its travels,
and added to its popularity. There is, to be sure, no sign that Homer,
though he only employs amber in the fitting shape for its exercise, had
any knowledge of this prophylactic power; but then his indifference to
rustic lore has repeatedly come to our notice. Penelope, however, and
the ladies of Mycenæ, may have been less unconcerned on the point, and
perhaps gave some credence to the rumours of mysterious virtue that
enhanced the value of the beautiful shining substance from the dim
North. That their amber was truly hyberborean has been chemically
demonstrated. Fragments of Mycenæan beads, analysed for Dr. Schliemann
by Dr. O. Helm, of Dantzic, proved to contain no less than 6 per cent.
of succinic acid; and the presence of succinic acid is distinctive, for
‘there has been no instance hitherto,’ Dr. Helm states, ‘of a product
physically and chemically identical with the Baltic amber being found in
another spot.’[407] The characteristic ingredient in question, for
instance, is wholly wanting in Sicilian amber, a fact strongly
confirmatory of the historically attested insignificance, in
Mediterranean traffic, of small local supplies. Tin and amber thus agree
in testifying to the wide extension, westward and northward, of
prehistoric trade; yet the first of these far-travelled materials occurs
in the Iliad, and is absent from the Odyssey, while the second figures
in the Odyssey, but has no place in the Iliad.

Footnote 407:

  Schuchhardt and Sellers, _Schliemann’s Excavations_, p. 196.

The Greek name for amber, _elektron_, might be freely translated
‘sun-stone,’ a meaning partially preserved in the Latin term _lapis
ardens_, Teutonicised into _Brennstein_, or _Bernstein_. The English
_amber_ is a loan from the Arabic, negotiated at the time of the
Crusades; but the original Achæan word survives in _electricity_ and its
derivatives. For the first production of that still mysterious agency
was by rubbing a piece of amber, the endowment of which thereby with an
attractive faculty for light objects was noted with no particular
emphasis by Thales, the sage of Miletus.

The ‘Electrides Insulæ,’ or ‘amber-islands,’ of the ancients,
corresponded, in vagueness of geographical position, with the
Cassiterides or ‘tin-islands,’ of which the Phœnicians long kept the
secret. The former were eventually located in the Adriatic, whither the
historical Greeks succeeded in tracing the Baltic product, transported
in those later days, along a second overland route from the Vistula to
the Danube, and thence, by intermediary Venetian tribes, to the Istrian
shore. Yet Herodotus was without any definite notion as to the
derivation of amber, one of his spasmodical fits of scepticism
forbidding him to admit its reported origin from a river called the
Eridanus, said to flow into the sea somewhere at the back of the North
wind.[408] The Eridanus, in fact, had a ‘name’ long before it had a
‘local habitation.’ Æschylus was doubtfully inclined to identify it with
the Rhone, showing that he was chiefly acquainted with amber shipped at
Massilia;[409] Pherecydes, knowing more of Adriatic supplies,
established the ‘fluviorum rex Eridanus,’ in the bed of the Po, where it
has remained. The myth of the Heliadæ, or sun-maidens, who, after their
merciful transformation into poplars, continued to weep tears of amber
for the fate of their brother, the lucklessly ambitious Phaethon, took
definite shape in the hands of the Attic tragedians. Homer gives no hint
of acquaintance with it.

Footnote 408:

  Lib. iii. cap. 115.

Footnote 409:

  Helbig, _Atti dell’ Accad. dei Lincei_, t. i. p, 422, ser. iii.

The decorative use of amber disappeared from classical Greece. It had
been adopted from the East, as part of a semi-barbaric system of
ornament, and was abandoned on the development of a purer taste. The
substance was, indeed, as Helbig has remarked,[410] ill-adapted for the
expression of artistic ideas, and so had little value for those who
directed towards the achievement of such expression their best efforts
for the ennoblement and refinement of life. No amber, then, is found in
the tombs of the Hellenic Greeks, nor in those of the Cimmerian
Bosphorus, where the Milesian colony Panticapæum held the primacy. Even
in Italy, the once prized product was left to be largely appropriated by
Gallic barbarians and Istrian and Umbrian peasants. But the ‘whirligig
of time,’ as usual, ‘brought about its revenges.’ As artistic feeling
decayed, the favour of amber returned, and it grew under the Empire to a
higher pitch than it had ever before attained. Whereupon a cavalier was
despatched from Nero’s court on an exploratory expedition to the
original and genuine home of the article; direct trade was opened with
the Baltic, and the morning mists which had so long enveloped the origin
of the ‘sun-stone’ were at length dispersed. Nevertheless, Pausanias,
who saw an amber statue of Augustus at Olympia in the second century
A.D., still believed the rare substance composing it to have been
collected from the sands of Eridanus.[411] Traditional errors possess
strong vitality.

Footnote 410:

  Helbig, _Atti dell’ Accad. dei Lincei_, t. i. p. 425.

Footnote 411:

  _Descriptio Græciæ_, v. 12.

Both in the Iliad and Odyssey, Homer shows perfect familiarity with
ivory. But he is entirely unconscious of its source. No rumour of the
elephant had reached him. He would surely, if it had, have shared the
surprising intelligence with his hearers. In the judicious words of
Pausanias,[412] he would never have passed by an elephant to discourse
of cranes and pygmies. The _début_ in Europe of the strange great beast
ensued, in point of fact, only upon the Indian campaign of Alexander.
His tusks were, however, in prehistoric demand all through the East; and
the relations of archaic Greeks were almost exclusively Oriental.
Assyrian ivory-carvings enjoyed a just celebrity; the palaces of Nineveh
and Babylon were softly splendid with the subdued lustre of their costly
material. Solomon’s ivory throne, and Ahab’s ivory house exemplify its
profuse availability in Palestine; Tyrian galleys were fitted with
ivory-bound cross-benches; musical instruments were ivory-dight and
wrought; ebony and ivory furniture made part of the tribute of Ethiopia
to Egypt; and the spoils of Indian elephants were in demand in Italy
before the Etruscans had penetrated the Cisalpine plain. Thus, gold,
silver, amber, ivory, and coloured glass combined with beautiful effect
in a kind of so-called ‘Tyrrhene’ ornaments, extant specimens of which
have been taken from the Regulini-Galassi tomb, and other coeval
repositories.[413] In Troy and Mycenæ, ivory was relatively plentiful.
Pins and buckles were made of it, and perhaps the handles of knives and
daggers.[414] Ivory plates, round and rectangular, and perforated, in
some cases, for attachment to wood or leather, have been, in both spots,
sifted out from surrounding _débris_, and may be imaginatively supposed
to have once enriched the horse-trappings of Hector or one of the
Pelopides. The art of carving in ivory, however, was in both these
places in a rude stage, and appears unfamiliar to Homer. He barely
recognises the use of the material in substantive constructions, while
availing himself of it freely for veneering and inlaying. The only piece
of solid ivory met with in the poems is the handle of the ‘key of
bronze’ with which Penelope opened the upper chamber to take thence the
fateful bow of Odysseus.[415] For the sheath of the silver-hilted dagger
given to the Ithacan stranger by the Phæacian Euryalus,[416] was
assuredly not _formed_ of ivory, although spirally decorated with it.
This can be gathered from the re-application, in the Iliad, of the same
phrase to designate the ornamentation with tin laid on in a curving
pattern, of the cuirass of Asteropæus;[417] and it recurs, undoubtedly
in a similar sense, in the following passage of the Odyssey:

Footnote 412:

  _Ib._ i. 12.

Footnote 413:

  Dennis, _Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria_, p. 82.

Footnote 414:

  Schliemann, _Mycenæ_, pp. 152, 359.

Footnote 415:

  _Odyssey_, xxi. 7.

Footnote 416:

  _Ib._ viii. 404.

Footnote 417:

  _Iliad_, xxiii. 560; cf. Leaf’s annotations, vols. i. p. 110; ii. 413.

    Now forth from her chamber came the wise Penelope, like Artemis
    or golden Aphrodite, and they set a chair for her hard by the
    fire, where she was wont to sit, a chair deftly turned and
    wrought with ivory and silver, which on a time the craftsman
    Icmalius had fashioned, and had joined thereto a footstool, that
    was part of the chair, whereon a great fleece was wont to be

Footnote 418:

  _Odyssey_, xix. 53-59.

The word rendered in English as ‘turned,’ however, does not refer to
‘turning’ with a lathe, as the earlier commentators followed by the
translators supposed, but to such helical designs as Mycenæan artwork
exemplifies to superfluity. And it was in the same style that Odysseus
beautified his couch at Ithaca—the couch wrought of a still rooted olive
tree. He reminds his queen, as yet dubious of his identity, how

                Thence beginning, I the bed did mould
                Shapely and perfect, and the whole inlaid
                With ivory and silver and rich gold.[419]

Footnote 419:

  _Ib._ xxiii. 199-200 (Worsley’s trans.).

The chest of Cypselus must have been an analogous piece of work, though
more highly elaborated; and the ‘beds of ivory,’ denounced by the
Prophet with the rest of the ostentatious luxury in which Jerusalem
attempted to vie with haughty Tyre, may have displayed similar
ornamental designs. In the Homeric palace of Menelaus, an ideal of
splendour exotic in the West, but fitting in naturally with Oriental
surroundings, was sought to be realised. Some such model doubtless
floated before the eyes of the poet as the house of Ahab, magnificent
with panellings of that loveliest of organic substances bartered by the
‘men of Dedan’ for the finely-wrought bronze, the purple-dyed and
embroidered cloths of Phœnicia. _Domus Indo dente nitescit._

The door of deceptive dreams imagined by Penelope, may possibly, on the
other hand, have had a Mycenæan prototype.

           Two diverse gates there are of bodiless dreams,
           These of sawn ivory, and those of horn.
           Such dreams as issue where the ivory gleams
           Fly without fate, and turn our hopes to scorn.
           But dreams which issue through the burnished horn,
           What man soe’er beholds them on his bed,
           These work with virtue, and of truth are born.[420]

It has been conjectured that the imperfect transparency of laminæ,
whether of horn or ivory, caused those materials to be associated with
the shadowy forms of dreamland; but the apportionment of their
respective offices was plainly determined by a play of words
unintelligible except in the original Greek.[421] And it must be
admitted that scarcely a worse pair of puns could be produced from the
whole of Shakespeare’s plays than those perpetrated by our ‘bonus
Homerus’ in a passage replete, none the less, with poetical suggestions
largely turned to account by his successors.

Footnote 420:

  _Odyssey_, xix. 562-67 (Worsley’s trans.).

Footnote 421:

  See Hayman’s _Odyssey_, vol. ii. p. 361.

It is scarcely likely that complete tusks ever found their way to
archaic Greece, yet the comparison—used twice in the Odyssey—of purely
white objects to ‘fresh-cut ivory,’ decidedly proves a working
acquaintance with the material. Its creamy tint was, in Egypt and
Assyria, constantly set off by skilful intermixture with ebony; but
ebony formed no part of the Homeric stock-in-trade.

One cannot but be struck by finding that, in the Iliad, ivory is
employed _only_ for embellishing equine accoutrements, but in the
Odyssey, _only_ for purposes of domestic decoration. So far as it goes,
this circumstance tends to reinforce the contrast of sentiment towards
the horse apparent in the two poems. Thus, a species of art practised,
we are given to understand, exclusively by foreigners, helps to conjure
up more vividly the effect of the rush of crimson blood over the white
skin of the fair-haired Menelaus: ‘As when some woman of Maionia or
Karia staineth ivory with purple to make a cheek-piece for horses, and
it is laid up in the treasure-chamber, though many a horseman prayeth to
wear it; but it is laid up to be a king’s boast, alike an adornment for
his horse, and a glory for his charioteer.’[422] And the simile was
adopted by Virgil to expound a blush.

Footnote 422:

  _Iliad_, iv. 141-45.

                 Indum sanguineo veluti violaverit ostro
                 Si quis ebur.

Ivory-staining does not seem to have been in vogue outside of Asia
Minor. Tablets of ivory were, at Nineveh, often inlaid with lapis
lazuli, and ornaments of ivory were gilt; but there are no surviving
signs of the application to them of colouring matters.

The second mention of ivory in the Iliad is in connexion with the
slaying, by Menelaus, of Pylæmenes, chief of the ‘bucklered
Paphlagonians,’ when it is said that Antilochus simultaneously smote his
charioteer Mydon with a great stone on the elbow, and ‘the reins, white
with ivory, fell from his hands to earth, even into the dust.’[423] The
overlaying, in a decorative design, of leathern bands with small slips
and rosettes of ivory, may here doubtless be understood; and a similar
fashion of lending splendour to horse-trappings can, as already pointed
out, plausibly be inferred to have prevailed at Hissarlik.

Footnote 423:

  _Iliad_, v. 583.

Homer’s name for ivory is identical with ours for the beast producing it
for our benefit. And the word _elephant_ is held to be cognate with the
Hebrew _aleph_, an ox. Hence the designation came to the Greeks almost
certainly from a Semitic source. It was exported, we may unhesitatingly
say, from Phœnicia with the wares it served to label.

No Homeric crux has been more satisfactorily disposed of by actual
exploration than that relating to the identity of ‘cyanus,’ or ‘kuanos.’
In later Greek, the term was of perfectly clear import. It signified
lapis lazuli, either genuine or counterfeit. But the simple hypothesis
of a continuity of meaning was met by difficulties of two kinds. The
first regarded colour, always a perplexed subject in the Homeric poems.
For uniformly, throughout their course, ‘cyanean’ betokens darkness of
hue, if not absolute blackness. The epithet frequently recurs, and only
once with a possible, though doubtful suggestion of _blueness_. It is
never used to qualify the summer sea, a serene sky, the eyes of a fair
woman, or the flowers of spring. Usually, the idea of sombreness, pure
and simple, is unequivocally attached to it. As when Thetis, in sign of
mourning, covers herself with a cyanus-coloured robe, ‘than which no
blacker raiment existed.’[424] Invisibility and the shade of approaching
death are each typified as a ‘cyanean cloud’; the brows of Zeus and
Heré, the waving locks of Poseidon, the mane of the Poseidonian steed
Areion, the gathering tempest of war, are of ‘cyanean’ darkness; the
beard of Odysseus, the raven curls of Hector, bear the same adjective,
which cannot well be construed otherwise than as a poetic equivalent for
_black_. Nor is there any ground for supposing that it meant to convey
any special shade or quality of blackness. Fine-drawn distinctions of
every kind are totally alien to the spirit of Homeric diction.

Footnote 424:

  _Iliad_, xxiv. 94.

The second objection to identifying cyanus with lapis lazuli or
ultramarine related to function. The uses to which it is put in the
Iliad and Odyssey seemed, to anxious interpreters, inconsistent with its
being either of a stony or of a glassy nature. ‘Cyanus ordinarily enters
into the composition of the polymetallic works described in their
verses. It forms, for instance, a dark trench round the tin-fence of the
vineyard represented on the shield of Achilles; and it is especially
prominent in the decoration of the armour of Agamemnon. Cinyras, king of
Cyprus, was the donor of this magnificent equipment; not through pure
friendship. Intimidated by the Greek armament, he probably dreaded being
compelled to take an active share in the enterprise it aimed at
accomplishing, and purchased with a personal gift to its supreme chief,
liberty to retain his passive attitude of ‘benevolent neutrality.’ The
breastplate alone was a ransom for royalty.

    Therein were ten courses of black cyanus, and twelve of gold,
    and twenty of tin, and dark blue[425] snakes writhed up towards
    the neck, three on either side, like rainbows that the son of
    Kronos hath set in the clouds, a marvel of the mortal tribes of

Footnote 425:

  The original has simply ‘of cyanus.’

Footnote 426:

  _Iliad_, xi. 24-28.

The comparison of the snakes to rainbows may possibly refer only to
their arching shapes; it is not easy to connect iridescence with a
substance just previously noted expressly as _black_. The shield of
Agamemnon resembled his cuirass in workmanship, but was diversified as
to pattern.

    ‘And he took,’ we are informed, ‘the richly-dight shield of his
    valour that covereth all the body of a man, a fair shield, and
    round about it were twenty white bosses of tin, and one in the
    midst of black cyanus. And thereon was embossed the Gorgon fell
    of aspect, glaring terribly; and about her were Dread and
    Terror. And from the shield was hung a baldric of silver, and
    thereon was curled a snake of cyanus; three heads interlaced had
    he growing out of one neck.’[427]

Footnote 427:

  _Iliad_, xi. 32-40.

The Mycenæan method of inlaying bronze was followed in the construction
of both articles. But the arrangement of the contrasted metals on the
cuirass in alternating vertical stripes, although rendered perfectly
intelligible by Helbig’s learned discussion,[428] has not been
illustrated by any actual ‘find.’ The bosses of tin and cyanus
diversifying the shield, on the other hand, correspond strictly to a
Mycenæan plan of ornament,[429] and are reproduced in the round knobs of
gold and silver attached to the bronze surface of certain Phœnician
dishes dug up from the ruins of Nineveh.[430] The Gorgon’s Head,
however, does not appear in Greek art until the seventh century
B.C.;[431] yet the suspicion of spuriousness thence attaching to the
lines in which it is mentioned may prove to be unfounded. The emblem
was, at least, a favourite one in Cyprus, having been introduced
thither, according to some archæologists, from Egypt. Judging by the
evidence of Cyprian terracottas, it figured, surrounded with serpents,
very much as on the breastplate of Agamemnon, on the corslets of priests
and kings; and it seems to have been specially appropriated by a
priestly caste named ‘Cinyrades’[432] to signify their supposed descent
from Agamemnon’s dubious ally. The Cyprian partiality thus manifested
for the dread device goes far towards proving that genuine products of
Cyprian metallurgy were limned in the passages just quoted.

Footnote 428:

  _Das Homerische Epos_, p. 382.

Footnote 429:

  Schuchhardt and Sellers, _Schliemann’s Excavations_, p. 237.

Footnote 430:

  Rawlinson, _Phœnicia_, p. 288.

Footnote 431:

  Furtwängler in Roscher’s _Lexikon der Griech. Myth._; art.

Footnote 432:

  Ohnefalsch-Richter, ‘Cypern, die Bibel, und Homer,’ _Das Ausland_,
  Nos. 28, 29, 1891.

Cyanus is, then, in the Iliad employed exclusively as an adjunct to the
metallic inlaying of armour, and it is made similarly available in the
Hesiodic poems. But in the Odyssey its sole actual use is in a frieze
surmounting the bronze-clad walls of the Phæacian banqueting-hall. Hence
many futile debates and perplexities. The Homeric ‘cyanus,’ most critics
asserted, could not, since it was uniformly described as _black_, be a
mineral of cærulean hue, such as the cyanus of Theophrastus
unquestionably was; and it must be presumed to have been a metal, as
obtaining a place among metals in the decorative industry of the time.
It was hence variously held to be steel, bronze, even lead, while Mr.
Gladstone at one time thought of native blue carbonate of copper,[433]
later, however, preferring bronze. Lepsius alone recognised what is now
generally admitted to be the truth—namely, that the word retained its
significance unchanged from the time of Agamemnon to the time of

Footnote 433:

  _Studies in Homer_, vol. iii. p. 496.

The Assyrians fabricated out of lapis lazuli, not only personal, but
architectural ornaments. Bactria was its sole available source, and
thence through the Mesopotamian channel it reached Egypt. Among the
Babylonian spoils of Thothmes III. were a necklace of ‘true’
_chesbet_, and a gold staff jewelled with the same beautiful
mineral. Artificial _chesbet_ was manufactured in Egypt from about
the fourteenth century B.C. It was composed of a kind of glassy
paste, tinted blue with salts of copper or cobalt, and it lay piled,
like bricks for building, in the storehouses of successive
monarchs.[434] Clay-bricks, too, were enamelled with it for use in
decorative constructions, still exemplified in the entrance to a
chamber in the Sakkarah pyramid; and the same fashion prevailed in
Chaldea and Assyria.[435] The Egyptian admiration for _chesbet_
spread to the Peloponnesus, where an architectural function was
assigned to it agreeing most curiously with the Odyssean use of
cyanus. The spade has, on this point, surpassed itself as an engine
of research; nothing is left to speculation; we seem to find at
Tiryns the very arrangement which caught the quick eye of the
eminent castaway in Phæacia. For in the palace[436] explored by Dr.
Schliemann within the citadel of Perseus, fragments of an alabaster
frieze, inlaid with dark blue smalt, were found strewn over the
floor of a vestibule, having fallen from their place on its walls;
and the smalt appears to be of precisely the same nature with the
manufactured _chesbet_ of Thothmes III., and the Cyprian and
Egyptian cyanus described by Theophrastus.[437] That it was also
identical with the substance turned to just the same architectural
account in the palace of Alcinous, may be taken as certain; and the
discovery constitutes one of the most telling verifications of
Homeric archæology. The particular prominence of cyanus, besides, in
the Cyprian armour of Agamemnon falls in admirably with what is
known of the history of imitation lapis lazuli; Cyprus, owing to the
abundant presence of the needful ores of copper, having become early
celebrated for its production. In addition to some tubes of
cobalt-glass, blue smalt trinkets in large quantities have been
brought to light at Mycenæ. But if Homer took no notice of such
small objects, it was probably because he deemed them too common for
association with the noble or divine heroines of his song.

Footnote 434:

  Lepsius, _Les Métaux_, &c. p. 61.

Footnote 435:

  Helbig, _Das Homerische Epos_, p. 81.

Footnote 436:

  Schuchhardt, _op. cit._ p. 117.

Footnote 437:

  _De Lapidibus_, lv. The Scythian kind of cyanus was genuine lapis

That the Homeric cyanus was really a kind of ultramarine enamel, seems,
then, thoroughly established. And it is the only form of glass
recognised in the poems. Yet the colour-difficulty survives. Our poet
remains under the imputation of inability to distinguish black from
blue—unless, indeed, we admit with Helbig that the word ‘cyanus’
comprised a jetty as well as an azure smalt. There is a good deal to be
said for the opinion. Theophrastus plainly distinguishes a dark and a
light variety, and even speaks of one of the derived pigments as being
_black_; and a black enamel formed part of the materials for the
Mycenæan inlaid-work. The stripes of Agamemnon’s cuirass were, according
to this hypothesis, of black, the curling snakes on either side of blue
cyanus. And this might help to explain the comparison of the latter to
rainbows. Not, to be sure, altogether satisfactorily, since the likening
to a simply blue object of the brilliant arch

               Mille trahens varios adverso sole colores,

strikes the modern sense as absolutely inappropriate. Nevertheless, we
have to make allowance in Homer, above all as regards chromatic
estimates, for an _aliter visum_. And it happens that the sole
colour-epithet bestowed by him on the rainbow is _porphureos_,
signifying purple of a peculiarly sombre shade. The ‘crocus wings’ of
Iris were, then, less conspicuous to him than her violet sandals.

Amber, ivory, and cyanus, or ultramarine-enamel, are the only
non-metallic precious substances with which Homer shows himself
familiar. Precious stones of all kinds lay apparently outside his sphere
of cognisance. Mother of pearl, coral, and rock crystal are equally
strange to him. He takes no notice of the engraved gems of Mycenæ, no
more than of the porphyry, agate, onyx, and alabaster, there variously
employed to diversify the framework of life. No distinctions are made in
his verses between one kind of stone and another. White jade, brought
from the furthest confines of Asia, though in some request at Hissarlik,
may not have struck him as essentially different from any vulgar piece
of flint picked up by the shore of the Hellespont. Or, if it did, his
vocabulary was too scanty to allow of his expressing the sentiment.
Homeric mineralogy thus embraced exceedingly few species.

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 ● Transcriber’s Notes:
    ○ On page 236 there was a footnote for “_Blümner, Technologie der
      Gewerbe_” but there was no anchor in the text. Those pages in
      Blümner are a description to the use of silver in antiquity, so
      the anchor was attached to the word “silver” in the text.
    ○ On page 255 the footnote for “Lepsius, _Les Métaux dans les
      Inscriptions Égyptiennes_” is missing a page number, but page 52
      contains hieroglyphics referring to iron. See Google Books for
      scans of the pages.
    ○ Missing or obscured punctuation was silently corrected.
    ○ Typographical errors were silently corrected.
    ○ Inconsistent spelling and hyphenation were made consistent only
      when a predominant form was found in this book.
    ○ Text that was in italics is enclosed by underscores (_italics_);
      text that was bold by “equal” signs (=bold=).
    ○ The use of a caret (^) before a letter, or letters, shows that the
      following letter or letters was intended to be a superscript, as
      in S^t Bartholomew or 10^{th} Century.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Familiar Studies in Homer" ***

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