Homer and His Age
Part 4 out of 6
[Footnote: Furtwangler und Loeschke, _Myk. Va._ Taf. D.]
Homer, in any case, says that his heroes used bronze swords, well
adapted to strike. If his age had really good bronze, and iron as
bad as that of the Celts of Polybius, a thousand years later,
their preference of bronze over iron for weapons needs no
explanation. If their iron was not so bad as that of the Celts,
their military conservatism might retain bronze for weapons, while
in civil life they often used iron for implements.
The uniform evidence of the Homeric poems can only be explained on
the supposition that men had plenty of iron; but, while they used
it for implements, did not yet, with a natural conservatism, trust
life and victory to iron spears and swords. Unluckily, we cannot
test the temper of the earliest known iron swords found in Greece,
for rust hath consumed them, and I know not that the temper of the
Mycenaean bronze swords has been tested against helmets of bronze.
I can thus give no evidence from experiment.
There is just one line in Homer which disregards the distinction--
iron for implements, bronze for weapons; it is in _Odyssey_,
XVI. 294; XIX. 13. Telemachus is told to remove the warlike
harness of Odysseus from the hall, lest the wooers use it in the
coming fray. He is to explain the removal by saying that it has
been done, "Lest you fall to strife in your cups, and harm each
other, and shame the feast, and _this_ wooing; _for iron of
himself draweth a man to him_." The proverb is manifestly of an
age when iron was almost universally used for weapons, and thus
was, as in Thucydides, synonymous with all warlike gear; but
throughout the poems no single article of warlike gear is of iron
except one eccentric mace and one arrow-head of primitive type.
The line in the Odyssey must therefore be a very late addition; it
may be removed without injuring the sense of the passage in which
it occurs. [Footnote: This fact, in itself, is of course no proof
of interpolation. _Cf._ Helbig, _op_. cit., p. 331. He
thinks the line very late.] If, on the other hand, the line be as
old as the oldest parts of the poem, the author for once forgets
his usual antiquarian precision.
We are thus led to the conclusion that either there was in early
Greece an age when weapons were all of bronze while implements
were often of iron, or that the poet, or crowd of poets, invented
that state of things. Now early poets never invent in this way;
singing to an audience of warriors, critical on such a point, they
speak of what the warriors know to be actual, except when, in a
recognised form of decorative exaggeration, they introduce
"Masts of the beaten gold
And sails of taffetie."
Our theory is, then, that in the age when the Homeric poems were
composed iron, though well known, was on its probation. Men of the
sword preferred bronze for all their military purposes, just as
fifteenth-century soldiers found the long-bow and cross-bow much
more effective than guns, or as the Duke of Wellington forbade the
arming of all our men with rifles in place of muskets ... for
reasons not devoid of plausibility.
Sir John Evans supposes that, in the seventh century, the Carian
and Ionian invaders of Egypt were still using offensive arms of
bronze, not of iron. [Footnote: Ancient _Bronze Implements_,
p. 8 (1881), citing Herodotus, ii. c. 112. Sir John is not sure
that Achaean spear-heads were not of copper, for they twice double
up against a shield. _Iliad_, III. 348; VII. 259; Evans, p.
13.] Sir John remarks that "for a considerable time after the
Homeric period, bronze remained in use for offensive weapons,"
especially for "spears, lances, and arrows." Hesiod, quite unlike
his contemporaries, the "later" poets of Iliad and _Odyssey_,
gives to Heracles an iron helmet and sword. [Footnote: _Scutum
Herculis_, pp. 122-138.] Hesiod knew better, but was not a
consistent archaiser. Sir John thinks that as early as 500 or even
600 B.C. iron and steel were in common use for weapons in Greece,
but not yet had they altogether superseded bronze battle-axes and
spears. [Footnote: Evans, p. 18.] By Sir John's showing, iron for
offensive weapons superseded bronze very slowly indeed in Greece;
and, if my argument be correct, it had not done so when the
Homeric poems were composed. Iron merely served for utensils, and
the poems reflect that stage of transition which no poet could
dream of inventing.
These pages had been written before my attention was directed to
M. Berard's book, _Les Pheniciens et l'Odyssee_ (Paris,
1902). M. Berard has anticipated and rather outrun my ideas. "I
might almost say," he remarks, "that iron is the popular metal,
native and rustic... the shepherd and ploughman can extract and
work it without going to the town." The chief's smith could work
iron, if he had iron to work, and this iron Achilles gave as a
prize. "With rustic methods of working it iron is always impure;
it has 'straws' in it, and is brittle. It may be the metal for
peace and for implements. In our fields we see the reaper sit down
and repair his sickle. In war is needed a metal less hard,
perhaps, but more tough and not so easily broken. You cannot sit
down in the field of battle, as in a field of barley, to beat your
sword straight...." [Footnote: Berard, i. 435.]
So the Celts found, if we believe Polybius.
On the other hand, iron swords did supersede bronze swords in the
long run. Apparently they had not done so in the age of the poet,
but iron had certainly ceased to be "a precious metal"; knives and
woodcutters' axes are never made of a metal that is precious and
rare. I am thus led, on a general view, to suppose that the poems
took shape when iron was very well known, but was not yet, as in
the "Dipylon" period in Crete, commonly used by sword-smiths.
The ideas here stated are not unlike those of Paul Cauer.
[Footnote: _Grundfrager des Homerkritik,_ pp. 183-187.
Leipsic, 1895.] I do not, however, find the mentions of iron
useful as a test of "early" and "late" lays, which it is his
theory that they are. Thus he says:--
(1) Iron is often mentioned as part of a man's personal property,
while we are not told how he means to use it. It is named with
bronze, gold, and girls. The poet has no definite picture before
his eyes; he is vague about iron. But, we reply, his picture of
iron in these passages is neither more nor less definite than his
mental picture of the other commodities. He calls iron "hard to
smithy," "grey," "dark-hued"; he knows, in fact, all about it. He
does not tell us what the owner is going to do with the gold and
the bronze and the girls, any more than he tells us what is to be
done with the iron. Such information was rather in the nature of a
luxury than a necessity. Every hearer knew the uses of all four
commodities. This does not seem to have occurred to Cauer.
(2) Iron is spoken of as an emblem of hard things, as, to take a
modern example, in Mr. Swinburne's "armed and iron maidenhood "--
said of Atalanta. Hearts are "iron," strength is "iron," flesh is
not "iron," an "iron" noise goes up to the heaven of bronze. It
may not follow, Cauer thinks, from these phrases that iron was
used in any way. Men are supposed to marvel at its strange
properties; it was "new and rare." I see no ground for this
(3) We have the "iron gates" of Tartarus, and the "iron bonds" in
which Odysseus was possibly lying; it does not follow that chains
or gates were made of iron any more than that gates were of
chrysoprase in the days of St. John.
(4) Next, we have mention of implements, not weapons, of iron--a
remarkable trait of culture. Greek ploughs and axes were made of
iron before spears and swords were of iron.
(5) We have mention of iron weapons, namely, the unique iron mace
of Areithous and the solitary iron arrow-head of Pandarus, and
what Cauer calls the iron swords (more probably knives) of
Achilles and others. It is objected to the "iron" of Achilles that
Antilochus fears he will cut his throat with it on hearing of the
death of Patroclus, while there is no other mention of suicide in
the _Iliad_. It does not follow that suicide was unheard of;
indeed, Achilles may be thinking of suicide presently, in XIII.
98, when he says to his mother: "Let me die at once, since it was
not my lot to succour my comrade."
(6) We have the iron-making spoken of in Book IX. 393 of the
It does not appear to us that the use of iron as an epithet
bespeaks an age when iron was a mysterious thing, known mainly by
reputation, "a costly possession." The epithets "iron strength,"
and so on, may as readily be used in our own age or any other. If
iron were at first a "precious" metal, it is odd that Homeric men
first used it, as Cauer sees that they did, to make points to
ploughshares and "tools of agriculture and handiwork." "Then
people took to working iron for weapons." Just so, but we cannot
divide the _Iliad_ into earlier and later portions in
proportion to the various mentions of iron in various Books. These
statistics are of no value for separatist purposes. It is
impossible to believe that men when they spoke of "iron strength,"
"iron hearts," "grey iron," "iron hard to smithy," did so because
iron was, first, an almost unknown legendary mineral, next, "a
precious metal," then the metal of drudgery, and finally the metal
The real point of interest is, as Cauer sees, that domestic
preceded military uses of iron among the Achaeans. He seems,
however, to think that the confinement of the use of bronze to
weapons is a matter of traditional style. [Footnote: "Nur die
Sprache der Dichter hielt an dem Gebrauch der Bronze fest, die in
den Jahrhunderten, wahrend deren der Epische Stil erwachsen war,
allein geherrscht hatte."] But, in the early days of the waxing
epics, tools as well as weapons were, as in Homer they
occasionally are, of bronze. Why, then, do the supposed late
continuators represent tools, not weapons, as of iron? Why do they
not cleave to the traditional term--bronze--in the case of tools,
as the same men do in the case of weapons?
Helbig offers an apparently untenable explanation of this fact. He
has proposed an interpretation of the uses of bronze and iron in
the poems entirely different from that which I offer. [Footnote:
_Sur la Question Mycenienne_. 1896.] Unfortunately, one can
scarcely criticise his theory without entering again into the
whole question of the construction of the Epics. He thinks that
the origin of the poems dates from "the Mycenaean period," and
that the later continuators of the poems retained the traditions
of that remote age. Thus they thrice call Mycenae "golden,"
though, in the changed economic conditions of their own period,
Mycenae could no longer be "golden"; and I presume that, if
possible, the city would have issued a papyrus currency without a
metallic basis. However this may be, "in the description of
customs the epic poets did their best to avoid everything modern."
Here we have again that unprecedented phenomenon--early poets who
are archaeologically precise.
We have first to suppose that the kernel of the _Iliad_
originated in the Mycenaean age, the age of bronze. We are next to
believe that this kernel was expanded into the actual Epic in
later and changed times, but that the later poets adhered in their
descriptions to the Mycenaean standard, avoiding "everything
modern." That poets of an uncritical period, when treating of the
themes of ancient legend or song, carefully avoid everything
modern is an opinion not warranted by the usage of the authors of
the _Chansons de Geste_, of _Beowulf_, and of the
_Nibelungenlied_. These poets, we must repeat, invariably
introduce in their chants concerning ancient days the customs,
costume, armour, religion, and weapons of their own time. Dr.
Helbig supposes that the late Greek poets, however, who added to
the _Iliad_, carefully avoided doing what other poets of
uncritical ages have always done. [Footnote: _La Question
Mycenienne_, p. 50.]
This is his position in his text (p. 50). In his note 1 to page
50, however, he occupies the precisely contrary position. "The
epic poems were chanted, as a rule, in the houses of more or less
warlike chiefs. It is, then, _a priori_ probable that the
later poets took into account the _contemporary_ military
state of things. Their audience would have been much perturbed
(_bien cheques_) if they had heard the poet mention nothing
but arms and forms of attack and defence to which they were
unaccustomed." If so, when iron weapons came in the poets would
substitute iron for bronze, in lays new and old, but they never
do. However, this is Helbig's opinion in his note. But in his text
he says that the poets, carefully avoiding the contemporary, "the
modern," make the heroes fight, not on horseback, but from
chariots. Their listeners, according to his note, must have been
_bien cheques_, for there came a time when _they_ were
not accustomed to war chariots.
Thus the poets who, in Dr. Helbig's text, "avoid as far as
possible all that is modern," in his note, on the same page, "take
account of the contemporary state of things," and are as modern as
possible where weapons _are_ concerned. Their audience would
be sadly put out (_bien cheques_) "if they heard talk only of
arms ... to which they were unaccustomed"; talk of large suspended
shields, of uncorsleted heroes, and of bronze weapons. They had to
endure it, whether they liked it or not, _teste_ Reichel. Dr.
Helbig seems to speak correctly in his note; in his text his
contradictory opinion appears to be wrong. Experience teaches us
that the poets of an uncritical age--Shakespeare, for example--
introduce the weapons of their own period into works dealing with
remote ages. Hamlet uses the Elizabethan rapier.
In his argument on bronze and iron, unluckily, Dr. Helbig deserts
the judicious opinions of his note for the opposite theory of his
text. His late poets, in the age of iron, always say that the
weapons of the heroes are made of bronze. [Footnote: _Op.
laud_., p. 51.] They thus, "as far as possible avoid what is
modern." But, of course, warriors of the age of iron, when they
heard the poet talk only of weapons of bronze, "_aurient ete
bien choques_" (as Dr. Helbig truly says in his note), on
hearing of nothing but "_armes auxquels ils n'etaient pas
habitues,_"--arms always of bronze.
Though Dr. Helbig in his text is of the opposite opinion, I must
agree entirely with the view which he states so clearly in his
note. It follows that if a poet speaks invariably of weapons of
bronze, he is living in an age when weapons are made of no other
material. In his text, however, Dr. Helbig maintains that the poets
of later ages "as far as possible avoid everything modern," and,
therefore, mention none but bronze weapons. But, as he has pointed
out, they do mention iron tools and implements. Why do they desert
the traditional bronze? Because "it occasionally happened that a
poet, when thinking of an entirely new subject, wholly emancipated
himself from traditional forms," [Footnote: _Op. laud_., pp.
The examples given in proof are the offer by Achilles of a lump of
iron as the prize for archery--the iron, as we saw, being destined
for the manufacture of pastoral and agricultural implements, in
which Dr. Helbig includes the lances of shepherds and ploughmen,
though the poet never says that they were of iron. [Footnote:
_Iliad_, XXIII. 826, 835; Odyssey, XIV. 531; XIII. 225.]
There are also the axes through which Odysseus shoots his arrow.
[Footnote: _Odyssey_, XIX. 587; XXI. 3, X, 97, 114, 127, 138;
XXIV. 168, 177; cf. XXI. 61.] "The poet here treated an entirely
new subject, in the development of which he had perfect liberty."
So he speaks freely of iron. "But," we exclaim, "tools and
implements, axes and knives, are not a perfectly new subject!"
They were extremely familiar to the age of bronze, the Mycenaean
age. Examples of bronze tools, arrow-heads, and implements are
discovered in excavations on Mycenaean sites. There was nothing
new about bronze tools and implements. Men had bronze tips to
their ploughshares, bronze knives, bronze axes, bronze arrow-heads
before they used iron.
Perhaps we are to understand that feats of archery, non-military
contests in bowmanship, are _un sujet a fait nouveau_: a
theme so very modern that a poet, in singing of it, could let
himself go, and dare to speak of iron implements. But where was
the novelty? All peoples who use the bow in war practise archery
in time of peace. The poet, moreover, speaks of bronze tools, axes
and knives, in other parts of the _Iliad_; neither tools nor
bronze tools constitute _un sujet tout a fait nouveau_. There
was nothing new in shooting with a bow and nothing new in the
existence of axes. Bows and axes were as familiar to the age of
stone and to the age of bronze as to the age of iron. Dr. Helbig's
explanation, therefore, explains nothing, and, unless a better
explanation is offered, we return to the theory, rejected by Dr.
Helbig, that implements and tools were often, not always, of iron,
while weapons were of bronze in the age of the poet. Dr. Helbig
rejects this opinion. He writes: "We cannot in any way admit that,
at a period when the socks of the plough, the lance points of
shepherds" (which the poet never describes as of iron), "and axe-
heads were of iron, warriors still used weapons of bronze."
[Footnote: op. _laud._, p. 53.] But it is logically possible
to admit that this was the real state of affairs, while it is
logically impossible to admit that bows and tools were "new
subjects"; and that late poets, when they sang of military gear,
"_tenaient compte de l'armement contemporain,_" carefully
avoiding the peril of bewildering their hearers by speaking of
antiquated arms, and, at the same time, spoke of nothing but
antiquated arms--weapons of bronze--and of war chariots, to
fighting men who did not use war chariots and did use weapons of
These logical contradictions beset all arguments in which it is
maintained that "the late poets" are anxious archaisers, and at
the same time are eagerly introducing the armour and equipment of
their own age. The critics are in the same quandary as to iron and
bronze as traps them in the case of large shields, small bucklers,
greaves, and corslets. They are obliged to assign contradictory
attitudes to their "late poets." It does not seem possible to
admit that a poet, who often describes axes as of iron in various
passages, does so in his account of a peaceful contest in
bowmanship, because contests in bowmanship are _UN sujet TOUT a
FAIT NOUVEAU;_ and so he feels at liberty to describe axes as
of iron, while he adheres to bronze as the metal for weapons. He,
or one of the Odyssean poets, had already asserted (Odyssey, IX.
391) that iron _was_ the metal for adzes and axes.
Dr. Helbig's argument [Footnote: _La Question Mycenienne_, p.
54.] does not explain the facts. The bow of Eurytus and the uses
to which Odysseus is to put it have been in the poet's mind all
through the conduct of his plot, and there is nothing to suggest
that the exploit of bowmanship is a very new lay, tacked on to the
After writing this chapter, I observed that my opinion had been
anticipated by S. H. Naber. [Footnote: _Quaestiones
Homericae_, p. 60. Amsterdam. Van der Post, 1897.] "Quod
Herodoti diserto testimonio novimus, Homeri restate ferruminatio
nondum inventa erat necdum bene noverant mortales, uti opinor,
_acuere_ ferrum. Hinc pauperes homines ubi possunt, ferro
utuntur; sed in plerisque rebus turn domi turn militiae imprimis
coguntur uti aere...."
The theory of Mr. Ridgeway as to the relative uses of iron and
bronze is not, by myself, very easily to be understood. "The
Homeric warrior ... has regularly, as we have seen, spear and
sword of iron." [Footnote: _Early Age of Greece_, vol. i. p.
301.] As no spear or sword of iron is ever mentioned in the
_Iliad_ or Odyssey, as both weapons are always of bronze when
the metal is specified, I have not "seen" that they are
"regularly," or ever, of iron. In proof, Mr. Ridgeway cites the
axes and knives already mentioned--which are not spears or swords,
and are sometimes of bronze. He also quotes the line in the
Odyssey, "Iron of itself doth attract a man." But if this line is
genuine and original, it does not apply to the state of things in
the _Iliad_, while it contradicts the whole Odyssey, in which
swords and spears are _ALWAYS_ of bronze when their metal is
mentioned. If the line reveals the true state of things, then
throughout the Odyssey, if not throughout the _Iliad_, the
poets when they invariably speak of bronze swords and spears
invariably say what they do not mean. If they do this, how are we
to know when they mean what they say, and of what value can their
evidence on points of culture be reckoned? They may always be
retaining traditional terms as to usages and customs in an age
when these are obsolete.
If the Achaeans were, as in Mr. Ridgeway's theory, a northern
people--"Celts"--who conquered with iron weapons a Pelasgian
bronze-using Mycenaean people, it is not credible to me that
Achaean or Pelasgian poets habitually used the traditional
Pelasgian term for the metal of weapons, namely, bronze, in songs
chanted before victors who had won their triumph with iron. The
traditional phrase of a conquered bronze-using race could not thus
survive and flourish in the poetry of an outlandish iron-using
race of conquerors.
Mr. Ridgeway cites the Odyssey, wherein we are told that
"Euryalus, the Phaeacian, presented to Odysseus a bronze sword,
though, as we have seen" (Mr. Ridgeway has seen), "the usual
material for all such weapons is iron. But the Phoeacians both
belonged to the older race and lived in a remote island, and
therefore swords of bronze may well have continued in use in such
out-of-the-world places long after iron swords were in use
everywhere else in Greece. The man who could not afford iron had
to be satisfied with bronze." [Footnote: _Early Age of
Greece_, p. 305.] Here the poet is allowed to mean what he
says. The Phaeacian sword is really of bronze, with silver studs,
probably on the hilt (Odyssey, VIII. 401-407), which was of ivory.
The "out-of-the-world" islanders could afford ivory, not iron. But
when the same poet tells us that the sword which Odysseus brought
from Troy was "a great silver-studded bronze sword" (Odyssey, X.
261, 262), then Mr. Ridgeway does not allow the poet to mean what
he says. The poet is now using an epic formula older than the age
of iron swords.
That Mr. Ridgeway adopts Helbig's theory--the poet says "bronze,"
by a survival of the diction of the bronze age, when he means
iron--I infer from the following passage: "_Chalkos_ is the
name for the older metal, of which cutting weapons were made, and
it thus lingered in many phrases of the Epic dialect; 'to smite
with the _chalkos_' was equivalent to our phrase 'to smite
with the steel.'" [Footnote: _Early Age of Greece_, i. 295.]
But we certainly do smite with the steel, while the question is,
"_DID_ Homer's men smite with the iron?" Homer says not; he
does not merely use "an epic phrase" "to smite with the
_CHALKOS_," but he carefully describes swords, spears, and
usually arrow-heads as being of bronze (_CHALKOS_), while
axes, adzes, and knives are frequently described by him as of
Mr. Ridgeway has an illustrative argument with some one, who says:
"The dress and weapons of the Saxons given in the lay of
_Beowulf_ fitted exactly the bronze weapons in England, for
they had shields, and spears, and battle-axes, and swords." If you
pointed out to him that the Saxon poem spoke of these weapons as
made of iron, he would say, "I admit that it is a difficulty, but
the resemblances are so many that the discrepancies may be
jettisoned." [Footnote: _Ridgeway,_ i. 83, 84.]
Now, if the supposed controversialist were a Homeric critic, he
would not admit any difficulty. He would say, "Yes; in
_Beowulf_ the weapons are said to be of iron, but that is the
work of the Christian _remanieur,_ or _bearbeiter,_ who
introduced all the Christian morality into the old heathen lay,
and who also, not to puzzle his iron-using audience, changed the
bronze into iron weapons."
We may prove anything if we argue, now that the poets retain the
tradition of obsolete things, now that they modernise as much as
they please. Into this method of reasoning, after duly considering
it, I am unable to come with enthusiasm, being wedded to the
belief that the poets say what they mean. Were it otherwise, did
they not mean what they say, their evidence would be of no value;
they might be dealing throughout in terms for things which were
unrepresented in their own age. To prove this possible, it would
be necessary to adduce convincing and sufficient examples of early
national poets who habitually use the terminology of an age long
prior to their own in descriptions of objects, customs, and
usages. Meanwhile, it is obvious that my whole argument has no
archaeological support. We may find "Mycenaean" corslets and
greaves, but they are not in cremation burials. No Homeric cairn
with Homeric contents has ever been discovered; and if we did find
examples of Homeric cairns, it appears, from the poems, that they
would very seldom contain the arms of the dead.
Nowhere, again, do we find graves containing bronze swords and
iron axes and adzes. I know nothing nearer in discoveries to my
supposed age of bronze weapons and iron tools than a grave of the
early iron and geometrical ornament age of Crete--a _tholos_
tomb, with a bronze spear-head and a set of iron tools, among
others a double axe and a pick of iron. But these were in company
with iron swords? To myself the crowning mystery is, what has
become of the Homeric tumuli with their contents? One can but say
that only within the last thirty years have we found, or, finding,
have recognised Mycenaean burial records. As to the badness of the
iron of the North for military purposes, and the probable badness
of all early iron weapons, we have testimony two thousand years
later than Homer and some twelve hundred years later than
Polybius. In the Eyrbyggja Saga (Morris and Maguusson, chap,
xxiv.) we read that Steinthor "was girt with a sword that was
cunningly wrought; the hilts were white with silver, and the grip
wrapped round with the same, but the strings thereof were gilded."
This was a splendid sword, described with the Homeric delight in
such things; but the battle-cry arises, and then "the fair-
wrought sword bit not when it smote armour, and Steinthor must
_straighten it under_ his _foot._" Messrs. Morris and
Maguusson add in a note: "This is a very common experience in
Scandinavian weapons, and for the first time heard of at the
battle of Aquae Sextiae between Marius and the Teutons."
[Footnote: The reference is erroneous.] "In the North weapon-
smiths who knew how to forge tempered or steel-laminated weapons
were, if not unknown, at least very rare." When such skill was
unknown or rare in Homer's time, nothing was more natural than
that bronze should hold its own, as the metal for swords and
spears, after iron was commonly used for axes and ploughshares.
THE HOMERIC HOUSE
If the Homeric poems be, as we maintain, the work of a peculiar
age, the Homeric house will also, in all likelihood, be peculiar.
It will not be the Hellenic house of classical times. Manifestly
the dwelling of a military-prince in the heroic age would be
evolved to meet his needs, which were not the needs of later
Hellenic citizens. In time of peace the later Greeks are
weaponless men, not surrounded by and entertaining throngs of
armed retainers, like the Homeric chief. The women of later
Greece, moreover, are in the background of life, dwelling in the
women's chambers, behind those of the men, in seclusion. The
Homeric women also, at least in the house of Odysseus, have their
separate chambers, which the men seem not to enter except on
invitation, though the ladies freely honour by their presence the
hall of the warriors. The circumstances, however, were peculiar--
Penelope being unprotected in the absence of her lord.
The whole domestic situation in the Homeric poems--the free
equality of the women, the military conditions, the life of the
chiefs and retainers--closely resembles, allowing for differences
of climate, that of the rich landowners of early Iceland as
described in the sagas. There can be no doubt that the house of
the Icelandic chief was analogous to the house of the Homeric
prince. Societies remarkably similar in mode of life were
accommodated in dwellings similarly arranged. Though the
Icelanders owned no Over-Lord, and, indeed, left their native
Scandinavia to escape the sway of Harold Fairhair, yet each
wealthy and powerful chief lived in the manner of a Homeric
"king." His lands and thralls, horses and cattle, occupied his
attention when he did not chance to be on Viking adventure--
"bearing bane to alien men." He always carried sword and spear,
and often had occasion to use them. He entertained many guests,
and needed a large hall and ample sleeping accommodation for
strangers and servants. His women were as free and as much
respected as the ladies in Homer; and for a husband to slap a wife
was to run the risk of her deadly feud. Thus, far away in the
frosts of the north, the life of the chief was like that of the
Homeric prince, and their houses were alike.
It is our intention to use this parallel in the discussion of the
Homeric house. All Icelandic chiefs' houses in the tenth and
eleventh centuries were not precisely uniform in structure and
accommodation, and saga writers of the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries, living more comfortably than their forefathers,
sometimes confuse matters by introducing the arrangements of their
own into the tale of past times. But, in any case, one Icelandic
house of the tenth or eleventh century might differ from another
in certain details. It is not safe, therefore, to argue that
difference of detail in Homer's accounts of various houses means
that the varying descriptions were composed in different ages. In
the _Odyssey_ the plot demands that the poet must enter into
domestic details much more freely than he ever has occasion to do
in the Iliad. He may mention upper chambers freely, for example;
it will not follow that in the _Iliad_ upper chambers do not
exist because they are only mentioned twice in that Epic.
It is even more important to note that in the house of Odysseus we
have an unparalleled domestic situation. The lady of the house is
beset by more than a hundred wooers--"sorning" on her, in the old
Scots legal phrase--making it impossible for her to inhabit her
own hall, and desirable to keep the women as much as possible
apart from the men. Thus the Homeric house of which we know most,
that of Odysseus, is a house in a most abnormal condition.
For the sake of brevity we omit the old theory that the Homeric
house was practically that of historical Greece, with the men's
hall approached by a door from the courtyard; while a door at the
upper end of the men's hall yields direct access to the quarters
where the women dwelt apart, at the rear of the men's hall.
That opinion has not survived the essay by Mr. J. L. Myres on the
"Plan of the Homeric House." [Footnote: _Journal of Hellenic
Studies_, vol. XX, 128-150.] Quite apart from arguments that
rest on the ground plans of palaces at Mycenae and Tiryns, Mr.
Myres has proved, by an exact reading of the poet's words, that
the descriptions in the _Odyssey_ cannot be made intelligible
on the theory that the poet has in his mind a house of the
Hellenic pattern. But in his essay he hardly touches on any
Homeric house except that of Odysseus, in which the circumstances
were unusual. A later critic, Ferdinand Noack, has demonstrated
that we must take other Homeric houses into consideration.
[Footnote: _Homerische Palaste_. Teubner. Leipzig, 1903.] The
prae-Mycenaean house is, according to Mr. Myres, on the whole of
the same plan as the Hellenic house of historic days; between
these comes the Mycenaean and Homeric house; "so that the
Mycenaean house stands out _as an intrusive phenomenon_, of
comparatively late arrival _and short of duration_..."
[Footnote: Myres, _Journal_ of _Hellenic_ Studies, vol.
xx. p. 149.] Noack goes further; he draws a line between the
Mycenaean houses on one hand and the houses described by Homer on
the other; while he thinks that the "_late_ Homeric house,"
that of the closing Books of the Odyssey, is widely sundered from
the Homeric house of the _Iliad_ and from the houses of
Menelaus and Alcinous in earlier Books of the _Odyssey._
[Footnote: Noack, p. 73.]
In this case the Iliadic and earlier Odyssean houses are those of
a single definite age, neither Mycenaean of the prime, nor
Hellenic--a fact which entirely suits our argument. But it is not
so certain, that the house of Odysseus is severed from the other
Homeric houses by the later addition of an upper storey, as Noack
supposes, and of women's quarters, and of separate sleeping
chambers for the heads of the family.
The _Iliad,_ save in two passages, and earlier Books of the
_Odyssey_ may not mention upper storeys because they have no
occasion, or only rare occasion, to do so; and some houses may
have had upper sleeping chambers while others of the same period
had not, as we shall prove from the Icelandic parallel.
Mr. Myres's idea of the Homeric house, or, at least, of the house
of Odysseus, is that the women had a _meguron,_ or common
hall, apart from that of the men, with other chambers. These did
not lie to the direct rear of the men's hall, nor were they
entered by a door that opened in the back wall of the men's hall.
Penelope has a chamber, in which she sleeps and does woman's work,
upstairs; her connubial chamber, unoccupied during her lord's
absence, is certainly on the ground floor. The women's rooms are
severed from the men's hall by a courtyard; in the courtyard are
chambers. Telemachus has his [Greek: Thalamos], or chamber, in the
men's courtyard. All this appears plain from the poet's words; and
Mr. Myres corroborates, by the ground plans of the palaces of
Tiryns and Mycenae, a point on which Mr. Monro had doubts, as
regards Tiryns, while he accepted it for Mycenae. [Footnote:
Monro, Odyssey, ii. 497; _Journal of Hellenic Studies_, xx.
Noack [Footnote: Noack, p. 39.] does not, however, agree.
There appears to be no doubt that in the centre of the great halls
of Tiryns and of Mycenae, as of the houses in Homer, was the
hearth, with two tall pillars on each side, supporting a
_louvre_ higher than the rest of the roof, and permitting
some, at least, of the smoke of the fire to escape. Beside the
fire were the seats of the master and mistress of the house, of
the minstrel, and of honoured guests. The place of honour was not
on a dais at the inmost end of the hall, like the high table in
college halls. Mr. Myres holds that in the Homeric house the
[Greek: prodomos], or "forehouse," was a chamber, and was not
identical with the [Greek: aethousa], or portico, though he admits
that the two words "are used indifferently to describe the
sleeping place of a guest." [Footnote: _Journal of Hellenic
Studies_, xx. 144, 155.] This was the case at Tiryns; and in
the house of the father of Phoenix, in the _Iliad_, the
_prodomos_, or forehouse, and the _aethousa_, or
portico, are certainly separate things (Iliad, IX. 473). Noack
does not accept the Tiryns evidence for the Homeric house.
On Mr. Myres's showing, the women in the house of Odysseus had
distinct and separate quarters into which no man goes uninvited.
Odysseus when at home has, with his wife, a separate bedroom; and
in his absence Penelope sleeps upstairs, where there are several
chambers for various purposes.
Granting that all this is so, how do the pictures of the house
given in the final part of the _Odyssey_ compare with those
in the [Blank space] and with the accounts of the dwellings of
Menelaus and Alcinous in the Odyssey? Noack argues that the house
of Odysseus is unlike the other Homeric houses, because in these,
he reasons, the women have no separate quarters, and the lord and
lady of the house sleep in the great hall, and have no other
bedroom, while there are no upper chambers in the houses of the
_Iliad_, except in two passages dismissed as "late."
If all this be so, then the Homeric period, as regards houses and
domestic life, belongs to an age apart, not truly Mycenaean, and
still less later Hellenic.
It must be remembered that Noack regards the Odyssey as a
composite and in parts very late mosaic (a view on which I have
said what I think in _Homer and the Epic_). According to this
theory (Kirchhoff is the exponent of a popular form thereof) the
first Book of the Odyssey belongs to "the latest stratum," and is
the "copy" of the general "worker-up," whether he was the editor
employed by Pisistratus or a laborious amateur. This theory is
opposed by Sittl, who makes his point by cutting out, as
interpolations, whatever passages do not suit his ideas, and do
suit Kirchhoff's--this is the regular method of Homeric criticism.
The whole cruise of Telemachus (Book IV.) is also regarded as a
late addition: on this point English scholars hitherto have been
of the opposite opinion. [Footnote: Cf. Monro, _Odyssey_,
vol. ii. 313-317.]
The method of all parties is to regard repetitions of phrases as
examples of borrowing, except, of course, in the case of the
earliest poet from whom the others pilfer, and in other cases of
prae-Homeric surviving epic formulae. Critics then dispute as to
which recurrent passage is the earlier, deciding, of course, as may
happen to suit their own general theory. In our opinion these
passages are traditional formulae, as in our own old ballads and
in the _Chansons de Geste_, and Noack also takes this view
every now and then. They may well be older, in many cases, than
_Iliad_ and _Odyssey_; or the poet, having found his own
formula, economically used it wherever similar circumstances
occurred. Such passages, so considered, are no tests of earlier
composition in one place, of later composition in another.
We now look into Noack's theory of the Homeric house. Where do the
lord and lady sleep? _Not_, he says, as Odysseus and Penelope
do (when Odysseus is at home), in a separate chamber
(_thalamos_) on the ground floor, nor, like Gunnar and
Halgerda (Njal's Saga), in an upper chamber. They sleep _mucho
domou_; that is, not in a separate recess in the _house_,
but in a recess of the great hall or _megaron_. Thus, in the
hall of Alcinous, the whole space runs from the threshold to the
_muchos_, the innermost part (_Odyssey_, VII. 87-96). In
the hall of Odysseus, the Wooers retreat to the _muchos_,
"the innermost part of the hall" (_Odyssey_, XXII. 270). "The
_muchos_, in Homer, never denotes a separate chamber."
[Footnote: Noack, p. 45. _Cf_. Monro, Note to Odyssey, XXII.
In Odyssey, XI. 373, Alcinous says it is not yet time to sleep
_ev megaro_, "in the hall." Alcinous and Arete, his wife,
sleep "in the recess of the lofty _domos_," that is, in the
recess of the _hall_, not of "the house" (Odyssey, VII. 346).
The same words are used of Helen and Menelaus (Odyssey, IV. 304).
But when Menelaus goes forth next morning, he goes _ek
thalamoio_, "out of his _chamber_" (_Odyssey_, IV.
310). But this, says Noack, is a mere borrowing of Odyssey, II 2-
5, where the same words are used of Telemachus, leaving his
chamber, which undeniably was a separate chamber in the court:
Eurycleia lighted him thither at night (Odyssey, I. 428). In
Odyssey, IV. 121, Helen enters the hall "from her fragrant, lofty
chamber," so she _had_ a chamber, not in the hall. But, says
Noack, this verse "is not original." The late poet of
_Odyssey_, IV. has cribbed it from the early poet who
composed _Odyssey, XIX. 53._ In that passage Penelope "comes
from her chamber, like Artemis or golden Aphrodite." Penelope
_had_ a chamber--being "a lone lorn woman," who could not
sleep in a hall where the Wooers sat up late drinking--and the
latest poet transfers this chamber to Helen. But however late and
larcenous he may have been, the poet of IV. 121 certainly did not
crib the words of the poet of XIX. 53, for he says, "Helen came
out of her _fragrant, high-roofed_ chamber." The _hall_
was not precisely "fragrant"! However, Noack supposes that the
late poet of Book IV. let Helen have a chamber apart, to lead up
to the striking scene of her entry to the hall where her guests
are sitting. May Helen not even have a boudoir? In _Odyssey_,
IV. 263, Helen speaks remorsefully of having abandoned her
"chamber," and husband, and child, with Paris; but the late poet
says this, according to Noack, because he finds that he is in for
a chamber, so to speak, at all events, as a result of his having
previously cribbed the word "chamber" from Odyssey, XIX. 53.
Otherwise, we presume Helen would have said that she regretted
having left "the recess of the lofty hall" where she really did
sleep. [Footnote: Noack, pp. 47-48]
The merit of this method of arguing may be left to the judgment of
the reader, who will remark that wedded pairs are not described as
leaving the hall when they go to bed; they sleep in "a recess of
the lofty house," the innermost part. Is this the same as the
"recess of the _hall_" or is it an innermost part of the
_house?_ Who can be certain?
The bridal chamber, built so cunningly, with the trunk of a tree
for the support of the bed, by Odysseus (odyssey, XXIII. 177-204),
is, according to Noack, an exception, a solitary freak of
Odysseus. But we may reply that the _thalamos_, the separate
chamber, is no freak; the freak, by knowledge of which Odysseus
proves his identity, is the use of the tree in the construction of
the bed. [blank space] was highly original.
That separate chambers are needed for grown-up children,
_BECAUSE_ the parents sleep in the hall, is no strong
argument. If the parents had a separate chamber, the young people,
unless they slept in the hall, would still need their own. The
girls, of course, could not sleep in the hall; and, in the absence
of both Penelope and Odysseus from the hall, ever since Telemachus
was a baby, Telemachus could have slept there. But it will be
replied that the Wooers did not beset the hall, and Penelope did
not retire to a separate chamber, till Telemachus was a big boy of
sixteen. Noack argues that he had a separate chamber, though the
hall was free, _tradition_. [Footnote: Noack, p. 49.]
Where does Noack think that, in a normal Homeric house, the girls
of the family slept? _They_ could not sleep in the hall, and
on the two occasions when the _Iliad_ has to mention the
chambers of the young ladies they are "upper chambers," as is
natural. But as Noack wants to prove the house of Odysseus, with
its upper chambers, to be a late peculiar house, he, of course,
expunges the two mentions of girls' upper chambers in the
_Odyssey_. The process is simple and easy.
We find (_Iliad_, XVII. 36) that a son, wedding in his
father's and mother's life-time, has a _thalamos_ built for
him, and a _muchos_ in the _THALAMOS_, where he leaves
his wife when he goes to war. This dwelling of grown-up married
children, as in the case of the sons of Priam, has a
_thalamos_, or _doma_, and a courtyard--is a house, in
fact (_Iliad_, VI. 3 16). Here we seem to distinguish the
bed-chamber from the _doma_, which is the hall. Noack objects
that when Odysseus fumigates his house, after slaying the Wooers,
he thus treats the _megaron_, _AND_ the _doma_,
_AND_ the courtyard. Therefore, Noack argues, the
_megaron_, or hall, is one thing; the _doma_ is another.
Mr. Monro writes, "_doma_ usually means _megaron_," and
he supposes a slip from another reading, _thalamon_ for
_megaron_, which is not satisfactory. But if _doma_ here
be not equivalent to _megaron_, what room can it possibly be?
Who was killed in another place? what place therefore needed
purification except the hall and courtyard? No other places needed
purifying; there is therefore clearly a defect in the lines which
cannot be used in the argument.
Noack, in any case, maintains that Paris has but one place to live
in by day and to sleep in by night--his [Greek: talamos]. There
he sleeps, eats, and polishes his weapons and armour. There Hector
finds him looking to his gear; Helen and the maids are all there
(_Iliad,_ VI. 321-323). Is this quite certain? Are Helen and
the maids in the [Greek: talamos], where Paris is polishing his
corslet and looking to his bow, or in an adjacent room? If not in
another room, why, when Hector is in the room talking to Paris,
does Helen ask him to "come in"? (_Iliad,_ VI. 354). He is
in, is there another room whence she can hear him?
The minuteness of these inquiries is tedious!
In _Iliad,_ III. 125, Iris finds Helen "in the hall" weaving.
She summons her to come to Priam on the gate. Helen dresses in
outdoor costume, and goes forth "from the chamber," [Greek:
talamos] (III. 141-142). Are hall and chamber the same room, or
did not Helen dress "in the chamber"? In the same Book (III. 174)
she repents having left the [Greek: talamos] of Menelaus, not his
hall: the passage is not a repetition in words of her speech in
The gods, of course, are lodged like men. When we find that Zeus
has really a separate sleeping chamber, built by Hephaestus, as
Odysseus has (_Iliad,_ XIV. 166-167), we are told that this
is a late interpolation. Mr. Leaf, who has a high opinion of this
scene, "the Beguiling of Zeus," places it in the "second
expansions"; he finds no "late Odyssean" elements in the language.
In _Iliad,_ I. 608-611, Zeus "departed to his couch"; he
seems not to have stayed and slept in the hall.
Here a quaint problem occurs. Of all late things in the Odyssey
the latest is said to be the song of Demodocus about the loves of
Ares and Aphrodite in the house of Hephaestus. [Footnote: Odyssey,
VIII. 266-300.] We shall show that this opinion is far from
certainly correct. Hephaestus sets a snare round the bed in his
[Greek: talamos] and catches the guilty lovers. _Now_, was
his [Greek: talamos] or bedroom, also his dining-room? If so, the
author of the song, though so "late," knows what Noack knows, and
what the poets who assign sleeping chambers to wedded folks do not
know, namely, that neither married gods nor married men have
separate bedrooms. This is plain, for he makes Hephaestus stand at
the front door of his house, and shout to the gods to come and see
the sinful lovers. [Footnote: Ibid., VI. 304-305] They all come
and look on _from the front door_ (_Odyssey_, VII. 325),
which leads into the [Greek: megaron], the hall. If the lovers are in
bed in the hall, then hall and bedroom are all one, and the terribly
late poet who made this lay knows it, though the late poets of the
_Odyssey_ and _Iliad_ do not.
It would appear that the author of the lay is not "late," as we
shall prove in another case.
Noack, then, will not allow man or god to have a separate wedding
chamber, nor women, before the late parts of the _Odyssey_,
to have separate quarters, except in the house of Odysseus.
Women's chambers do not exist in the Homeric house. [Footnote:
Noack, p. 50.] If so, how remote is the true Homeric house from
the house of historical Greece!
As for upper chambers, those of the daughter of the house
(_Iliad,_ II. 514; XVI. 184), both passages are "late," as we
saw (Noack, p.[blank space]). In the _Odyssey_ Penelope both
sleeps and works at the shroud in an upper chamber. But the whole
arrangement of upper chambers as women's apartments is as late,
says Noack, as the time of the poets and "redactors" (whoever they
may have been) of the Odyssey, XXI., XXII., XXIII. [Footnote:
Noack, p. 68.] At the earliest these Books are said to be of the
eighth century B.C. Here the late poets have their innings at
last, and do modernise the Homeric house.
To prove the absence of upper rooms in the _Iliad_ we have to
abolish II. 514, where Astyoche meets her divine lover in her
upper chamber, and XVI. 184, where Polymele celebrates her amour
with Hermes "in the upper chambers." The places where these two
passages occur, _Catalogue_ (Book II.) and the
_Catalogue_ of the _Myrmidons_ (Book XVI.) are, indeed,
both called "late," but the author of the latter knows the early
law of bride-price, which is supposed to be unknown to the authors
of "late" passages in the Odyssey (XVI. 190).
Stated briefly, such are the ideas of Noack. They leave us, at
least, with permission to hold that the whole of the Epics, except
Books XXI., XXII., and XXIII. of the Odyssey, bear, as regards the
house, the marks of a distinct peculiar age, coming between the
period of Mycenae and Tiryns on one hand and the eighth century
B.C. on the other.
This is the point for which we have contended, and this suits our
argument very well, though we are sorry to see that Odyssey, Books
XXI., XXII., and XXIII., are no older than the eighth century B.C.
But we have not been quite convinced that Helen had not her
separate chamber, that Zeus had not his separate chamber, and that
the upper chambers of the daughters of the house in the Iliad are
"late." Where, if not in upper chambers, did the young princesses
repose? Again, the marked separation of the women in the house of
Odysseus may be the result of Penelope's care in unusual
circumstances, though she certainly would not build a separate
hall for them. There are over a hundred handsome young scoundrels
in her house all day long and deep into the night; she would,
vainly, do her best to keep her girls apart.
It stands to reason that young girls of princely families would
have bedrooms in the house, not in the courtyard-bedrooms out of
the way of enterprising young men. What safer place could be found
for them than in upper chambers, as in the Iliad? But, if their
lovers were gods, we know that none "can see a god coming or going
against his will." The arrangements of houses may and do vary in
different cases in the same age.
As examples we turn to the parallel afforded by the Icelandic
sagas and their pictures of houses of the eleventh century B.C.
The present author long ago pointed out the parallel of the houses
in the sagas and in Homer. [Footnote: _The_ House. Butcher
and Lang. Translation of the Odyssey.] He took his facts from
Dasent's translation of the Njal Saga (1861, vol. i. pp. xcviii.,
ciii., with diagrams). As far as he is aware, no critic looked
into the matter till Mr. Monro (1901), being apparently
unacquainted with Dasent's researches, found similar lore in works
by Dr. Valtyr Gudmundsson [Footnote: Monro, Odyssey, vol. ii. pp.
491-495; _cf_. Gudmundsson, _Der Islandske Bottg i Fristats
Tiden_, 1894; _cf_. Dasent, _Oxford_ Essays, 1858.]
The roof of the hall is supported by four rows of columns, the two
inner rows are taller, and between them is the hearth, with seats
of honour for the chief guests and the lord. The fire was in a
kind of trench down the hall; and in very cold weather, we learn
from Dasent, long fires could be lit through the extent of the
hall. The chief had a raised seat; the guests sat on benches. The
high seats were at the centre; not till later times on the dais,
as in a college hall. The tables were relatively small, and, as in
Homer, could be removed after a meal. The part of the hall with
the dais in later days was partitioned off as a _stofa_ or
parlour. In early times cooking was done in the hall.
Dr. Gudmundsson, if I understand him, varies from Dasent in some
respects. I quote an abstract of his statement.
"About the year 1000 houses generally consisted of, at least, four
rooms; often a fifth was added, the so-called bath-room. The
oldest form for houses was that of one long line or row of
separate rooms united by wooden or clay corridors or partitions,
and each covered with a roof. Later, this was considered
unpractical, and they began building some of the houses or rooms
behind the others, which facilitated the access from one to
another, and diminished the number of outer doors and corridors."
"Towards the latter part of the tenth century the _skaal_ was
used as common sleeping-room for the whole family, including
servants and serfs; it was fitted up in the same way as the hall.
Like this, it was divided in three naves by rows of wooden
pillars; the middle floor was lower than that of the two side
naves. In these were placed the so-called _saet_ or bed-
places, not running the whole length of the [blank space] from
gable to gable, but sideways, filling about a third part. Each
_saet_ was enclosed by broad, strong planks joined into the
pillars, but not nailed on, so they might easily be taken out.
These planks, called _SATTESTOKKE_, could also be turned
sideways and used as benches during the day; they were often
beautifully carved, and consequently highly valued."
"When settling abroad the people took away with them these planks,
and put them up in their new home as a symbol of domestic
happiness. The _saet_ was occupied by the servants of the
farm as sleeping-rooms; generally it was screened by hangings and
low panels, which partitioned it off like huge separate boxes,
used as beds."
"All beds were filled with hay or straw; servants and serfs slept
on this without any bedclothes, sometimes a sleeping-bag was used,
or they covered themselves with deerskins or a mantle. The family
had bed-clothes, but only in very wealthy houses were they also
provided for the servants. Moveable beds were extremely rare, but
are sometimes mentioned. Generally two people slept in each bed."
"In the further end of the _skaal_, facing the door, opened
out one or several small bedrooms, destined for the husband with
wife and children, besides other members of the family, including
guests of a higher standing. These small dormitories were
separated by partitions of planks into bedrooms with one or
several beds, and shut away from the outer _SKAAL_ either by
a sliding-door in the wall or by an ordinary door shutting with a
hasp. Sometimes only a hanging covered the opening."
"In some farms were found underground passages, leading from the
master's bedside to an outside house, or even as far as a wood or
another sheltered place in the neighbourhood, to enable the
inhabitants to save themselves during a night attack. For the same
reason each man had his arms suspended over his bed."
"_Ildhus_ or fire-house was the kitchen, often used besides
as a sleeping-room when the farms were very small. This was quite
abolished after the year 1000."
"_Buret_ was the provision house."
"The bathroom was heated from a stone oven; the stones were heated
red-hot and cold water thrown upon them, which developed a
quantity of vapour. As the heat and the steam mounted, the people--
men and women--crawled up to a shelf under the roof and remained
there as in a Turkish bath."
"In large and wealthy houses there was also a women's room, with a
fireplace built low down in the middle, as in the hall, where the
women used to sit with their handiwork all day. The men were
allowed to come in and talk to them, also beggar-women and other
vagabonds, who brought them the news from other places. Towards
evening and for meals all assembled together in the hall."
On this showing, people did not sleep in cabins partitioned off
the dining-hall, but in the _skaale_; and two similar and
similarly situated rooms, one the common dining-hall, the other
the common sleeping-hall, have been confused by writers on the
sagas. [Footnote: Gudmundsson, p, 14, Note I.] Can there be a
similar confusion in the uses of _megaron_, _doma_, and
In the Eyrbyggja Saga we have descriptions of the "fire-hall,"
_skali_ or _eldhus_. "The fire-hall was the common
sleeping-room in Icelandic homesteads." Guests and strangers slept
there; not in the portico, as in Homer. "Here were the lock-beds."
There were butteries; one of these was reached by a ladder. The
walls were panelled. [Footnote: _The Ere Dwellers_, p. 145.]
Thorgunna had a "berth," apparently partitioned off, in the hall.
[Footnote: _Ibid_., 137-140.] As in Homer the hall was
entered from the courtyard, in which were separate rooms for
stores and other purposes. In the courtyard also, in the houses of
Gunnar of Lithend and Gisli at Hawkdale, and doubtless in other
cases, were the _dyngfur_, or ladies' chambers, their
"bowers" (_Thalamos_, like that of Telemachus in the
courtyard), where they sat spinning and gossiping. The
_dyngja_ was originally called _bur_, our "bower"; the
ballads say "in bower and hall." In the ballad of _MARGARET_,
her parents are said to put her in the way of deadly sin by
building her a bower, apparently separate from the main building;
she would have been safer in an upper chamber, though, even there,
not safe--at least, if a god wooed her! It does not appear that
all houses had these chambers for ladies apart from the main
building. You did not enter the main hall in Iceland from the
court directly in front, but by the "man's door" at the west side,
whence you walked through the porch or outer hall
(_prodomos_, _aithonsa_), in the centre of which, to the
right, were the doors of the hall. The women entered by the
women's door, at the eastern extremity.
Guests did not sleep, as in Homer, in the _prodomos_, or the
portico--the climate did not permit it--but in one or other hall.
The hall was wainscotted; the walls were hung with shields and
weapons, like the hall of Odysseus. The heads of the family
usually slept in the aisles, in chambers entered through the
wainscot of the hall. Such a chamber might be called
_muchos_; it was private from the hall though under the same
roof. It appears not improbable that some Homeric halls had
sleeping places of this kind; such a _muchos_ in Iceland
seems to have had windows. [Footnote: Story of Burnt _Njal_,
Gunnar himself, however, slept with his wife, Halegerda, in an
upper chamber; his mother, who lived with him, also had a room
In Njal's house, too, there was an upper chamber, wherein the foes
of Njal threw fire. [Footnote:_Ibid_., ii. 173.] But Njal and
Bergthora, his wife, when all hope was ended, went into their own
bride-chamber in the separate aisle of the hall "and gave over
their souls into God's hand." Under a hide they lay; and when men
raised up the hide, after the fire had done its work, "they were
unburnt under it. All praised God for that, and thought it was a
_GREAT_ token." In this house was a weaving room for the
women. [Footnote:_Ibid_, ii. 195.]
It thus appears that Icelandic houses of the heroic age, as
regards structural arrangements, were practically identical with
the house of Odysseus, allowing for a separate sleeping-hall,
while the differences between that and other Homeric houses may be
no more than the differences between various Icelandic dwellings.
The parents might sleep in bedchambers off the hall or in upper
chambers. Ladies might have bowers in the courtyard or might have
none. The [Greek: laurae]--each passage outside the hall--yielded
sleeping rooms for servants; and there were store-rooms behind the
passage at the top end of the hall, as well as separate chambers
for stores in the courtyard. Mr. Leaf judiciously reconstructs the
Homeric house in its "public rooms," of which we hear most, while
he leaves the residential portion with "details and limits
probably very variable." [Footnote: _Iliad_, vol. i. pp. 586-
589, with diagram based on the palace of Tiryns.]
Given variability, which is natural and to be expected, and given
the absence of detail about the "residential portion" of other
houses than that of Odysseus in the poems, it does not seem to us
that this house is conspicuously "late," still less that it is the
house of historical Greece. Manifestly, in all respects it more
resembles the houses of Njal and Gunnar of Lithend in the heroic
age of Iceland.
In the house, as in the uses of iron and bronze, the weapons,
armour, relations of the sexes, customary laws, and everything
else, Homer gives us an harmonious picture of a single and
peculiar age. We find no stronger mark of change than in the
Odyssean house, if that be changed, which we show reason to doubt.
NOTES OF CHANGE IN THE "ODYSSEY"
If the Homeric descriptions of details of life contain
anachronisms, points of detail inserted in later progressive ages,
these must be peculiarly conspicuous in the Odyssey. Longinus
regarded it as the work of Homer's advanced life, the sunset of
his genius, and nobody denies that it assumes the existence of the
_Iliad_ and is posterior to that epic. In the Odyssey, then,
we are to look, if anywhere, for indications of a changed society.
That the language of the _Odyssey_, and of four Books of the
_Iliad_ (IX., X., XXIII., XXIV.), exhibits signs of change is
a critical commonplace, but the language is matter for a separate
discussion; we are here concerned with the ideas, manners,
customary laws, weapons, implements, and so forth of the Epics.
Taking as a text Mr. Monro's essay, _The Relation of the Odyssey
to the Iliad_, [Footnote: Monro, Odyssey, vol. ii. pp. 324,
_seqq_.] we examine the notes of difference which he finds
between the twin Epics. As to the passages in which he discovers
"borrowing or close imitation of passages" in the _Iliad_ by
the poet of the _Odyssey_, we shall not dwell on the matter,
because we know so little about the laws regulating the repetition
of epic formulae. It is tempting, indeed, to criticise Mr. Monro's
list of twenty-four Odyssean "borrowings," and we might arrive at
some curious results. For example, we could show that the
_Klothes_, the spinning women who "spae" the fate of each
new-born child, are not later, but, as less abstract, are if
anything earlier than "the simple _Aisa_ of the
_Iliad_." [Footnote: _Odyssey_, VII. 197; _Iliad_,
xx. 127.] But our proof would require an excursion into the
beliefs of savage and barbaric peoples who have their
_Klothes_, spae-women attending each birth, but who are not
known to have developed the idea of _Aisa_ or Fate.
We might also urge that "to send a spear through the back of a
stag" is not, as Mr. Monro thought, "an improbable feat," and that
a man wounded to death as Leiocritus was wounded, would not, as
Mr. Monro argued, fall backwards. He supposes that the poet of the
_Odyssey_ borrowed the forward fall from a passage in the
_Iliad_, where the fall is in keeping. But, to make good our
proof, it might be necessary to spear a human being in the same
way as Leiocritus was speared. [Footnote: Monro, odyssey, vol. ii.
pp. 239, 230.]
The repetitions of the Epic, at all events, are not the result of
the weakness of a poet who had to steal his expressions like a
schoolboy. They have some other cause than the indolence or
inefficiency of a _cento_--making undergraduate. Indeed, a
poet who used the many terms in the _Odyssey_ which do not
occur in the _Iliad_ was not constrained to borrow from any
It is needless to dwell on the Odyssean novelties in vocabulary,
which were naturally employed by a poet who had to sing of peace,
not of war, and whose epic, as Aristotle says, is "ethical," not
military. The poet's rich vocabulary is appropriate to his novel
subject, that is all.
Coming to Religion (I) we find Mr. Leaf assigning to his original
_Achilleis_--"the kernel"--the very same religious ideas as
Mr. Monro takes to be marks of "lateness" and of advance when he
finds them in the Odyssey!
In the original oldest part of the _Iliad_, says Mr. Leaf,
"the gods show themselves just so much as to let us know what are
the powers which control mankind from heaven.... Their
interference is such as becomes the rulers of the world, not
partisans in the battle." [Footnote: Leaf, _Iliad_, vol. ii.
pp. xii., xiii.] It is the later poets of the _Iliad_, in Mr.
Leaf's view, who introduce the meddlesome, undignified, and
extremely unsportsmanlike gods. The original early poet of the
_Iliad_ had the nobler religious conceptions.
In that case--the _Odyssey_ being later than the original
kernel of the Iliad--the _Odyssey_ ought to give us gods as
undignified and unworthy as those exhibited by the later
continuators of the _Iliad_.
But the reverse is the case. The gods behave fairly well in Book
XXIV. of the _Iliad_, which, we are to believe, is the
latest, or nearly the latest, portion. They are all wroth with the
abominable behaviour of Achilles to dead Hector (XXIV. 134). They
console and protect Priam. As for the _Odyssey_, Mr. Monro
finds that in this late Epic the gods are just what Mr. Leaf
proclaims them to have been in his old original kernel. "There is
now an Olympian concert that carries on something like a moral
government of the world. It is very different in the _Iliad...."
[Footnote: Monro, _Odyssey_, ii. 335.]
But it was not very different; it was just the same, in Mr. Leaf's
genuine old original germ of the _Iliad_. In fact, the gods
are "very much like you and me." When their _ichor_ is up,
they misbehave as we do when our blood is up, during the fury of
war. When Hector is dead and when the war is over, the gods give
play to their higher nature, as men do. There is no difference of
religious conception to sever the _Odyssey_ from the later
but not from the original parts of the _Iliad_. It is all an
affair of the circumstances in each case.
The _Odyssey_ is calmer, more reflective, more
_religious_ than the _Iliad_, being a poem of peace. The
_Iliad_, a poem of war, is more _mythological_ than the
_Odyssey_: the gods in the _Iliad_ are excited, like the
men, by the great war and behave accordingly. That neither gods
nor men show any real sense of the moral weakness of Agamemnon or
Achilles, or of the moral superiority of Hector, is an
unacceptable statement. [Footnote: Monro, Odyssey, vol. ii. p.
336.] Even Achilles and Agamemnon are judged by men and by the
poet according to their own standard of ethics and of customary
law. There is really no doubt on this point. Too much (2) is made
of the supposed different views of Olympus--a mountain in Thessaly
in the _Iliad_; a snowless, windless, supra-mundane place in
_Odyssey_, V. 41-47. [Footnote: _Ibid_., ii. 396.] Of
the Odyssean passage Mr. Merry justly says, "the actual
description is not irreconcilable with the general Homeric picture
of Olympus." It is "an idealised mountain," and conceptions of it
vary, with the variations which are essential to and inseparable
from all mythological ideas. As Mr. Leaf says, [Footnote: Note to
_Iliad_, V. 750.] "heaven, _ouranos_ and Olympus, if not
identical, are at least closely connected." In V. 753, the poet
"regarded the summit of Olympus as a half-way stage between heaven
and earth," thus "departing from the oldest Homeric tradition,
which made the earthly mountain Olympus, and not any aerial
region, the dwelling of the gods." But precisely the same
confusion of mythical ideas occurs among a people so backward as
the Australian south-eastern tribes, whose All Father is now
seated on a hill-top and now "above the sky." In _ILIAD_,
VIII. 25, 26, the poet is again said to have "entirely lost the
real Epic conception of Olympus as a mountain in Thessaly," and to
"follow the later conception, which removed it from earth to
heaven." In _Iliad_, XI. 184, "from heaven" means "from the
summit of Olympus, which, though Homer does not identify it with
_oupavos_, still, as a mountain, reached into heaven" (Leaf).
The poet of Iliad, XI. 184, says plainly that Zeus descended
"_from_ heaven" to Mount Ida. In fact, all that is said of
Olympus, of heaven, of the home of the gods, is poetical, is
mythical, and so is necessarily subject to the variations of
conception inseparable from mythology. This is certain if there be
any certainty in mythological science, and here no hard and fast
line can be drawn between _ODYSSEY_ and _Iliad_.
(3) The next point of difference is that, "we hear no more of Iris
as the messenger of Zeus;" in the Odyssey, "the agent of the will
of Zeus is now Hermes, as in the Twenty-fourth Book of the
_Iliad_," a late "Odyssean" Book. But what does that matter,
seeing that _ILIAD_, Book VIII, is declared to be one of the
latest additions; yet in Book VIII. Iris, not Hermes, is the
messenger (VIII. 409-425). If in late times Hermes, not Iris, is
the messenger, why, in a very "late" Book (VIII.) is Iris the
messenger, not Hermes? _Iliad_, Book XXIII., is also a late
"Odyssean" Book, but here Iris goes on her messages (XXIII. 199)
moved merely by the prayers of Achilles. In the late Odyssean Book
(XXIV.) of the _Iliad_, Iris runs on messages from Zeus both
to Priam and to Achilles. If Iris, in "Odyssean" times, had
resigned office and been succeeded by Hermes, why did Achilles
pray, not to Hermes, but to Iris? There is nothing in the argument
about Hermes and Iris. There is nothing in the facts but the
variability of mythical and poetical conceptions. Moreover, the
conception of Iris as the messenger certainly existed through the
age of the Odyssey, and later. In the Odyssey the beggar man is
called "Irus," a male Iris, because he carries messages; and Iris
does her usual duty as messenger in the Homeric Hymns, as well as
in the so-called late Odyssean Books of the _Iliad_. The poet
of the Odyssey knew all about Iris; there had arisen no change of
belief; he merely employed Hermes as messenger, not of the one
god, but of the divine Assembly.
(4) Another difference is that in the _Iliad_ the wife of
Hephaestus is one of the Graces; in the Odyssey she is Aphrodite.
[Footnote: Monro, _Odyssey_, vol. ii. p. 336.] This is one of
the inconsistencies which are the essence of mythology. Mr. Leaf
points out that when Hephaestus is about exercising his craft, in
making arms for Achilles, Charis "is made wife of Hephaestus by a
more transparent allegory than we find elsewhere in Homer,"
whereas, when Aphrodite appears in a comic song by Demodocus
(Odyssey, VIII. 266-366), "that passage is later and un-Homeric."
[Footnote: Leaf, _Iliad_, vol. ii. p. 246.]
Of this we do not accept the doctrine that the lay is un-Homeric.
The difference comes to no more than _that;_ the accustomed
discrepancy of mythology, of story-telling about the gods. But as
to the lay of Demodocus being un-Homeric and late, the poet at
least knows the regular Homeric practice of the bride-price, and
its return by the bride's father to the husband of an adulterous
wife (Odyssey, VIII. 318, 319). The poet of this lay, which Mr.
Merry defends as Homeric, was intimately familiar with Homeric
customary law. Now, according to Paul Cauer, as we shall see,
other "Odyssean" poets were living in an age of changed law, later
than that of the author of the lay of Demodocus. All these so-
called differences between _Iliad_ and Odyssey do not point
to the fact that the _Odyssey_ belongs to a late and changed
period of culture, of belief and customs. There is nothing in the
evidence to prove that contention.
There (5) are two references to local oracles in the
_Odyssey,_ that of Dodona (XIV. 327; XIX. 296) and that of
Pytho (VIII. 80). This is the old name of Delphi. Pytho occurs in
_Iliad,_ IX. 404, as a very rich temple of Apollo--the oracle
is not named, but the oracle brought in the treasures. Achilles
(XVI. 233) prays to Pelasgian Zeus of Dodona, whose priests were
thickly tabued, but says nothing of the oracle of Dodona. Neither
when in leaguer round Troy, nor when wandering in fairy lands
forlorn, had the Achaeans or Odysseus much to do with the local
oracles of Greece; perhaps not, in Homer's time, so important as
they were later, and little indeed is said about them in either
(6) "The geographical knowledge shown in the Odyssey goes beyond
that of the _Iliad_ ... especially in regard to Egypt and
Sicily." But a poet of a widely wandering hero of Western Greece
has naturally more occasion than the poet of a fixed army in Asia
to show geographical knowledge. Egyptian Thebes is named, in
_ILIAD_, IX., as a city very rich, especially in chariots;
while in the _ODYSSEY_ the poet has occasion to show more
knowledge of the way to Egypt and of Viking descents from Crete on
the coast (Odyssey, III. 300; IV. 351; XIV. 257; XVII. 426).
Archaeology shows that the Mycenaean age was in close commercial
relation with Egypt, and that the Mycenaean civilisation extended
to most Mediterranean lands and islands, and to Italy and Sicily.
[Footnote: Ridgeway, _Early Age of Greece_, i. 69.] There is
nothing suspicious, as "late," in the mention of Sicily by
Odysseus in Ithaca (Odyssey, XX. 383; XXIV. 307). In the same way,
if the poet of a western poem does not dilate on the Troad and the
people of Asia Minor as the poet of the _ILIAD_ does, that is
simply because the scene of the _ILIAD_ is in Asia and the
scene of the Odyssey is in the west, when it is not in No Man's
land. From the same cause the poet of sea-faring has more occasion
to speak of the Phoenicians, great sea-farers, than the poet of
the Trojan leaguer.
(7) We know so little about land tenure in Homeric times--and,
indeed, early land tenure is a subject so complex and obscure that
it is not easy to prove advance towards separate property in the
_Odyssey_--beyond what was the rule in the time of the
_ILIAD_. In the Making of the Arms (XVIII. 541-549) we find
many men ploughing a field, and this may have been a common field.
But in what sense? Many ploughs were at work at once on a Scottish
runrig field, and each farmer had his own strip on several common
fields, but each farmer held by rent, or by rent and services,
from the laird. These common fields were not common property. In
XII. 422 we have "a common field," and men measuring a strip and
quarrelling about the marking-stones, across the "baulk," but it
does not follow that they are owners; they may be tenants. Such
quarrels were common in Scotland when the runrig system of common
fields, each man with his strip, prevailed. [Footnote: Grey
Graham, _Social Life in Scotland in the Eighteenth Century_,
A man had a [Greek: klaeros] or lot (_ILIAD_, XV. 448), but
what was a "lot"? At first, probably, a share in land periodically
shifted-& _partage noir_ of the Russian peasants. Kings and
men who deserve public gratitude receive a [Greek: temenos] a
piece of public land, as Bellerophon did from the Lycians (VI.
194). In the case of Melager such an estate is offered to him, but
by whom? Not by the people at large, but by the [Greek: gerontes]
Who are the [Greek: gerontes]? They are not ordinary men of the
people; they are, in fact, the gentry. In an age so advanced from
tribal conditions as is the Homeric time--far advanced beyond
ancient tribal Scotland or Ireland--we conceive that, as in these
countries during the tribal period, the [Greek: gerontes] (in
Celtic, the _Flaith_) held in POSSESSION, if not in
accordance with the letter of the law, as property, much more land
than a single "lot." The Irish tribal freeman had a right to a
"lot," redistributed by rotation. Wealth consisted of cattle; and
a _bogire_, a man of many kine, let _them_ out to
tenants. Such a rich man, a _flatha_, would, in accordance
with human nature, use his influence with kineless dependents to
acquire in possession several lots, avoid the partition, and keep
the lots in possession though not legally in property. Such men
were the Irish _flaith_, gentry under the _RI_, or king,
his [Greek: gerontes], each with his _ciniod_, or near
kinsmen, to back his cause.
"_Flaith_ seems clearly to mean land-owners," or squires,
says Sir James Ramsay. [Footnote: _Foundations of England_,
i. 16, Note 4.] If land, contrary to the tribal ideal, came into
private hands in early Ireland, we can hardly suppose that, in the
more advanced and settled Homeric society, no man but the king
held land equivalent in extent to a number of "lots." The [Greek:
gerontes], the gentry, the chariot-owning warriors, of whom there
are hundreds not of kingly rank in Homer (as in Ireland there were
many _flaith_ to one _Ri_) probably, in an informal but
tight grip, held considerable lands. When we note their position
in the _Iliad_, high above the nameless host, can we imagine
that they did not hold more land than the simple, perhaps
periodically shifting, "lot"? There were "lotless" men (Odyssey,
XL 490), lotless _freemen_, and what had become of their
lots? Had they not fallen into the hands of the [Greek: gerontes]
or the _flaith_?
Mr. Ridgeway in a very able essay [Footnote: _Journal of
Hellenic Studies_, vi. 319-339.] holds different opinions. He
points out that among a man's possessions, in the _Iliad_, we
hear only of personal property and live stock. It is in one
passage only in the Odyssey (XIV. 211) that we meet with men
holding several lots of land; but _they_, we remark, occur in
Cretean isle, as we know, of very advanced civilisation from of
Mr. Ridgeway also asks whether the lotless men may not be
"outsiders," such as are attached to certain villages of Central
and Southern India; [Footnote: Maine, _Village Communities_,
P. 127.] or they may answer to the _Fuidhir_, or "broken
men," of early Ireland, fugitives from one to another tribe. They
would be "settled on the waste lands of a community." If so, they
would not be lotless; they would have new lots. [Footnote:
_Journal of Hellenic Studies_, vi. 322, 323.]
Laertes, though a king, is supposed to have won his farm by his
own labours from the waste (Odyssey, XXIV. 207). Mr. Monro says,
"the land having thus been won from the wastes (the [Greek: gae
aklaeros te kai aktitos] of _H., Ven._ 123), was a [Greek:
temenos] or separate possession of Laertes." The passage is in the
rejected conclusion of the Odyssey; and if any man might go and
squat in the waste, any man might have a lot, or better than one
lot. In _Iliad_, XXIII. 832-835, Achilles says that his
offered prize of iron will be useful to a man "whose rich fields
are very remote from any town," Teucer and Meriones compete for
the prize: probably they had such rich remote fields, not each a
mere lot in a common field. These remote fields they are supposed
to hold in perpetuity, apart from the _temenos_, which, in
Mr. Ridgeway's opinion, reverted, on the death of each holder, to
the community, save where kingship was hereditary. Now, if [Greek:
klaeros] had come to mean "a lot of land," as we say "a building
lot," obviously men like Teucer and Meriones had many lots, rich
fields, which at death might sometimes pass to their heirs. Thus
there was separate landed property in the _Iliad_; but the
passage is denounced, though not by Mr. Ridgeway, as "late."
The absence of enclosures ([Greek: herkos arouraes]) proves
nothing about absence of several property in land. In Scotland the
laird's lands were unenclosed till deep in the eighteenth century.
My own case for land in private possession, in Homeric times,
rests mainly on human nature in such an advanced society. Such
possession as I plead for is in accordance with human nature, in a
society so distinguished by degrees of wealth as is the Homeric.
Unless we are able to suppose that all the gentry of the
_Iliad_ held no "rich fields remote from towns," each having
but one rotatory lot apiece, there is no difference in Iliadic and
Odyssean land tenure, though we get clearer lights on it in the
The position of the man of several lots may have been
indefensible, if the ideal of tribal law were ever made real, but
wealth in growing societies universally tends to override such
law. Mr. Keller [Footnote: Homeric Society, p. 192. 1902.] justly
warns us against the attempt "to apply universally certain fixed
rules of property development. The passages in Homer upon which
opinions diverge most are isolated ones, occurring in similes and
fragmentary descriptions. Under such conditions the formulation of
theories or the attempt rigorously to classify can be little more
than an intellectual exercise."
We have not the materials for a scientific knowledge of Homeric
real property; and, with all our materials in Irish law books, how
hard it is for us to understand the early state of such affairs in
Ireland! But does any one seriously suppose that the knightly
class of the _Iliad_, the chariot-driving gentlemen, held no
more land--legally or by permitted custom--than the two Homeric
swains who vituperate each other across a baulk about the right to
a few feet of a strip of a runrig field? Whosoever can believe
that may also believe that the practice of adding "lot" to "lot"
began in the period between the finished composition of the
_Iliad_ (or of the parts of it which allude to land tenure)
and the beginning of the _Odyssey_ (or of the parts of it
which refer to land tenure). The inference is that, though the
fact is not explicitly stated in the _Iliad_, there were men
who held more "lots" than one in Iliadic times as well as in the
Odyssean times, when, in a solitary passage of the Odyssey, we do
hear of such men in Crete. But whosoever has pored over early
European land tenures knows how dim our knowledge is, and will not
rush to employ his lore in discriminating between the date of the
_Iliad_ and the date of the Odyssey.
Not much proof of change in institutions between Iliadic and
Odyssean times can be extracted from two passages about the ethna,
or bride-price of Penelope. The rule in both _Iliad_ and
_Odyssey_ is that the wooer gives a bride-price to the father
of the bride, ethna. This was the rule known even to that
painfully late and un-Homeric poet who made the Song of Demodocus
about the loves of Ares and Aphrodite. In that song the injured
husband, Hephaestus, claims back the bride-price which he had paid
to the father of his wife, Zeus. [Footnote: Odyssey, VIII. 318.]
This is the accepted custom throughout the _Odyssey_ (VI.
159; XVI. 77; XX. 335; XXI. 162; XV. 17, &c.). So far there is no
change of manners, no introduction of the later practice, a dowry
given with the bride, in place of a bride-price given to the
father by the bridegroom. But Penelope was neither maid, wife, nor
widow; her husband's fate, alive or dead, was uncertain, and her
son was so anxious to get her out of the house that he says he
offered gifts _with_ her (XX. 342). In the same way, to buy
back the goodwill of Achilles, Agamemnon offers to give him his
daughter without bride-price, and to add great gifts
(_Iliad_, IX. l47)--the term for the gifts is [Greek:
mailia]. People, of course, could make their own bargain; take as
much for their daughter as they could get, or let the gifts go
from husband to bride, and then return to the husband's home with
her (as in Germany in the time of Tacitus, _Germania_, 18),
or do that, and throw in more gifts. But in Odyssey, II. 53,
Telemachus says that the Wooers shrink from going to the house of
Penelope's father, Icarius, who would endow (?) his daughter
([Greek: eednoosaito]) And again (_Odyssey_, I. 277; II.
196), her father's folk will furnish a bridal feast, and "array
the [Greek: heedna], many, such as should accompany a dear
daughter." Some critics think that the gifts here are
_dowry_, a later institution than bride-price; others, that
the father of the dear daughter merely chose to be generous, and
returned the bride-price, or its equivalent, in whole or part.
[Footnote: Merry, Odyssey, vol. i. p. 50. Note to Book I 277.] If
the former view be correct, these passages in Odyssey, I., II. are
later than the exceedingly "late" song of Demodocus. If the latter
theory be correct the father is merely showing goodwill, and doing
as the Germans did when they were in a stage of culture much
earlier than the Homeric.
The position of Penelope is very unstable and legally perplexing.
Has her father her marriage? has her son her marriage? is she not
perhaps still a married woman with a living husband? Telemachus
would give much to have her off his hands, but he refuses to send
her to her father's house, where the old man might be ready enough
to return the bride-price to her new husband, and get rid of her
with honour. For if Telemachus sends his mother away against her
will he will have to pay a heavy fine to her father, and to thole
his mother's curse, and lose his character among men (odyssey, II.
130-138). The Icelanders of the saga period gave dowries with
their daughters. But when Njal wanted Hildigunna for his foster-
son, Hauskuld, he offered to give [Greek: hedna]. "I will lay down
as much money as will seem fitting to thy niece and thyself," he
says to Flosi, "if thou wilt think of making this match."
[Footnote: Story of _Burnt Njal_, ii. p. 81.]
Circumstances alter cases, and we must be hard pressed to discover
signs of change of manners in the Odyssey as compared with the
_Iliad_ if we have to rely on a solitary mention of "men of
many lots" in Crete, and on the perplexed proposals for the second
marriage of Penelope. [Footnote: For the alleged "alteration of
old customs" see Cauer, _Grundfragen der Homerkritik_, pp.
193-194.] We must not be told that the many other supposed signs
of change, Iris, Olympus, and the rest, have "cumulative weight."
If we have disposed of each individual supposed note of change in
beliefs and manners in its turn, then these proofs have, in each
case, no individual weight and, cumulatively, are not more
ponderous than a feather.
LINGUISTIC PROOFS OF VARIOUS DATES
The great strength of the theory that the poems are the work of
several ages is the existence in them of various strata of
languages, earlier and later.
Not to speak of differences of vocabulary, Mr. Monro and Mr. Leaf,
with many scholars, detect two strata of earlier and later
_grammar_ in Iliad and Odyssey. In the _Iliad_ four or
five Books are infected by "the later grammar," while the Odyssey
in general seems to be contaminated. Mr. Leafs words are: "When we
regard the Epos in large masses, we see that we can roughly
arrange the inconsistent elements towards one end or the other of
a line of development both linguistic and historical. The main
division, that of _Iliad_ and Odyssey, shows a distinct
advance along this line; and the distinction is still more marked
if we group with the _Odyssey_ four Books of the _Iliad_
whose Odyssean physiognomy is well marked. Taking as our main
guide the dissection of the plot as shown in its episodes, we find
that marks of lateness, though nowhere entirely absent, group
themselves most numerously in the later additions ..." [Footnote:
_Iliad_, vol. ii. p. X.] We are here concerned with
_linguistic_ examples of "lateness." The "four Books whose
Odyssean physiognomy" and language seem "well marked," are IX.,
X., XXIII., XXIV. Here Mr. Leaf, Mr. Monro, and many authorities
are agreed. But to these four Odyssean Books of the _Iliad_
Mr. Leaf adds _Iliad_, XI. 664-772: "probably a later
addition," says Mr. Monro. "It is notably Odyssean in character,"
says Mr. Leaf; and the author "is ignorant of the geography of the
Western Peloponnesus. No doubt the author was an Asiatic Greek."
[Footnote: _Iliad_, vol. i. pp. 465-466. Note on Book XI.
756.] The value of this discovery is elsewhere discussed (see
_The Interpolations of Nestor_).
The Odyssean notes in this passage of a hundred lines
(_Iliad_, XI. 670-762) are the occurrence of "a purely
Odyssean word" (677), an Attic form of an epic word, and a
"forbidden trochaic caesura in the fourth foot"; an Odyssean word
for carving meat, applied in a _non_-Odyssean sense (688), a
verb for "insulting," not elsewhere found in the _Iliad_
(though the noun is in the _Iliad_) (695), an Odyssean
epithet of the sun, "four times in the _Odyssey_" (735). It
is also possible that there is an allusion to a four-horse chariot
These are the proofs of Odyssean lateness.
The real difficulty about Odyssean words and grammar in the
_Iliad_ is that, if they were in vigorous poetic existence
down to the time of Pisistratus (as the Odysseanism of the Asiatic
editor proves that they were), and if every rhapsodist could add
to and alter the materials at the disposal of the Pisistratean
editor at will, we are not told how the fashionable Odysseanisms
were kept, on the whole, out of twenty Books of the Iliad.
This is a point on which we cannot insist too strongly, as an
argument against the theory that, till the middle of the sixth
century B.C., the _Iliad_ scarcely survived save in the
memory of strolling rhapsodists. If that were so, all the Books of
the _Iliad_ would, in the course of recitation of old and
composition of new passages, be equally contaminated with late
Odyssean linguistic style. It could not be otherwise; all the
Books would be equally modified in passing through the lips of
modern reciters and composers. Therefore, if twenty out of twenty-
four Books are pure, or pure in the main, from Odysseanisms, while
four are deeply stained with them, the twenty must not only be
earlier than the four, but must have been specially preserved, and
kept uncontaminated, in some manner inconsistent with the theory
that all alike scarcely existed save in the memory or invention of
late strolling reciters.
How the twenty Books relatively pure "in grammatical forms, in
syntax, and in vocabulary," could be kept thus clean without the
aid of written texts, I am unable to imagine. If left merely to
human memory and at the mercy of reciters and new poets, they
would have become stained with "the defining article"--and,
indeed, an employment of the article which startles grammarians,
appears even in the eleventh line of the First Book of the
_Iliad_? [Footnote (exact placing uncertain): Cf. Monro and
Leaf, on Iliad, I. 11-12.]
Left merely to human memory and the human voice, the twenty more
or less innocent Books would have abounded, like the Odyssey, in
[Greek: amphi] with the dative meaning "about," and with [Greek:
ex] "in consequence of," and "the extension of the use of [Greek:
ei] clauses as final and objective clauses," and similar marks of
lateness, so interesting to grammarians. [Footnote: Monro,
_Odyssey_, ii. pp. 331-333.] But the twenty Books are almost,
or quite, inoffensive in these respects.
Now, even in ages of writing, it has been found difficult or
impossible to keep linguistic novelties and novelties of metre out
of old epics. We later refer (_Archaeology of the Epic_) to
the _Chancun de Willame_, of which an unknown benefactor
printed two hundred copies in 1903. Mr. Raymond Weeks, in
_Romania_, describes _Willame_ as taking a place beside
the _Chanson de Roland_ in the earliest rank of _Chansons
de Geste_. If the text can be entirely restored, the poem will
appear as "the most primitive" of French epics of the eleventh and
twelfth centuries. But it has passed from copy to copy in the
course of generations. The methods of versification change, and,
after line 2647, "there are traces of change in the language. The
word _co_, followed by a vowel, hitherto frequent, never
again reappears. The vowel _i_, of _li_, nominative
masculine of the article" (_li Reis_, "the king"), "never
occurs in the text after line 2647. Up to that point it is elided
or not at pleasure.... There is a progressive tendency towards
hiatus. After line 1980 the system of assonance changes. _An_
and en have been kept distinct hitherto; this ceases to be the
case." [Footnote: _Romania_, xxxiv. pp. 240-246.]
The poem is also notable, like the _Iliad_, for textual
repetition of passages, but that is common to all early poetry,
which many Homeric critics appear not to understand. In this
example we see how apt novelties in grammar and metre are to steal
into even written copies of epics, composed in and handed down
through uncritical ages; and we are confirmed in the opinion that
the relatively pure and orthodox grammar and metre of the twenty
Books must have been preserved by written texts carefully
'executed. The other four Books, if equally old, were less
fortunate. Their grammar and metre, we learn, belong to a later
stratum of language.
These opinions of grammarians are not compatible with the
hypothesis that _all_ of the _Iliad_, even the
"earliest" parts, are loaded with interpolations, forced in at
different places and in any age from 1000 B.C. to 540 B.C.; for if
that theory were true, the whole of the _Iliad_ would equally
be infected with the later Odyssean grammar. According to Mr.
Monro and Sir Richard Jebb, it is not.
But suppose, on the other hand, that the later Odyssean grammar
abounds all through the whole _Iliad_, then that grammar is
not more Odyssean than it is Iliadic. The alleged distinction of
early Iliadic grammar, late Odyssean grammar, in that case
vanishes. Mr. Leaf is more keen than Mr. Monro and Sir Richard
Jebb in detecting late grammar in the _Iliad_ beyond the
bounds of Books IX., X., XXIII., XXIV. But he does not carry these
discoveries so far as to make the late grammar no less Iliadic
than Odyssean. In Book VIII. of the _Iliad_, which he thinks
was only made for the purpose of introducing Book IX., [Footnote:
_Iliad_, vol. i. p. 332. 1900.] we ought to find the late
Odyssean grammar just as much as we do in Book IX., for it is of
the very same date, and probably by one or more of the same
authors as Book IX. But we do not find the Odyssean grammar in
Mr. Leaf says, "The peculiar character" of Book VIII. "is easily
understood, when we recognise the fact that Book VIII. is intended
to serve only as a means for the introduction of Book IX...."
which is "late" and "Odyssean." Then Book VIII., intended to
introduce Book IX., must be at least as late as Book IX. and might
be expected to be at least as Odyssean, indeed one would think it
could not be otherwise. Yet it is not so.
Mr. Leaf's theory has thus to face the difficulty that while the
whole _Iliad_, by his view, for more than four centuries, was
stuffed with late interpolations, in the course of oral recital
through all Greek lands, and was crammed with original "copy" by a
sycophant of Pisistratus about 540 B.C., the late grammar
concentrated itself in only some four Books. Till some reasonable
answer is given to this question--how did twenty Books of the
Iliad preserve so creditably the ancient grammar through centuries
of change, and of recitation by rhapsodists who used the Odyssean
grammar, which infected the four other Books, and the whole of the
_Odyssey?_--it seems hardly worth while to discuss this
Any scholar who looks at these pages knows all about the proofs of
grammar of a late date in the _Odyssey_ and the four
contaminated Books of the _Iliad_. But it may be well to give
a few specimens, for the enlightenment of less learned readers of
The use of [Greek: amfi], with the dative, meaning "about," when
_thinking_ or _speaking_ "about" Odysseus or anything
else, is peculiar to the _Odyssey_. But how has it not crept
into the four Odyssean contaminated Books of the _Iliad_?
[Greek: peri], with the genitive, "follows verbs meaning to speak
or know _about_ a person," but only in the _Odyssey_.
What preposition follows such verbs in the _Iliad_?
Here, again, we ask: how did the contaminated Books of the
_Iliad_ escape the stain of [Greek: peri], with the genitive,
after verbs meaning to speak or know? What phrase do they use in
the _Iliad_ for speaking or asking _about_ anybody?
[Footnote (exact placing uncertain): Monro, Homeric
_Grammar_. See Index, under _Iliad_, p. 339.]
[Greek: meta], with the genitive, meaning "among" or "with,"
comes twice in the Odyssey (X. 320; XVI. 140) and thrice in the
_Iliad_ (XIII. 700; XXI. 458; XXIV. 400); but all these
passages in the _Iliad_ are disposed of as "late" parts of
[Greek: epi], with the accusative, meaning _towards_ a
person, comes often in the _Iliad_; once in the Odyssey. But
it comes four times in _Iliad_, Book X., which almost every
critic scouts as very "late" indeed. If so, why does the "late"
_Odyssey_ not deal in this grammatical usage so common in the
"late" Book X. of the _Iliad_?
[Greek: epi], with the accusative, "meaning _extent_
(without _motion_)," is chiefly found in the _Odyssey_,
and in the Iliad, IX., X., XXIV. On consulting grammarians one
thinks that there is not much in this.
[Greek: proti] with the dative, meaning "in addition to," occurs
only once (_Odyssey, X. 68_). If it occurs only once, there
is little to be learned from the circumstance.
[Greek: ana] with the genitive, is only in _Odyssey_, only
thrice, always of going on board a ship. There are not many ship-
farings in the _Iliad_. Odysseus and his men are not
described as going on board their ship, in so many words, in
_Iliad_, Book I. The usage occurs in the poem where the
incidents of seafaring occur frequently, as is to be expected? It
is not worth while to persevere with these tithes of mint and
cummin. If "Neglect of Position" be commoner--like "Hiatus in the
Bucolic Diaeresis"--in the _Odyssey_ and in _Iliad_,
XXIII., XXIV., why do the failings not beset _Iliad_, IX.,
X., these being such extremely "late" books? As to the later use
of the Article in the _Odyssey_ and the Odyssean Books of the
_Iliad_, it appears to us that Book I. of the _Iliad_
uses the article as it is used in Book X.; but on this topic we
must refer to a special treatise on the language of _Iliad_,
Book X., which is promised.
Turning to the vocabulary: "words expressive of civilisation" are
bound to be more frequent, as they are, in the Odyssey, a poem of
peaceful life, than in a poem about an army in action, like the
_Iliad_. Out of all this no clue to the distance of years
dividing the two poems can be found. As to words concerning
religion, the same holds good. The Odyssey is more frequently
_religious_ (see the case of Eumaeus) than the _Iliad_.
In morals the term [Greek: dikaios] is more used in the
_Odyssey_, also [Greek: atemistos] ("just" and "lawless").
But that is partly because the Odyssey has to contrast civilised
("just") with wild outlandish people--Cyclopes and Laestrygons,
who are "lawless." The _Iliad_ has no occasion to touch on
savages; but, as the [Greek: hybris] of the Wooers is a standing
topic in the Odyssey (an ethical poem, says Aristotle), the word
[Greek: hybris] is of frequent occurrence in the _Odyssey_,
in just the same sense as it bears in _Iliad_, I 214--the
insolence of Agamemnon. Yet when Achilles has occasion to speak of
Agamemnon's insolence in _Iliad_, Book IX., he does not use
the _word_ [Greek: hybris], though Book IX. is so very "late"
and "Odyssean." It would be easy to go through the words for moral
ideas in the _Odyssey_, and to show that they occur in the
numerous moral situations which do not arise, or arise much less
frequently, in the _Iliad_. There is not difference enough in
the moral standard of the two poems to justify us in assuming that
centuries of ethical progress had intervened between their dates
of composition. If the _Iliad_, again, were really, like the
_Odyssey_, a thing of growth through several centuries, which
overlapped the centuries in which the _Odyssey_ grew, the
moral ideas of the _Iliad_ and _Odyssey_ would
necessarily be much the same, would be indistinguishable. But, as
a matter of fact, it would be easy to show that the moral standard
of the _Iliad_ is higher, in many places, than the moral
standard of the _Odyssey_; and that, therefore, by the
critical hypothesis, the _Iliad_ is the later poem of the
twain. For example, the behaviour of Achilles is most obnoxious to
the moralist in _Iliad_, Book IX., where he refuses gifts of
conciliation. But by the critical hypothesis this is not the fault
of the _Iliad_, for Book IX. is declared to be "late," and of
the same date as late parts of the _Odyssey_. Achilles is not
less open to moral reproach in his abominable cruelty and impiety,
as shown in his sacrifice of prisoners of war and his treatment of
dead Hector, in _Iliad_, XXIII., XXIV. But these Books also
are said to be as late as the _Odyssey_.
The solitary "realistic" or "naturalistic" passage in Homer, with
which a lover of modern "problem novels" feels happy and at home,
is the story of Phoenix, about his seduction of his father's
mistress at the request of his mother. What a charming situation!
But that occurs in an "Odyssean" Book of the _Iliad_, Book
IX.; and thus Odyssean seems lower, not more advanced, than
Iliadic taste in morals. To be sure, the poet disapproves of all
In the Odyssey the hero, to the delight of Athene, lies often and
freely and with glee. The Achilles of the _Iliad_ hates a
liar "like the gates of Hades"; but he says so in an "Odyssean"
Book (Book IX.), so there were obviously different standards in
As to the Odyssey being the work of "a milder age," consider the
hanging of Penelope's maids and the abominable torture of
Melanthius. There is no torturing in the [blank space] for the
_Iliad_ happens not to deal with treacherous thralls.
_Enfin_, there is no appreciable moral advance in the
_ODYSSEY_ on the moral standard of the _ILIAD_. It is
rather the other way. Odysseus, in the _ODYSSEY_, tries to
procure poison for his arrow-heads. The person to whom he applies
is too moral to oblige him. We never learn that a hero of the
_Iliad_ would use poisoned arrows. The poet himself obviously
disapproves; in both poems the poet is always on the side of
morality and of the highest ethical standard of his age. The
standard in both Epics is the same; in both some heroes fall short
of the standard.
To return to linguistic tests, it is hard indeed to discover what
Mr. Leaf's opinion of the value of linguistic tests of lateness
really is. "It is on such fundamental discrepancies"--as he has
found in Books IX., XVI.--"that we can depend, _AND ON THESE
ALONE_, when we come to dissect the _ILIAD_ ... Some
critics have attempted to base their analysis on evidences from
language, but I do not think they are sufficient to bear the
super-structure which has been raised on them." [Footnote:
_Companion,_ p. 25.]
He goes on, still placing a low value on linguistic tests alone,
to say: "It is on the broad grounds of the construction and
motives of the poem, _AND NOT ON ANY MERELY linguistic
CONSIDERATIONS_, that a decision must be sought." [Footnote:
_Ibid_., p. x.]
But he contradicts these comfortable words when he comes to "the
latest expansions," such as Books XXIII., XXIV. "The latest
expansions are thoroughly in the spirit of those which precede,
_them ON ACCOUNT OF linguistic EVIDENCE,_ which definitely
classes them with the _ODYSSEY_ rather than the rest of the
_ILIAD_." [Footnote: _Iliad_, vol. ii. p. xiv.]
Now as Mr. Leaf has told us that we must depend on "fundamental
discrepancies," "on these alone," when we want to dissect the
_ILIAD;_ as he has told us that linguistic tests alone are
"not sufficient to bear the superstructure," &c., how can we lop
off two Books "only on account of linguistic evidence"? It would
appear that on this point, as on others, Mr. Leaf has entirely
changed his mind. But, even in the _Companion_ (p. 388), he
had amputated Book XXIV. for no "fundamental discrepancy," but
because of "its close kinship to the _ODYSSEY_, as in the
whole language of the Book."
Here, as in many other passages, if we are to account for
discrepancies by the theory of multiplex authorship, we must
decide that Mr. Leaf's books are the work of several critics, not
of one critic only. But there is excellent evidence to prove that
here we would be mistaken.
Confessedly and regretfully no grammarian, I remain unable, in
face of what seem contradictory assertions about the value of
linguistic tests, to ascertain what they are really worth, and
what, if anything, they really prove.
Mr. Monro allows much for "the long insensible influence of Attic
recitation upon the Homeric text;" ... "many Attic peculiarities may
be noted" (so much so that Aristarchus thought Homer must have
been an Athenian!). "The poems suffered a gradual and unsystematic
because generally unconscious process of modernising, the chief
agents in which were the rhapsodists" (reciters in a later
democratic age), "who wandered over all parts of Greece, and were
likely to be influenced by all the chief forms of literature."
[Footnote: Monro, _Homeric Grammar_, pp 394-396. 1891]
Then, wherefore insist so much on tests of language?
Mr. Monro was not only a great grammarian; he had a keen
appreciation of poetry. Thus he was conspicuously uneasy in his
hypothesis, based on words and grammar, that the two last Books of
the _Iliad_ are by a late hand. After quoting Shelley's
remark that, in these two Books, "Homer truly begins to be
himself," Mr. Monro writes, "in face of such testimony can we say
that the Book in which the climax is reached, in which the last
discords of the _Iliad_ are dissolved in chivalrous pity and
regret, is not the work of the original poet, but of some Homerid
Mr. Monro, with a struggle, finally voted for grammar, and other
indications of lateness, against Shelley and against his own sense
of poetry. In a letter to me of May 1905, Mr. Monro sketched a
theory that Book IX. (without which he said that he deemed an
_Achilleis_ hardly possible) might be a _remanie_
representative of an earlier lay to the same general effect. Some
Greek Shakespeare, then, treated an older poem on the theme of
Book IX. as Shakespeare treated old plays, namely, as a canvas to
work over with a master's hand. Probably Mr. Monro would not have
gone _so_ far in the case of Book XXIV., _The
Repentance_ of Achilles. He thought it in too keen contrast
with the brutality of Book XXII. (obviously forgetting that in
Book XXIV. Achilles is infinitely more brutal than in Book XXII.),
and thought it inconsistent with the refusal of Achilles to grant
burial at the prayer of the dying Hector, and with his criminal
treatment of the dead body of his chivalrous enemy. But in Book
XXIV. his ferocity is increased. Mr. Leaf shares Mr. Monro's view;
but Mr. Leaf thinks that a Greek audience forgave Achilles,
because he was doing "the will of heaven," and "fighting the great
fight of Hellenism against barbarism." [Footnote: Leaf,
_Iliad,_ vol.-ii. p. 429. 1902.] But the Achzeans were not
Puritans of the sixteenth century! Moreover, the Trojans are as
"Hellenic" as the Achzeans. They converse, clearly, in the same
language. They worship the same gods. The Achzeans cannot regard
them (unless on account of the breach of truce, by no Trojan, but
an ally) as the Covenanters regarded "malignants," their name for
loyal cavaliers, whom they also styled "Amalekites," and treated
as Samuel treated Agag. The Achaeans to whom Homer sang had none
of this sanguinary Pharisaism.
Others must decide on the exact value and import of Odyssean
grammar as a test of lateness, and must estimate the probable
amount of time required for the development of such linguistic
differences as they find in the _Odyssey_ and _Iliad_.
In undertaking this task they may compare the literary language of
America as it was before 1860 and as it is now. The language of
English literature has also been greatly modified in the last
forty years, but our times are actively progressive in many
directions; linguistic variations might arise more slowly in the
Greece of the Epics. We have already shown, in the more
appropriate instance of the _Chancun de Willame_, that
considerable varieties in diction and metre occur in a single MS.
of that poem, a MS. written probably within less than a century of
the date of the poem's composition.
We can also trace, in _remaniements_ of the _Chanson DE
ROLAND_, comparatively rapid and quite revolutionary variations
from the oldest--the Oxford--manuscript. Rhyme is substituted for
assonance; the process entails frequent modernisations, and yet
the basis of thirteenth-century texts continues to be the version
of the eleventh century. It may be worth the while of scholars to
consider these parallels carefully, as regards the language and
prosody of the Odyssean Books of the _Iliad_, and to ask
themselves whether the processes of alteration in the course of
transmission, which we know to have occurred in the history of the
Old French, may not also have affected the _ILIAD_, though
why the effect is mainly confined to four Books remains a puzzle.
It is enough for us to have shown that if Odyssean varies from
Iliadic language, in all other respects the two poems bear the
marks of the same age. Meanwhile, a Homeric scholar so eminent as
Mr. T. W. Allen, says that "the linguistic attack upon their age"
(that of the Homeric poems) "may be said to have at last
definitely failed, and archaeology has erected an apparently
indestructible buttress for their defence." [Footnote:
_Classical Review, May_ 1906, p. 194.]
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