Page images

to some paradoxical, while others will think order to explain the real connection of the that it savors of excessive credulity. Accord- events; yet not so as to be wholly without traces ing to the rules of sound criticism, very cogent to direct us. We have already observed that arguments ought to be required to induce us to the Argonautic expedition was sometimes repreject as a mere fiction a tradition 80 ancient, resented as connected with the first conflict beso universally received, so definite and so inter tween Greece and Troy. This was according woven with the whole mass of the national to the legend which numbered Hercules among recollections, as that of the Trojan war. Even the Argonauts and supposed him, on the voyif unfounded, it must still have had some ade age, to have rendered a service to the Trojan quate occasion and rootive, and it is difficult to king, Laomedon, who afterwards defrauded imagine what this could have been, unloss it | him of his recompense. The main fact, howarose out of the Greek colonies in Asia ; and in ever, that Troy was taken and sacked by Herthis case its universal reception in Greece itself cules, is recognized by Homer; and thus we is not easily explained. The leaders of the see it already provoking the enmity or tempting earliest among these colonies which were the cupidity of the Greeks, in the generation planted in the neighborhood of Troy, claimed before the celebrated war, and it may easily be Agamemnon as their ancestor; but if this had conceived that if its power and opulence revived suggested the story of his victories in Asia, after this blow, it might again excite the same this scene would probably have been fixed in feelings.”—Thirlwall, vol. I., pp. 151-153. the very region occupied by his descendants, not in an adjacent land. On the other hand, Here Homer's statement is received as the course taken by this first (Æolian) migra- | authoritative; yet only four pages after we tion falls in naturally with a previous tradition

find that, of a conquest achieved by Greeks in Asia. We therefore conceive it necessary to admit the re “ However near the poet, if he is to be conality of the Trojan war as a general fact; hul sidered a single one, lived to the times of which beyond this we scarcely venture to proceed a sin he sings, it is clear that he did not suffer himgle step. Its cause and its issue, the manner self to be fetlered by his knowledge of the facts. in which it was conducted and the parties en For aught we know, he may have been a congaged in it, are all involved in an obscurity temporary of those who had fought under which we cannot pretend to penetrate. We Achilles, but it is not the less true, that he find it impossible to adopt the poetical story of describes his principal hero as the son of a Helen, partly on account of its inherent im sea-goddess. He and his hearers most probably probability, and partly because we are convinced looked upon epic song as a vehicle of history, that Helen is a merely mythological person. and therefore it required a popular tradition für The common account of the origin of the war its basis. * * * But it is equally manifest has indeed been defended on the ground that that the kind of history for which he invoked it is perfectly consistent with the manners of the aid of the Muses to strengthen his memory, the age-as if a popular tale, whether true or was nol chiefly valued as a recital of real erents, false, could be at variance with them. The fea- | that it was one in which the marrellous appeared ture in the narrative which strikes us as in the natural, and that form of the narrative most highest degree improbable, setting the charac credible which tended most to eralt the glory of ter of the parties out of the question, is the in- ' his heroes.” Vol. I. pp. 157-8. tercourse implied in it between Troy and Sparta. As to the heroine, it would be sufficient to raise a' Now let us hear Mr. Grote. - After strong suspicion of her fabulous nature, to ob- |

09- giving at length (say forty pages) as conserve that she is classed by Herodotus with lo, and Europa, and Medea, all of them persons

sistent a narrative of the Trojan siege as who on distinct grounds, must clearly be refer

can be compiled out of the various poets, red to the domain of mythology. This suspi- historians and logographers, he thus concion is confirmed by all the particulars of her tinues his speculations on it:legend, by her birth, by her relation to the divine twins, whose worship seems to have been “ Thus endeth the Trojan war, together with one of the most ancient forms of religion in Pe- its sequel, the dispersion of the heroes, vietors loponnesus, and especially in Laconia, and by as well as vanquished. The account here the divine honors paid to her at Sparta and else. | given of it has been unavoidably brief and imwhere. But a still stronger reason for doubting perfect; for in a work intended to follow conthe reality of the motive assigned by Homer secutively the real history of the Greeks, no for the Trojan war is, that the same incident greater space can be allotted even to the most occurs in another circle of fictions, and that, in splendid gem of their legendary period. Inthe abductiou of Helen, Paris only repeats an deed, it would be easy to fill a large volume exploit also attributed to Theseus. * * * * * with the separate incidents which have been If however we reject the traditional occasion of introduced into the Trojan cycle; the misforthe Trojan war, we are driven to conjecture in tune is, that they are for the most part so contradictory, as to exclude the possibility of away? No; he restores the old legends weaving them into one connected narrative. in all their integrity to their proper place We are compelled to select one out of the and function. They have no "objective number generally, without any solid ground of

reality either historical or philosophical ;" preference, and then to note the variations of ihe rest. No one who has not studied the

but “their subjective value, looking at original documents, can imagine the extent to them purely as elements of Grec which this discrepancy proceeds : it covers thought and feeling," is very great. To almost every portion and fragment of the tale. the expansion of this principle, the remainBut though much may have been thus omitted, der of the first volume is devoted. of what the reader might expect to find in an To understand the true theory of these account of the Trojan war, its genuine charac

narratives, we must first consider the intelter has been studiously preserved without either exaggeration or abatement. The real

lectual position of the people among whom Trojan war is that which was recounted by they sprung up. Homer and the old epic poets, and continued by all the lyric and tragical composers; for the 66 These mythes or current stories, the spon. latter, though they took great liberties with the taneous and earliest growth of the Grecian particular incidents, yet worked more or less | mind, constituted at the same time the entire faithfully on the Homeric scale. * * * * |

intellectual stock of the age to which they beAnd the incidents comprised in the Trojan longed. They are the common root of all those cycle were familiarized, not only to the public different ramifications into which the mental acmind, but also to the public eye, by innumerable | tivity of the Greeks subsequently diverged ; representations both of the sculptor and the they contain, as it were, the preface and germ painter—those which were romantic and chival. of the positive history and philosophy, the dog. rous, being better adapted for this purpose, and matic theology and the professed romance, therefore more constantly employed, than any which we shall hereafter trace, each in its other. Of such events the genuine Trojan war separate development. They furnished aliment of the old epic was for the most part composed to the curiosity and solution to the vague Though literally believed, reverentially cherish- doubts and aspirations of the age; they exed, and numbered among the gigantic pheno- plained the origin of those customs and standmena of the past by the Grecian public, it is in ing peculiarities with which men were familthe eyes of modern inquiry essentially a legend, iar; they impressed moral lessons, awakened and nothing more. If we are asked whether it patriotic sympathies, and exhibited in detail be not a legend imbodying portions of historical the shadowy, but anxious, presentiments of the matter, and raised upon a basis of truth-whether vulgar as to the agency of the gods ; moreover, there may not really hare occurred at the foot of they satisfied that craving for adventure and the hill of llium a war purely human and appetite for the marvellous, which has, in political, without gods, without heroes, without modern times, become the province of fiction Telen, without Amazons, without Ethiopians

proper. under the beautiful son of Eôs, without the “It is difficult, we may say impossible, for a wooden horse, without the characteristic and ex man of matured age to carry back his mind to pressive features of the old epical war-like the his conceptions, such as they stood when he mutilated trunk of Deż phobus in the under-world was a child, growing naturally out of his im--if we are asked whether there was not really agination and feelings, working upon a scanty some such historical Trojan war as this, our answer | stock of materials, and borrowing from authorimust be, that as the possibility of it cannot be de- | ties whom he blindly followed, but imperfectly nied, so neither can the reality of it be affirmed. apprehended. A similar difficulty occurs when We possess nothing but the ancieni epic itself, we attempt to place ourselves in the historical without any independent evidence: had it been and quasi-philosophical point of view which an age of records indeed, the Homeric epic, in the ancient mythes present to us. We can its exquisite and unsuspecting simplicity, would follow perfectly the imagination and feeling probably never have come into existence.

which dictated these tales; and we can admire Whoever, therefore, ventures to dissect Homer, and sympathize with them as animated, sublime Arctinus and Leschês, and to pick out certain and affecting poetry : but we are too much portions as matters of fact, while he sets aside accustomed to matter of fact and philosophy of the rest as fiction, must do so in full reliance a positive kind, to be able to conceive a time on his own powers of historical divination, | when these beautiful fancies were construed without any means either of proving or verifying | literally, and accepted as serious reality. Nevhis conclusions.”—Vol. I., pp. 432-5.

ertheless, it is obvious that Grecian mythes

cannot be understood or appreciated, except Is Mr. Grote then a mere destructive,

with reference to the system of conceptions who applies the besom of skepticism to and belief of the ages in which they arose. the heroic age, and sweeps it remorselessly | We must suppose a public not reading and writing, but seeing, hearing and telling, desti- | cluded in the original purport of the story. No tute of all records, and careless, as well as one can doubt that the tale of Alê and the Liignorant of positive history with its indispensa- tæ, in the ninth book of the Iliad, carries with it ble tests, yet, at the same time, curious and an intentional moral; and others might be full of eagerness for new or impressive inci- named conveying a similar certainty. But the dents; strangers even to the rudiments of posi- semi-historical interpretation, while it frequently tive philosophy, and to the idea of invariable produces absurd transformations of the original sequences of nature, either in the physical or tale, is never, even in its most successful applimoral world, yet requiring some connecting cations, accompanied with any certainty that we theory to interpret and regularize the phenom have reached the positive truth. After leaving ena before them. Such a theory was supplied out from the mythical narrative all that is mi. by the spontaneous inspirations of an early raculous or high-colored or extravagant, we arfancy, which supposed the habitual agency of rive at a series of credible incidents-incidents beings intelligent and voluntary like them which may, perhaps, have really occurred, and selves, but superior in extent of power, and against which no intrinsic presumption can be different in peculiarity of attributes." Pp. raised. This is exactly the character of a well460-462.

written modern novel, the whole story of which

is such as may well have occurred in real life; In those days, then, imagination and

| it is plausible fiction, and nothing beyond. To sympathy supplied the place of geogra

raise plausible fiction up to the superior dig.

nity of truth, some positive testimony or posiphy and physical science. But many causes, and first of all, “ the expansive

tive ground of inference must be shown; even

the lighest measure of intrinsic probability is force of Grecian intellect itself,” caused not alone sufficient. A man who tells us that different constructions to be put upon on the day of the battle of Platæa rain fell on these products of early fancy. Mr. Grote the spot or ground where the city of New York goes through the treatment of the mythes

now stands, will neither deserve ror obtain by the earlier philosophers and the drama

credit, because he can have had no means of

positive knowledge; though the statement is tic poets, and the atteinpts of the histo

not in the slightest degree improbable. On the rians to make history of them; Herodotus'

other hand, statements in themselves very im. adoption of the more plausible Egyptian probable may well deserve belief, provided they version of the story of Helen ; Thucydides' be supported by sufficient positive evidence : exposition of the Trojan war as a great thus the canal dug by the order of Xerxes political enterprise, an exposition which

across the promontory of Athos, and the sailing “would, doubtless, have been historical

of the Persian fleet through it, is a fact which I

believe, because it is well attested, notwithstandtruth, if any independent evidence could

ing its remarkable improbability, which so far have been found to sustain it," but which, misled Juvenal as to induce him to single out in the absence of such evidence, must be the narrative as a glaring example of Grecian viewed as “a mere extract and distillation mendacity. Again, many critics have observed from the incredibilities of the poets ;" and that the general tale of the Trojan war (apart soon downtotuemarns that disenchanter from the superhuman agencies) is not more im

probable than that of the Crusades, which of the ancient romance, whose name has

| every one admits to be a historical fact. But passed into a farniliar word with scholars;

(even if we grant this position, which is only and Palæphatus, whose results “exhibit true to a small extent) it is not sufficient to the maximum which the semi-historical show an analogy between the two cases in theory can ever present : by aid of con- respect to negative presumptions alone; the jecture, we get out of the impossible and analogy ought to be shown to hold between arrive at matters intrinsically plausible but them in respect to positive certificate also. totally uncertified.” He then sketches

The Crusades are a curious phenomenon in

history, but we accept them nevertheless as an the allegorical theory, and thus decides

unquestionable fact, because the antecedent imon the respective merits of the two: probability is surmounted by adequate contempo

rary testimony. *** In applying the semi« If we contrast these two schemes of inter- historical theory to Grecian mythical narrative, pretation, both of them gratuitous, we shall find it has been often forgotten that a certain that the semi-historical theory is, on the whole, strength of testimony or positive grounds of the least fruitful and the most delusive of the belief must first be tendered before we can be t:vo. For though allegorical interprelation oc- called upon to discuss the antecedent probabil. casionally lands us in great absurdities, there ity or improbability of the incidents alleged. are certain cases in which it presents intrinsic | The belief of the Greeks themselves, without evidence of being genuine and correct, i. e. in- | the smallest aid of special or contemporary wit

ness, has been tacitly assumed as sufficient to | Some few of them are indeed allegorical, support the case, provided only sufficient de- and some have doubtless a substratum or duction be made from the mythical narrative to

| element of fact ; but how much is fact and remove all antecedent improbabilities; it has

how much more “mythe" we cannot, in been assumed that the faith of the people must

| the absence of collateral evidence, deterhave rested originally upon some particular historical event, involving the identical persons,

mine. things and places which the original mythes ex- 2. The personages of the mythical world hibit, or at least the most prominent among | are a series of gods and men mixed tothem. But when we examine the psychagogic gether, and no such series can serve as mainfluences predominant in the society among

terials for chronological calculation. whom this belief originally grew up, we shall see that their belief is of little or no evidentia

3. The legends originated in an age

which had no records, no science and no ry value, and that the growth and diffusion of it may be satisfactorily explained without suppo criticism, but great faith, great imaginasing any special basis of matter of fact. The tion, and great avidity for new narrative ; popular faith, so far as it counts for anything, “penetrable by poets and prophets in the testifies in favor of the entire and literal mythes, same proportion that it was indifferent to which are now universally rejected as incredi

positive evidence." ble. We have thus the very minimum of posi

4. The Greek mind having become histive proof and the maximum of negative presumption; we may diminish the latter by con

| torical, critical and philosophical, detected jectural omissions and interpolations, but we

the inconsistencies and incongruities of the cannot by any artifice increase the formar: the mythes, but was restrained from discarding narrative ceases to be incredible, but it still re- them entirely by the national reverence for mains uncertified--a mere common-place pos- antiquity. So, “ whilst the literal mythe sibility. Nor is fiction always or essentially ex- still continued to float among the poets travagant and incredible ; it is often not only

y, and the people, critical men interpreted,

an plausible and coherent, but even more like truth (if a paradoxical phrase may be allowed) than

altered, decomposed and added, until they truth itself; in the absence of any extrinsic

found something which satisfied their test, we cannot reckon upon any intrinsic mark minds as a supposed real basis. They to discriminate the two." Pp. 570-573. manufactured some dogmas of supposed

" To assume a generic difference between original philosophy, and a long series of the older and the newer strata of tradition-to fancied bistory and chronology, retaining treat the former as morsels of history and the the me

the mythical names and generations even latter as appendages of fiction-is an hypothe

when they were obliged to discard or resis gratuitous at the least, not to say inadmissi- 1 ble; for the further we travel back into the cast the mythical events. The interpreted past, the more do we recede from the clear day mythe was thus promoted into a reality, of positive history, and the deeper do we while the literal mythe was degraded into plunge into the unsteady twilight and gorgeous a fiction.” Pp. 598-601. clouds of fancy and feeling. It was one of the

Our extracts have been carefully selected, agreeable dreams of the Grecian epic, that the man who travelled far enough northward be

with a view to give the reader a good idea yond the Rhipean mountains, would in time

of Mr. Grote's method of dealing with the reach the delicious country and genial climate heroic period of Greek history. And, we of the virtnous Hyperboreans, the votaries and ask, is not his treatment of these mythical favorites of Apollo, who dwelt in the extreme personages more conservative and respectnorth beyond the chilling blasts of Boreas : the ful than Euemerizing or allegorizing them hope that we may, by carrying our researches

away? According to his view, Hector, up the stream of time, exhaust the limits of fic

and Andromache, and (Edipus and Antition, and land ultimatcly upon some points of solid truth, appears to me no less illusory than

gone exist, as Othello, and Desdemona, and this northward journcy in quest of the Hyper

Jeannie Deans, and Lucy Ashton exist. Is borcan elysium.” Pp. 575-76.

not such an existence good enough for

them? The discussion is summed up in four | In the concluding chapter of this volconclusions to this effect:

ume, Mr. Grote felicitously illustrates his 1. The Greek legends are "a special positions by comparing the mythes of anproduct of the imagination and feelings, cient Greece with those of modern Europe. radically distinct from both history and in the former country the mythopaic vein philosophy," and not reducible to either. continued in the same course, only with VOL. I. NO. II. NEW SERIES.


abated current and influence; in the latter have little except the name in common;

its ancient bed w s blocked up, and it was nor could we ever determine, except by turned into new and divided channels ” by independent evidence, (which in this case the introduction of Christianity. The old we happen to possess,) whether CharleGerman and Scandinavian kings used to magne was a real or fictitious person." trace their pedigrees to Odin. “After the | Thus in the famous story of Roland and worship attached to Odin had been extin | Roncesvalles, which Mr. Grote might have guished, the genealogical line was length- specified particularly, (and we are someened up to Japhet or Noah; and Odin, no what surprised he did not,) suppose we had longer accounted worthy to stand at the nothing but the Turpin Chronicle to guide top, was degraded into one of the simple us, how likely should we be, by “ making human members of it. * * * * This shots" at the probabilities of the case, to transposition of the genealogical root is the eliminate the real facts of Charlemagne's more worthy of nolice, as it illustrates the invasion of Spain, and the surprise of his general character of these genealogies, and rear-guard by the Pyrenean mountaineers ? shows that they sprung not from any erro- But we may bring down these quasi-hisneous historical data, but from the turn of torical tales to a period much later than the religious feeling ; also that their true even Mr. Grote has attempted. The story value is derived from their being taken en- of the French frigate Le Vengeur, which tire, as connecting the existing race of inen went down with her colors flying and her with a divine original."

men shouting Vive la Republique ! is well We have ourselves seen the pedigree of known ; and it has also been proved in black an English country gentleman (one of the and white that the story is a sheer fabrica“ protectionists” in parliament) which tion—that the ship did go down indeed, went, through a Saxon king, straight up to but not before she had surrendered, and Thor and Odin. To be sure, the member that her captain and many of her crew of the family who showed it to us modestly were saved by the victorious adversary. admitted that the descent previous to the Now, had only the French-republican verHeptarchy was not perfectly authenticated. sion of this affair remained, it might well

We pass on to the voluminous and puer- have imposed on posterity. Here then ile legends of the saints, and the more po- are two popular stories, in which the main etical romances of chivalry. “What the issue of the narrative is directly contrary legends of Troy, of Thebes, of the Caly- to the known fact-bearing the strongest donian boar, of dipus, Theseus, &c., were testimony to the correctness of Mr. Grote's to an early Greek, the tales of Arthur, of principle. For it must be remembered Charlemagne, of the Niebelungen, were to that he denies, not the existence of a basis an Englishman, or Frenchman, or German of fact to some of the Greek legends, but of the twelfth or thirteenth century. They the possibility of our determining what that were neither recognized fiction nor authen- fact is. For all that we know to the conticated history; they were history as it is felt trary, Dio Chrysostom's version of the and welcomed by minds unaccustomed to in- Trojan war may be the true one, and the vestigate evidence and unconscious of the Greeks may have been the beaten party. necessity of doing so. That the Chronicle For all we know to the contrary, the real of Turpin, a mere compilation of poetical Thersites may have had as much resemlegends respecting Charlemagne, was ac- blance to the Thersites of Homer, as the cepted as genuine history, and even pro- Fastolfe of history has to the Falstaff of nounced to be such by papal authority, is Shakspeare. well known; and the authors of the ro- All our readers may not be aware that mances announce themselves, not less than the English historians so late as the seventhose of the old Grecian epic, as being | teenth century began the annals of their about to recount real matter of fact. It is country with a mythical personage, Brute certain that Charlemagne is a great histori- , the Trojan, and carried it down to the eal name, and it is possible, though not | Roman invasion through a long line of certain, that the name of Arthur may be kings. historical also; but the Charlemagne of history and the Charlemagne of romance “In a dispute which took place during the

« PreviousContinue »