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to some paradoxical, while others will think that it savors of excessive credulity. According to the rules of sound criticism, very cogent arguments ought to be required to induce us to reject as a mere fiction a tradition so ancient, so universally received, so definite and so interwoven with the whole mass of the national recollections, as that of the Trojan war. Even if unfounded, it must still have had some adequate occasion and motive, and it is difficult to imagine what this could have been, unless it arose out of the Greek colonies in Asia; and in this case its universal reception in Greece itself is not easily explained. The leaders of the earliest among these colonies which were planted in the neighborhood of Troy, claimed Agamemnon as their ancestor; but if this had suggested the story of his victories in Asia, this scene would probably have been fixed in the very region occupied by his descendants, not in an adjacent land. On the other hand, the course taken by this first (AEolian) migration falls in naturally with a previous tradition of a conquest achieved by Greeks in Asia. We therefore conceive it necessary to admit the reality of the Trojan war as a general fact; but beyond this we scarcely venture to proceed a single step. Its cause and its issue, the manner in which it was conducted and the parties engaged in it, are all involved in an obscurity which we cannot pretend to penetrate. We find it impossible to adopt the poetical story of Helen, partly on account of its inherent improbability, and partly because we are convinced that Helen is a merely mythological person. The common account of the origin of the war has indeed been defended on the ground that it is perfectly consistent with the manners of the age—as if a popular tale, whether true or false, could be at variance with them. The feature in the narrative which strikes us as in the highest degree improbable, setting the character of the parties out of the question, is the intercourse implied in it between Troy and Sparta. As to the heroine, it would be sufficient to raise a strong suspicion of her fabulous nature, to observe that she is classed by Herodotus with Io, and Europa, and Medea, all of them persons who on distinct grounds, must clearly be referred to the domain of mythology. This suspicion is confirmed by all the particulars of her legend, by her birth, by her relation to the divine twins, whose worship seems to have been one of the most ancient forms of religion in Peloponnesus, and especially in Laconia, and by the divine honors paid to her at Sparta and elsewhere. But a still stronger reason for doubting the reality of the motive assigned by Homer for the Trojan war is, that the same incident occurs in another circle of fictions, and that, in the abductiou of Helen, Paris only repeats an exploit also attributed to Theseus. * * * * * If however we reject the traditional occasion of the Trojan war, we are driven to conjecture in
order to explain the real connection of the events; yet not so as to be wholly without traces to direct us. We have already observed that the Argonautic expedition was sometimes represented as connected with the first conflict between Greece and Troy. This was according to the legend which numbered Hercules among the Argonauts and supposed him, on the voyage, to have rendered a service to the Trojan king, Laomedon, who afterwards defrauded him of his recompense. The main fact, however, that Troy was taken and sacked by Hercules, is recognized by Homer; and thus we see it already provoking the enmity or tempting the cupidity of the Greeks, in the generation before the celebrated war, and it may easily be conceived that if its power and opulence revived after this blow, it might again excite the same feelings.”—Thirlwall, vol. I., pp. 151–153.
“However near the poet, if he is to be considered a single one, lived to the times of which he sings, it is clear that he did not suffer himself to be fettered by his knowledge of the facts. For aught we know, he may have been a contemporary of those who had fought under Achilles, but it is not the less true, that he describes his principal hero as the son of a sea-goddess. He and his hearers most probably looked upon epic song as a vehicle of history, and therefore it required a popular tradition for its basis. . * * * But it is equally manifest that the kind of history for which he invoked the aid of the Muses to strengthen his memory, was not chiefly valued as a recital of real evenis, that it was one in which the marvellous appeared natural, and that form of the narrative most credible which tended most to eralt the glory of his heroes.” Vol. I. pp. 157–8.
Now let us hear Mr. Grote. After giving at length (say forty pages) as consistent a narrative of the Trojan siege as can be compiled out of the various poets, historians and logographers, he thus continues his speculations on it:—
“Thus endeth the Trojan war, together with its sequel, the dispersion of the heroes, victors as well as vanquished. The account here given of it has been unavoidably brief and imperfect; for in a work intended to follow consecutively the real history of the Greeks, no greater space can be allotted even to the most splendid gem of their legendary period. Indeed, it would be easy to fill a large volume with the separate incidents which have been introduced into the ‘Trojan cycle;’ the misfortune is, that they are for the most part so contradictory, as to exclude the possibility of weaving them into one connected narrative. We are compelled to select one out of the number generally, without any solid ground of preference, and then to note the variations of the rest. No one who has not studied the original documents, can imagine the extent to which this discrepancy, proceeds: it covers almost every portion and fragment of the tale. But though much may have been thus omitted, of what the reader might expect to find in an account of the Trojan war, its genuine character has been studiously preserved without either exaggeration or abatement. The real Trojan war is that which was recounted by Homer and the old epic poets, and continued by all the lyric and tragical composers; for the latter, though they took great liberties with the particular incidents, yet worked more or less faithfully on the Homeric scale. * * * * And the incidents comprised in the Trojan cycle were familiarized, not only to the public mind, but also to the public eye, by innumerable representations both of the sculptor and the painter—those which were romantic and chivalrous, being better adapted for this purpose, and therefore more constantly employed, than any other. Of such events the genuine Trojan war of the old epic was for the most part composed. Though literally believed, reverentially cherished, and numbered among the gigantic phenomena of the past by the Grecian public, it is in the eyes of modern inquiry essentially a legend, and nothing more. If we are asked whether it be not a legend imbodying portions of historical matter, and raised upon a basis of truth—whether there may not really have occurred at the foot of the hill of Ilium a war purely human and political, without gods, without heroes, without Helen, without Amazons, without Ethiopians under the beautiful son of Eós, without the wooden horse, without the characteristic and earpressive features of the old epical war—like the mutilated trunk of Deiphobus in the under-world —if we are asked whether there was not really some such historical Trojan war as this, our answer must be, that as the possibility of it cannot be denied, so neither can the reality of it be affirmed. We possess nothing but the ancient epic itself, without any independent evidence: had it been an age of records indeed, the Homeric epic, in its exquisite and unsuspecting simplicity, would robably never have come into existence. W. therefore, ventures to dissect Homer, Arctinus and Leschés, and to pick out certain portions as matters of fact, while he sets aside the rest as fiction, must do so in full reliance on his own powers of historical divination, without any means either of proving or verifying his conclusions.”—Vol. I., pp. 432–5.
Is Mr. Grote then a mere destructive, who applies the besom of skepticism to
away? No; he restores the old legends in all their integrity to their proper place and function. They have no “objective reality either historical or philosophical;” but “their subjectice value, looking at them purely as elements of Grecian thought and feeling,” is very great. To the expansion of this principle, the remainder of the first volume is devoted.
To understand the true theory of these narratives, we must first consider the intellectual position of the people among whom they sprung up.
“These mythes or current stories, the spontaneous and earliest growth of the Grecian mind, constituted at the same time the entire intellectual stock of the age to which they belonged. They are the common root of all those different ramifications into which the mental activity of the Greeks subsequently diverged; they contain, as it were, the preface and germ of the positive history and philosophy, the dogmatic theology and the professed romance, which we shall hereafter trace, each in its separate development. They furnished aliment to the curiosity and solution to the vague doubts, and aspirations of the age; they explained the origin of those customs and standing peculiarities with which men were familiar; they impressed moral lessons, awakened patriotic sympathies, and exhibited in detail the shadowy, but anxious, presentiments of the vulgar as to the agency of the gods; moreover, they satisfied that craving for adventure and appetite for the marvellous, which has, in modern times, become the province of fiction
roper. “It is difficult, we may say impossible, for a man of matured age to carry back his mind to his conceptions, such as they stood when he was a child, growing naturally out of his imagination and feelings, working upon a scanty stock of materials, and borrowing from authorities whom he blindly followed, but imperfectly apprehended. A similar difficulty occurs when we attempt to place ourselves in the historical and quasi-philosophical point of view which the ancient mythes present to us. We can follow perfectly the imagination and feeling which dictated these tales; and we can admire and sympathize with them as animated, sublime and affecting poetry: but we are too much accustomed to matter of fact and philosophy of a positive kind, to be able to conceive a time when these beautiful fancies were construed literally, and accepted as serious reality. Nevertheless, it is obvious that Grecian mythes cannot be understood or appreciated, except with reference to the system of conceptions and belief of the ages in which they arose. writing, but seeing, hearing and telling, destitute of all records, and careless, as well as ignorant of positive history with its indispensable tests, yet, at the same time, curious and full of eagerness for new or impressive incidents; strangers even to the rudiments of positive philosophy, and to the idea of invariable sequences of nature, either in the physical or moral world, yet requiring some connecting theory to interpret and regularize the phenomena before them. Such a theory was supplied by the spontaneous inspirations of an early fancy, which supposed the habitual agency of beings intelligent and voluntary like themselves, but superior in extent of power, and different in peculiarity of attributes.” Pp. 460–462.
the heroic age, and sweeps it remorselessly We must suppose a public not reading and
In those days, then, imagination and sympathy supplied the place of geography and physical science. But many causes, and first of all, “the expansive force of Grecian intellect itself,” caused different constructions to be put upon these products of early fancy. Mr. Grote goes through the treatment of the mythes by the earlier philosophers and the dramatic poets, and the attempts of the historians to make history of them; Herodotus' adoption of the more plausible Egyptian version of the story of Helen; Thucydides' exposition of the Trojan war as a great political enterprise, an exposition, which “would, doubtless, have been historical truth, if any independent evidence could have been found to sustain it,” but which, in the absence of such evidence, must be viewed as “a mere extract and distillation from the incredibilities of the poets;” and so on down to Euemerus, that disenchanter of the ancient romance, whose name has passed into a familiar word with scholars; and Palaephatus, whose results “exhibit the maximum which the semi-historical theory can ever present: by aid of conjecture, we get out of the impossible and arrive at matters intrinsically plausible but totally uncertified.” He then sketches the allegorical theory, and thus decides on the respective merits of the two:
“If we contrast these two schemes of interpretation, both of them gratuitous, we shall find that the semi-historical theory is, on the whole, the least fruitful and the most delusive of the two. For though allegorical interpretation occasionally lands us in great absurdities, there are certain cases in which it presents intrinsic evidence of being genuine and correct, i. e. in
cluded in the original purport of the story, No one can doubt that the o Até and the Litae, in the ninth book of the Iliad, carries with it an intentional moral; and others might be named conveying a similar certainty. But the semi-historical interpretation, while it frequently produces absurd transformations of the original tale, is never, even in its most successful applications, accompanied with any certainty that we have reached the positive truth. After leaving out from the mythical narrative all that is miraculous or high-colored or extravagant, we arrive at a series of credible incidents—incidents which may, perhaps, have really occurred, and against which no intrinsic presumption can be raised. This is exactly the character of a wellwritten modern novel, the whole story of which is such as may well have occurred in real life; it is plausible fiction, and nothing beyond. To raise plausible fiction up to the superior dignity of truth, some positive testimony or positive ground of inference must be shown ; even the highest measure of intrinsic probability is not alone sufficient. A man who tells us that on the day of the battle of Plataea rain fell on the spot of ground where the city of New-York now stands, will neither deserve nor obtain credit, because he can have had no means of positive knowledge; though the statement is not in the slightest degree improbable. On the other hand, statements in themselves very improbable may well deserve belief, provided they be supported by sufficient positive evidence: thus the canal dug by the order of Xerxes across the promontory of Athos, and the sailing of the Persian fleet through it, is a fact which I believe, because it is well attested, notwithstanding its remarkable improbability, which so far misled Juvenal as to induce him to single out the narrative as a glaring example of Grecian mendacity. Again, many critics have observed that the general tale of §: Trojan war (apart from the superhuman agencies) is not more improbable than that of the Crusades, which every one admits to be a historical fact. But (even if we grant this position, which is only true to a small extent) it is not sufficient to show an analogy between the two cases in respect to negative presumptions alone; the analogy ought to be shown to hold between them in respect to positive certificate also. The Crusades are a curious phenomenon in history, but we accept them nevertheless as an unquestionable fact, because the antecedent inprobability is surmounted by adequate contemporary testimony. * * * In applying the semihistorical theory to Grecian mythical narrative, it has been often forgotten that a certain strength of testimony or positive grounds of belief must first be tendered before we can be called upon to discuss the antecedent probability or improbability of the incidents alleged. The .." of the ão themselves, without the smallest aid of special or contemporary witness, has been tacitly assumed as sufficient to support the case, provided only sufficient deduction be made from the mythical narrative to remove all antecedent improbabilities; it has been assumed that the faith of the people must have rested originally upon some particular historical event, involving the identical persons, things and places which the original mythes exhibit, or at least the most prominent among them. But when we examine the psychagogic influences predominant in the society among whom this belief originally grew up, we shall see that their belief is of little or no evidentiary value, and that the growth and diffusion of it may be satisfactorily explained without supposing any special basis of matter of fact. The popular faith, so far as it counts for anything, testifies in favor of the entire and literal mythes, which are now universally rejected as incredible. We have thus the very minimum of positive proof and the maximum of negative piesumption; we may diminish the latter by conjectural omissions and interpolations, but we cannot by any artifice increase the former: the narrative ceases to be incredible, but it still remains uncertified—a mere common-place possibility. Nor is fiction always or essentially extravagant and incredible; it is often not only plausible and coherent, but even more like truth (if a paradoxical phrase may be allowed) than truth itself; in the absence of any extrinsic test, we cannot reckon upon any intrinsic mark to discriminate the two.” Pp. 570–573. “To assume a generic difference between the older and the newer strata of tradition—to treat the former as morsels of history and the latter as appendages of fiction—is an hypothesis gratuitous at the least, not to say inadmissible ; for the further we travel back into the past, the more do we recede from the clear day of positive history, and the deeper do we plunge into the unsteady twilight and gorgeous clouds of fancy and feeling. It was one of the agreeable dreams of the Grecian epic, that the man who travelled far enough northward beyond the Rhipoean mountains, would in time reach the delicious country and genial climate of the virtuous Hyperboreans, the votaries and favorites of Apollo, who dwelt in the extreme north beyond the chilling blasts of Boreas: the hope that we may, by carrying our researches up the stream of time, exhaust the limits of fiction, and land ultimately upon some points of solid truth, appears to me no less illusory than this northward journey in quest of ...'. borean elysium.” Pp. 575–76.
The discussion is summed up in four conclusions to this effect:—
1. The Greek legends are “a special product of the imagination and feelings, radically distinct from both history and philosophy,” and not reducible to either.
WOL. I. NO. II. NEW SERIES, 13
Some few of them are indeed allegorical, and some have doubtless a substratum or element of fact ; but how much is fact and how much more “mythe" we cannot, in the absence of collateral evidence, determine. 2. The personages of the mythical world
are a series of gods and men mixed to
gether, and no such series can serve as materials for chronological calculation. 3. The legends originated in an age which had no records, no science and no criticism, but great faith, great imagination, and great avidity for new narrative; “penetrable by poets and prophets in the same proportion that it was indifferent to positive evidence.” 4. The Greek mind having become historical, critical and philosophical, detected the inconsistencies and incongruities of the mythes, but was restrained from discarding them entirely by the national reverence for antiquity. So, “whilst the literal mythe still continued to float among the poets and the people, critical men interpreted, altered, decomposed and added, until they found something which satisfied their minds as a supposed real basis. They manufactured some dogmas of supposed original philosophy, and a long series of fancied history and chronology, retaining the mythical names and generations even when they were obliged to discard or recast the mythical events. The interpreted mythe was thus promoted into a reality, while the literal mythe was degraded into a fiction.” Pp. 598–601. Our extracts have been carefully selected, with a view to give the reader a good idea of Mr. Grote's method of dealing with the heroic period of Greek history. And, we ask, is not his treatment of these mythical personages more conservative and respectful than Eucmerizing or allegorizing them away ? According to his view, i. and Andromache, and (Edipus and Antigone exist, as Othello, and Desdemona, and Jeannie Deans, and Lucy Ashton exist. Is not such an existence good enough for them 3 In the concluding chapter of this volume, Mr. Grote |... illustrates his positions by comparing the mythes of ancient Greece with those of modern Europe. In the former country the mythopoeic vein continued in the same course, only with
abated current and influence; in the latter “its ancient bed w s blocked up, and it was turned into new and divided channels" by the introduction of Christianity. The old German and Scandinavian kings used to trace their pedigrees to Odin. “After the worship attached to Odin had been extinguished, the genealogical line was lengthened up to Japhet or Noah; and Odin, no longer accounted worthy to stand at the top, was degraded into one of the simple human members of it. * * * * This transposition of the genealogical root is the more worthy of notice, as it illustrates the general character of these genealogies, and shows that they sprung not from any erroneous historical data, but from the turn of the religious feeling ; also that their true value is derived from their being taken entire, as connecting the eristing race of inen with a divine original.” We have ourselves seen the pedigree of an English country gentleman (one of the “protectionists” in parliament), which went, through a Saxon king, straight up to Thor and Odin. To be sure, the member of the family who showed it to us modestly admitted that the descent prerious to the Heptarchy was not perfectly authenticated. We pass on to the voluminous and puerile legends of the saints, and the more poetical romances of chivalry. “What the legends of Troy, of Thebes, of the Calydonian boar, of OEdipus, Theseus, &c., were to an early Greek, the tales of Arthur, of Charlemagne, of the Niebelungen, were to an Englishman, or Frenchman, or German of the twelfth or thirteenth century. They were neither recognized fiction nor authenticated history; they were history as it is felt and welcomed by minds unaccustomed to investigate evidence and unconscious of the necessity of doing so. That the Chronicle of Turpin, a mere compilation of poetical legends respecting Charlemagne, was accepted as genuine history, and even pronounced to be such by papal authority, is well known ; and the authors of the romances announce themselves, not less than those of the old Grecian epic, as being about to recount real matter of fact. It is certain that Charlemagne is a great historical name, and it is possible, though not certain, that the name of Arthur may be historical also ; but the Charlemagne of history and the Charlemagne of romance
have little except the name in common; nor could we ever determine, except by independent evidence, (which in this case we happen to possess,) whether Charlemagne was a real or fictitious person.”
Thus in the famous story of Roland and Roncesvalles, which Mr. Grote might have specified particularly, (and we are somewhat surprised he did not,) suppose we had nothing but the Turpin Chronicle to guide us, how likely should we be, by “making shots” at the probabilities of the case, to eliminate the real facts of Charlemagne's invasion of Spain, and the surprise of his rear-guard by the Pyrenean mountaineers? But we may bring down these quasi-historical tales to a period much later than even Mr. Grote has attempted. The story of the French frigate Le Vengeur, which went down with her colors flying and her men shouting Wire la Republique ! is well known ; and it has also been proved in black and white that the story is a sheer fabrication—that the ship did go down indeed, but not before she had surrendered, and that her captain and many of her crew were saved by the victorious adversary. Now, had only the French-republican version of this affair remained, it might well have imposed on posterity. Here then are two popular stories, in which the main issue of the narratice is directly contrary to the known fact—bearing the strongest testimony to the correctness of Mr. Grote's principle. For it must be remembered that he denies, not the existence of a basis of fact to some of the Greek legends, but the possibility of our determining what that fact is. For all that we know to the contrary, Dio Chrysostom's version of the Trojan war may be the true one, and the Greeks may have been the beaten party. For all we know to the contrary, the real Thersites may have had as much resemblance to the Thersites of Homer, as the Fastolfe of history has to the Falstaff of Shakspeare.
All our readers may not be aware that the English historians so late as the seventeenth century began the annals of their country with a mythical personage, Brute the Trojan, and carried it down to the Roman invasion through a long line of kings.
“In a dispute which took place during the